Editorial design is a fascinating field that combines our abilities for creative typography, smart layouts and clever compositions.
All around the world people wake up early and stay up late creating compositions that millions get a hold of in the form of newspapers, magazines and books. Editorial design plays a key role in the way information is presented, shared and understood — and, in performing this last function, this discipline can bring transcendental change to society.
Designing newspapers, magazines and books has become particularly challenging as digital takes over most of our communications. While we must learn to adapt our concepts to various screen sizes, paper will always be an essential medium for creative expression. Throughout this article, I’ll introduce 50 incredible newspaper designs (and the design lessons they bestow) to inspire your work.
01. “First-class Ticket” by The Washington Post: Draw Focus To A Custom Graphic
In this design for the Style section, The Washington Post features a movie review as the central element on the page. To increase the piece’s visual impact, they commissioned a custom graphic by Sean McCabe.
02. “Origen” by Krysthopher Woods: Bring Structure With Grids
A student project that displays an outstanding typographic scheme and an impressive grid. The contrast between carefully selected serif fonts and a subtle yellow background tone create a retro vibe that plays well with the publication’s name (orígen, or origin).
03. “New York City’s Health Care Budget Problem” by Epoch Times: Play With Shape
Ever thought of displaying facts in a circle? That’s exactly what Epoch Times did to split the healthcare budget issue into four potential stakeholders that might end up paying for the rising costs. The semicircle approach makes it evident for the reader that either the Mayor, Unions, mayoral candidates, or Emblem Health will end up bearing the consequences.
04. “Guanacaste” by La Nación: Blend Content Into Imagery
The designers behind this Costa Rican newspaper created an engaging cover for their piece about a special protection program for Cara Blanca, an endangered monkey species. The white text column that takes up nearly ⅖ of the page is emphasized and framed by the high definition images of both monkeys in the midst of saturated greenery.
05. “Roughing it… Gourmet style” by the San Diego Union Tribune: Break Page Flow With Custom Graphics
The fact that your newspaper’s original background is white doesn’t mean that you can’t add some variation every now and then. In this cover for U-T Food, illustrator Cristina Byvik added a distressed custom graphic to break the flow of the page and represent the idea of gourmet food for campers.
06. “Realidades” by Boris Vargas: Use A Limited Color Palette
This was a student project for Typography 2 at the University of Buenos Aires. Perhaps the most impressive design element here is the effective use of a limited color palette. There are basically three main tones in use, and the page doesn’t feel dull at all. The designer’s smart use of typography, separators, layout and proportions make this student project incredibly inspiring for anyone working with (ink) budget constraints.
07. “Harvard Finds Upset Formula” by The Star-Ledger: Use A 5-Column Layout
The use of a 5-column layout here makes the page visually appealing and allowed The Star-Ledger to present information snippets that are easy on the reader.
08. “Questions for the Next Vice President” by The New York Times: Draw The Eye Into The Content Flow With Unique Imagery
What would otherwise be yet another complex political commentary suddenly turned into an engaging piece with the introduction of a large question mark. Composed by different symbols that represent issues the next Vice President will face, this giant question mark draws the eye into the flow of the text and might even call the attention of the most apolitical among us.
09. “The Iceberg” by Socio Design for KAE: Use A Clever Typographic Scheme
Many interesting design decisions here, but the typographic scheme definitely stands out. Clever combinations of serifs and sans-serifs, light and bold fonts, and proportions make this piece an inspiring reference for anyone interested in editorial design.
10. “Full Stop” by Sidney Lim: Use Dramatic Contrast Of Color
“Full Stop” was a special publication about the importance of punctuation. It tried to address the topic with an irreverent tone of voice. To emphasize this communication goal, designer Sidney Lim introduced dramatic contrast using black, white, and bold typography.
11. “Überzeitung” by Wolfgang Landauer: Flirt With Form
Sometimes design innovation is all about the medium. What would happen if we produced a giant, human-sized newspaper about our love for newspapers? Wolfgang Landauer answered this question for his Bachelor Thesis.
12. “Diversions” by The Daily Tar Heel: Introduce Contrasting Textures
Texture is a powerful, and often under-utilized design element. In this background for their Diversions section, The Daily Tar Heel introduced contrasting textures like paper (doilies), cutouts, candy and wood.
13. “Ten Years After 9/11” by The Virginian Pilot: Set A Challenge For Your Readers
This news recap challenges readers to engage in a simple mental exercise: finding the end of each of the strings to the left (year 2001) with their corresponding change to the right (2011). This challenge forces the reader to interact with the piece in a novel way, defying the existing convention of spoonfeeding news to the audience.
14. “Fireworks Season Means We’re a Boom Town” by Las Vegas Sun: Aim For A Vibrant Composition
This Fourth of July piece conveys celebration brilliantly. Using fireworks, full-color printing and bold typography, designers at Las Vegas Sun went all out with a composition that would truly stand out in any newsstand.
15. “How Many is Too Many” by The Washington Post: Experiment With The Traditional Grid And Layout
At this point you’ve probably noticed that The Washington Post consistently wins the illustration game. This wonderful example by Inca Pan shows how defying the established grid and layout can absolutely pay off.
16. “State Liquor Laws Haven’t Aged Well” by The Sunday Oregonian: Alleviate Visual Tension
This wine-shaped infographic is beautifully integrated in the flow of the page to create a seamless layout. Without a doubt, this would have been a much harder read without the visual tension release provided by the infographic.
17. “Go Play Outside” by Arizona Republic: Toy With Tone
One thing is to say “play” and an entirely different thing is to play while saying it. These tipsy letters are successful at expressing the jovial, lighthearted tone implied by the article.
18. “Our Dying Forests” by The Salt Lake Tribune: Focus The Eye
Was your eye drawn to that white box cutting through the main photo at the top? If so, design goal achieved.
19. “Last-minute, Can’t-miss Gifts for Mom” by Arizona Republic: Introduce Diagonals To Your Composition
In a space where we’re used to horizontal lines of text and images, diagonals can go a long way.
20. “Off the Shelf” by Times of Oman: Create Visual Interest And Intrigue
Wait…is that a torn page? Optical illusions can help you create visual interest, intrigue and attention. Defying the “pixel-perfect” aesthetic that predominates in editorial design is a great strategy to create word of mouth about your work.
21. “Start-ups Rush to Bring Chat Rooms to Smartphones” by Times of Oman: Integrate Content Into Imagery
In this clever piece, a smartphone was used not just to illustrate, but to contain text.
22. “After Surgery” by The San Diego Union-Tribune: Bring Focus To A Core Message
Yet another example of how visually engaging a small page disruption can be. Designers at The San Diego Union-Tribune emphasized the idea of a mastectomy by playing with the visual illusion of removed paper in the breast area.
23. “Blocking Out The Distractions” by Omaha World-Herald: Convey Distraction
A smart way to convey distraction is to use a saturated color palette, a variety of typefaces and diverse angles.
24. “Moons” by Orange County Register: Ramp Up The Color
A full-color page will always generate additional impact. When paired with a high-contrast text vs. background combination, the result is sure to stop readers in their tracks.
25. “The Call of the Casbah” by The Washington Post Travel: Introduce Photography
There is something about the beautiful photography paired with a white, serif headline that makes this piece an instant classic.
26. “Eat, Shop, Repeat” by The Washington Post: Use Hand-Drawn Illustrations
Hand-drawn illustrations have become increasingly popular because they create a retro, comfortable feeling for viewers. They’re not pretentious, perfect or inaccessible. When you’re looking at a piece like this, it feels as if someone had torn a page from their journal and shared it with the world.
27. “The End of The Line” by Valley & State: Play With Layers
This piece introduces an interesting play with layers. Instead of making the headline front and center, designers at Valley & State integrated the letters with an impressive full-page photo, placing them behind the mountains.
28. “Cultural Arts” by Democrat and Chronicle: Use Interactive Imagery And Type
Here’s another great example of integrating type and image to form an engaging graphic. The letters that spell the word “Cultural Arts” are interacting with the dancer suggesting a sense of rhythm that is absolutely relevant for the topic being discussed.
29. “The Perfect Candidate” by The Boston Globe: Use Strong Editorial Design
This design is both playful and intriguing. Combining different facial elements of various Massachusetts politicians, this piece successfully calls readers’ attention about the difficulty of finding a “perfect” candidate.
30. “The N.H. 115” by The Boston Globe: Experiment With Collage
How do you introduce 115 political activists without boring your readers to death? This is how.
31. “The Best Books of 2013” by The Washington Post: Experiment With Custom Lettering
Adding custom lettering to a headline creates visual interest and is a great way to introduce a section that is text-intensive.
32. “Final NBA 2014-2015” by Kompas: Differentiate With Color
When introducing opposing sides, teams or ideas, color can be a great tool to separate content.
33. “Deadly Spike” by Daily Press: Editorialize Your Type
One of the most outstanding design features here is the mask created with text and a grunge background in the word “Deadly Spike”.
34. “Athletic Records for County’s Three All-Black Schools Before Integration Have Been Lost to Time” by The Beaufort Gazette: Use A Plain Color Background
This cover piece for The Beaufort Gazette uses a plain color background to highlight the featured article. The reader’s eye is immediately drawn to the article on the top rather than the secondary content on the bottom.
35. “Keeping it Real” by The Daily Break: Experiment With A Vertical Headline
We’ve seen horizontal and diagonal text thus far, but this piece takes it a step further with a completely vertical headline. As long as the text is short and remains readable, this tactic can add a much needed layout variation.
36. “Go Fish” by Union Tribune San Diego: Integrate Full-Page Photos With Your Content
Full-page photos are the print equivalent of hero images in web design. You can decide to use them simply as a background, or, alternatively, come up with an interesting way to integrate them with the content. Here’s an example of just that:
37. “The Wild Things Are Here” by The Villages Daily Sun: Bring New Life To Your Copy
In the words of the designer in charge of this piece, it “gives a earthy photograph a little pop while still keeping the page pleasant with a fairy tale feel.”
38. “Gettysburg” by the Tampa Bay Times: Set Your Subject Into Your Headline
Here’s another fascinating type-driven idea. Designer Paul Wallen realized that letter G looks like the “plateaued boulders of Little Round Top, where the statue of General Warren looks down on the battlefield.” From there, he developed this composition for an article about a Civil War battlefield.
39. “3 Days, 3 Tours” by Tampa Bay Times: Do Plenty With Grids
Same designer, different concept. Far from the pulled back, sophisticated style that we saw for Gettysburg, Paul Wallen worked on this extensive 8-column grid to feature food tours in Vancouver.
40. “Why Does Analog Still Feel Good in a Digital World?” by Epoch Times: Bring Life To Your Backgrounds
A wooden background is the perfect complement for an article about analog products. The aged color tones and fonts finish off this visually attractive cover for the Arts & Culture section of Epoch Times.
41. “The Science of Hangry” by Epoch Times: Deliver A Flawless Composition
Epoch Times does it again with this effective placement of a focal element (the plate) that takes precedence over the text, affecting its shape.
42. “Boston” by Boston Sunday Globe: Blend Color With Black And White
Placing black and white graphics next to, under or above color can create a dramatic, attention-grabbing effect.
43. “The Big Issue” by Times of Oman: Go Bold With Your Type
Go big or go home. If your title demands attention, try making the typographic treatment the focal point of the entire page.
44. “Avis” by Elizaveta Kulakova: Experiment With Minimalism
It’s not always necessary to fit as much text as possible on the page, especially when dealing with the cover.
45. “Poor Reception” by Green Bay Press-Gazette: Use Photos As Text Frames
Photos and the elements they contain can be used as text frames. In this case, the two towers surrounding the main text column provide a sense of containment and help focus the reader’s attention.
46. “Packers Took on Eagles Saturday” by Green Bay Press-Gazette: Create Interest In Your Headlines
Another great example of breaking headline conventions. In this case, the football player is placed in front of the newspaper’s name, and his hand is pointing directly to a block of text that reads “Packers Took on Eagles on Saturday”. This helps direct the reader to the article that relates to the player. The other interesting element here is how the main article’s title literally breaks through the gavel.
47. “What’s Your Favorite Junky Cereal” by The Grid: Combine Visual Interest and Information Design
Talk about a graphic that breaks through the clutter. This image is colorful, compelling, and useful. Designers at The Grid (Toronto) excelled at combining visual interest and information design, overlaying percentages that tell how popular each “junky” cereal is.
48. “Choose Your Own Rum Adventure” by The Grid: Introduce Hand Drawn Graphics
Ever thought that all that pixel-perfect text makes reading extremely boring? The Grid published this hand drawn diagram to help readers figure out where they should get their rum fix in Toronto.
49. “Das Rätsel der großen Klappe” by Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung: Go From Newspaper To Work Of Art
Art or newspaper? I can’t possibly decide whether this belongs in my magazine rack or up on the wall.
50. “Cycling in Taiwan” by The Epoch Times: Master Your Balance
Balance here is everything. There is sufficient white space, two compelling images that don’t clash or fight for attention, and a detailed typographic scheme. While headlines use a slab serif typeface, the legibility of the body copy is preserved with a serif font. There is also a special treatment for the image caption, which was created using a sans-serif.
Over To You…
Editorial design is becoming more creative, dynamic, and innovative. The web poses an interesting challenge for creators, who now face the need to translate these amazing grids and layouts into a format that works for different types of browsers. Do you know any other newspapers that are doing a stellar job? Leave a note in the comments section, below.