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How do you design good pages if you don't have any photos?

When is it OK to run screens behind a story? Or is a white background always best?

What are the
best grids for newspapers to use?

How many stories should run on a typical front page?

Should you use rules to separate stories?

Is it OK to use grip-and-grin photos in the paper?

What’s wrong with using pretty stand-alone photos as lead art on Page One?

What’s the best way to make a map?

Is it true what our photo editor says — that running type on photos and cutting photos out damages their integrity?

Is it wrong to use decorative fonts to create feature headlines?

Should front-page promos run down the left edge of the page, or along the bottom?

Is it possible to design good pages without big, dominant photos?

I have good news and bad news:

The good news: Yes, you can buy software (like Excel, or programs with names like Pie Chart Maker) that will help you bang out pie charts, fever charts and bar charts.

The bad news: Of all the sidebar options you could generate, readers' LEAST favorite graphics are pie charts, fever charts and bar charts.

Don’t get me wrong. Condensing data into accessible sidebars is a terrific idea. And there are numerous ways to do it, from checklists to timelines to Q&As to quote collections. (Shameless self-promotion alert: These sidebar ideas are illustrated in exciting detail in Chapter 6 of “The Newspaper Designer’s Handbook.”)

But sadly, pie charts, fever charts and bar charts easily become too mathematically abstract or too bureaucratic for most readers; they’re too often filled with obscure data that's too dull to track. So I often warn editors to avoid those kinds of graphics. Instead of tracking how budget numbers bounce around from year to year, show me what's different this year, and why, and how it affects me, and why I should care.

And for that, bullet-items and fast-fact boxes and Q&As are much smarter. You don’t need artists or specialized software to break down complex material into understandable nuggets; you just need a library of alternative options to choose from. So start collecting samples, if you haven’t already, from books, magazines and newspapers you admire, and use those as models for future stories.

And once you feel comfortable with short-form alternatives to text, you'll be ready to graduate to more cutting-edge online graphics: Flash animations, searchable databases and Google map mashups, for example. Talk about smart.


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