By the number

Many newspapers are taking note of the anniversary of the Iraq war. Such stories are tough to write, edit and present, but they can provide an opportunity to step back and assess what has happened and what is ahead.

The Winston-Salem Journal offers an Associated Press story on the anniversary accompanied by this timeline. That’s reasonable enough, but this bit of design experimentation isn’t. (Click on the image for a better view.)

Shaping the timeline into a numeral makes it difficult to read. Including the photos is OK, but the lines linking the images to events in the timeline make this more confusing. Readers should be able to scan a timeline to find items of interest to them; this one is difficult to scan because the type is cramped.

Beware of shaping text into numerals or objects. Sure, it may look cool when your design desk makes a story into the shape of a wine glass (a gimmick that’s been done enough to discard, by the way). But ask yourself: Does this design serve the content? Does it help the reader?

UPDATE: The New York Times takes the timeline concept and enhances it. This is the sort of thing that works well online — sometimes the Web really is better than print.

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One thought on “By the number

  1. Yes, that big “5″ is weird. It reminds me of an ad for (I think) candy, which I saw in “Seventeen” magazine many years ago. There was the main text (big, bold, brought to the fore), and then there was the OTHER text: this teeny, tiny, almost-impossible-to-read text in the background. Being particularly bored that day, I read the teeny, tiny text. It seemed to be strictly throwaway (some bizarre story about enormous bananas invading earth and taking over the planet, as I recall), but at the very end, it said something like, “Congratulations! You made it through! Mail in your name and address, and we’ll send you a free T-shirt.” Those were the days. If only there were a free T-shirt at the end of that big “5″ . . .

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