When you run out of words

Published: April 17, 2011
Email

A pink coloured report on how many people died in a particular bomb blast trivialises its seriousness.

If you live in Pakistan, news mostly constitutes of bomb blasts, terror attacks, bomb threats, terror threats, threats in general, people dying, trying to die, failing to live and a whole array of soul-crushing unpleasantries. Why, then, the need for design? Why add the superfluous to poker-faced horrors? It’s serious business, news is. A pink coloured report on how many people died in a particular bomb blast trivialises its seriousness.

How would you react if your ailing grandmother decided to wear a Hawaiian hula skirt on her deathbed? This is mostly what I get to hear when I tell people I work as a news designer. The polite ones carefully turn the tide of the conversation to the latest film playing at the cinema, the more obvious ones ask me why I didn’t get into an advertising agency, the so-called intellectual snobs will pointedly ask me if I have ever covered an actual news event. No I haven’t. My pedicure will get ruined if I go cover a protest outside KESC.

To answer the critics above, yes, a newspaper today is your ailing grandmother on her deathbed. Fading into irrelevance, taking up useful resources that your yuppie cousin, the 24-hour news channel, would rather utilise. This, unfortunately or fortunately, makes room for publication design like never before. Your ailing grandmother is communicating in ways unprecedented; she’s feisty and refuses to go down without a fight.

News in print is not news anymore. It all happened yesterday and we are so connected that we found out probably seconds later. It was all said and done and we moved on an hour later to the next flash in the pan. Why, then, would anyone pick up the newspaper the next day. Unless there is some serious value addition to what I already know, I’m not going to waste money and – more importantly – time on newspapers. And here’s where news design comes in. It adds value without being cosmetic. It works exactly like any other good piece of design; it has to be functional, without trivialising what has to be communicated. The functional bit here is accomplished when I manage to get someone with the attention span of a baby goldfish to pick up my paper through an arresting visual and read through 600 words of not-news and walk away thinking that he/she just found out something they had never known before.

Amna Iqbal

Amna Iqbal

Publications designer at The Express Tribune, she tweets @amna_iqb (twitter.com/amna_iqb)

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