Architect turned graphic designer Jacek Utko doesn’t look insane, and he doesn’t sound insane. But he makes an insane argument: That by redesigning newspapers, and giving more power to designers, newspapers can save themselves from certain doom. At least in the short term–Utko isn’t so crazy to think that newspapers will be around in the medium to long run. Watch his six-minute presentation at TED:
Though his examples come from Eastern Europe, they are eye-opening: A Polish newspaper that Utko redesigned saw circulation jump 35% in three years, after nearly a decade of stagnation. And, come to think of it, newspapers such as the Guardian of London aren’t suffering quite the same woes as broadsheets and tabloids stateside (British newspaper ad revenues fell 12% last year versus 17.7% for U.S. newspapers, according to the Newspaper Association of America). The Guardian in particular is one of the best designed newspapers in the world. And another related point, gleaned from my own conversations with magazine editors: Some of them have argued to me that magazines will be slower to die off than newspapers, simply because the content and production values are much more highly curated. That is, they seem less like media, and more like objects that you should hold in your hands. Perhaps a tricky argument, but can a newspaper strive for the same, must-hold quality? It’s certainly true that the look that Utko is imparting is more magazine like.
The problem with Utko’s formulation: Redesigning a major newspaper is expensive. Aside from the millions it will cost just to get the design done, it is likely to lead to higher printing costs when said artiste recommends the use of higher quality inks and perhaps even a different paper stock. What’s more, the European press business has long been more competitive and robust than what we have in the states. That said, newspapers here–at least the ones that are well capitalized and relatively debt free–are catching on to the idea of higher production values. The New York Daily News in particular just announced a major plan to upgrade its printing presses to, allowing it to go full color on every page and run later deadlines. But are they simply throwing good money after bad?