Templates and hubs
Mario Garcia, the newspaper designer said in a recent blog, “Let’s not make 2012 the year of the template.”
It may be too late to stop it, since virtually all content web sites are made from templates of one kind or another. And is that such a bad thing?
But Mario was writing about print.
There are two distinct areas here—design and methodology. Of course templates encapsulate design, and when Ready-Media was launched, some designers looked at our offering as just “design in a box,” and were afraid that packaged design would take work away from designers.
Of course many publishers are initially attracted by this very idea—a predesigned newspaper or magazine for a fraction of the cost of custom world-class design. Indeed, the quality was better than they might be able to do in-house. So, several clients use them right of the box. If you are working on, say, a weekly in Pocoima, if the design works for your readers, it doesn’t trouble you that the design may be used by a small daily in Dubuque.
These publishers don’t have the budget for Mario to come in for the redesign, in any case. But they appreciate good design, and Ready-Media offers a low-cost solution.
Let’s look at Mario’s fear, shared by many designers, that templates will make design generic. We all agree that we want publications to have distinct personalities, even if a they all share common characteristics, and the subtle style tweaks (and imitations) are lost on the readers. We agree a design should be appropriate to the culture of the publication.
This concern can be addressed in two ways: in the template design, and in the way they are used in every issue. Ready Media’s Design Room can customize the design to fit each publisher’s requirements—logos, headings, fonts, colors, ad layouts, and specific pages that aren’t in the standard themes.
Even then, we think of the templates as an 80-20 solution. Most pages in an issue can be built with pre-designed layouts. Covers, important stories and special graphics can be carefully hand-designed. The idea is to turn the available design talent at a publication to the actual visual content of an issue.
A great example is Excelsior in Mexico City, which has been using templates every day since it was relaunched in 2006, with a design created by Danilo Black, a partner company of Ready-Media. Last year the paper won a dozen “awards of excellence” from the Society of News Design for news and feature pages and section fronts. Did the judges know the pages were built on templates? Maybe. But the point is that the visual content was strong, and the judges were impressed by the visual content and the overall design.
Eversince it’s successful relaunch in 2006, Excelsior has used templates as the starting point for designers to produce award-winning news presentation.
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Ready-Media templates are much more than a set of style sheets for Adobe InDesign. Each theme includes hundreds of page variations. Using them the right way changes the way publications are produced. Designers and editors quickly assemble the bulk of an edition by loading content into pre-designed pages (see the “Laying it out” video here.) Templates can be used to enhance the personality and unique appeal of publication, rather than diluting it, because readers are more interested in the content than in the layout.
This methodology is the key to Ready-Media, and the way publishers will save time and money. In these time of great change in the media, this can save jobs, not threaten them.
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“Hubbing” is another, related issue. This is the practice at big newspaper groups such as Gannett and Hearst to share pages and designs from among different publications. Mario says that he is getting the inquiry, “Can you and your team build us some templates that we can use with various titles?“
Does it matter that one title is in an industrial city, the other in an area of high income earners, and a third in a region heavily populated by newly arrived immigrants?
Well of course it does. But you can adjust templates to reflect local style, and still share pages. Eduardo Danilo, president of Danilo Black, pioneered this idea in Mexico fifteen years ago. Editors at Reforma group (El Norte in Monterrey, Reforma in Mexico City and Mural in Guadalajara) knew that they shared content like national and world news, movie reviews and lifestyle features. Using a common geometry, but different fonts, colors and graphics, the same story could be printed in different cities, and keep the local look and feel.
The time savings are still achieved, but when readers went to one of the other cities, they saw a local paper, that represented local culture.
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Soon Ready-Media will deploy our print themes on the web. Content sites have long used templates to build pages. Now Ready-Media will add much a richer design, and a greater array of templates for each site. (For example, op-ed pieces look different than news stories.)
We brought some web thinking to print when we started our service. Now we’re bring some print thinking to the web. Hope you can join the effort. In the long run, combining quality design and the template methodology is going to be good for publications, and good for designers.
So, Mario, 2012 is the Year of the Template. And what a great year it is!