Corcoran News

The Corcoran Neighborhood Organization (CNO) has published a monthly newspaper with a mix of news, upcoming events and community resources since the early 1980’s. The paper has changed very little during its history. The technology to produce a DIY publication has gotten better and slicker but ultimately its always looked like a traditional newspaper. This year the CNO decided to redesign the Corcoran News. They weren’t sure what the paper should look like or how much its focus should change, but they were sure that the paper needed to evolve to remain relevant and not be relegated to a quaint reminder of a pre-internet age. 

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An additional design consideration was that whatever we proposed needed to be executable by amateurs. Each issue is put together in a whirlwind of activity by CNO staff and volunteers over a period of a few days. The new design needed to be at least as easy to work with as the current traditional newspaper templates.

As we read through issues of the Corcoran News we realized very little of what was published was actually news so much as it was resources and events. We discovered that half the content in any given issue was actually event listings disguised as editorial content. Our chief idea then became to “make the content look like what it is”, meaning that a reader should quickly be able to figure out if something is news, a resource, an editorial or a call-to-action (or event). After we presented our first four ideas for where we could take a redesign of the Corcoran News, CNO’s Executive Director Eric Gustaffson said “I’ve got a kind of a stupid idea but what if we just make the whole thing a calendar and list out the content chronologically?” It was the perfect idea and that’s exactly what we did, coupling that concept with some of the design ideas we had already been exploring—rigid sight-lines, bold typography, and more white space.

The resulting design is a series of simple typographic decisions taken to their extreme. Each type of content gets its own typeface (all generously donated by Process Type Foundry): community news and resources are set in the approachable sans-serif Colfax, housing resources in the structured Stratum, family events and fun stuff are set in the quirky grotesque font Maple, and Midtown Farmer’s Market information is given the bulbous Anchor treatment. We then split all the content one more time: events are set in the boldest available weight of a font and everything else in the lightest weight. This means that before you even read anything you’re given a bunch of visual cues that tell you “This is different than that” and creates a very high-contrast reading environment.

We adopted similarly simple rules for laying out the information. Each page is a week with the usually repetitive Farmer’s Market information running in a band along the top. The main page real estate is organized around that week’s events with everything anchored off extremely large dates. We want it to be clear that no matter how much you read that you at least see the upcoming events. After the events are placed in all the other content is fitted in. Ideally the other articles on a page would be relevant to the events but the worst-case-scenario is that we try to group like articles.

We had embraced the idea of left-over white space being a good thing earlier in the process. We believed that it would frame and put focus on the events and that emphasis on strong horizontal and vertical alignments throughout the pages would be akin to making the bed in a messy room—it immediately gives some sense of calm and order—but it also makes the paper easier to lay-out. Working with the traditional templates meant the design was like a puzzle where the designer is endlessly moving around the pieces trying to get everything to fit just so. We wanted the paper to get easier to design not harder and the white space is a big piece of that. You just put the content where its supposed to go and don’t worry about where it ends. If it fits perfectly then its great and if it leaves a few inches of white? Also great.

Finally, we got away from the newspaper vernacular by giving the publication a distinctive style for the cover. Our plan going forward is to always use a clean gradient background with a black and white photo printed on top to create a ownable gesture that’s easily executed by the paper’s staff.

This is the first issue of Corcoran News and we were still making last minute design tweaks right up to to the moment we delivered the files to the printer. Eventually we will hand the templates over to the staff and volunteers of the CNO but for now we’ll continue to design the paper so that we can create style guides that cover tone, organization and word-count for contributors and develop templates and styles that make designing each issue as plug-and-play as possible.