When you start off as a freshly ironed design graduate, you think you have all the answers. Reality, however, creases in until you’re a crumpled roll of paper lying in a corner. You don’t have answers. This could be a metaphor if you work anywhere else but it’s so literal – when you work for a newspaper – that it’s almost painful. FAQs when you work as a news designer:
10 am. Assignment # 1. Page 1. Word count – 800. Space – 6 columns. Year – 0. Day – 1.
Question – Design? News? What? Why? What do you do again?
6 pm. Assignment # 343. Page 12. Word count – 600. Space – 3 columns. Year – 0.75. Day – 1.
Question – Can we get a two-column infographic?
8:25 pm. Assignment #6273. Page 3. Word count – unknown. Space – unknown. Year – 1. Day – 1
Question – Can we get a full page layout for some stories that may or not come in on some issue that may or may or not materialize? Can we get atleast three options?
3 pm. Assignment #9268. Page – 13. Word count – depending on how many people will die in the city. Space – 6 col. Year – 1.25. Day – 1.
Question –Why can’t we change of the color of the people dying on the map?
5 pm. Assignment #9980, Page, Word count, Space – unquantifiable. Year 2. Day – 1.
Question – What do you do again?
Every day is a new day. This stale cliché becomes the only constant in your life if you work for a newspaper. And if you work as a news designer for the first newspaper in Pakistan with a design team, the ‘newness’ is compounded to almost experimental proportions.
Two years on and I still get asked what it means to work as a news designer. The problem, I eventually realized, was in the question. We do not design news. You can’t design death, destruction, acid attacks, riots and all the other horrors that consist of our daily news supply.
Newspapers are not about news anymore. We live in a world filled with news on the go. Quick bites grabbed between rushing from one end to the other are bound to give you indigestion. Newspaper, hence, are now the place you go to have a relaxed meal that will be conducive to conversations, catching up, analysis and re-evaluation. And that’s where design comes in. We fill up the space that you walk into so that you want to sit down and stay.
Doing this on a daily basis, hence, entails starting afresh all over again. Every day is day 1 since you never know who might walk in and then ask: “So … what is it that you do again?”
Published in The Express Tribune, April 12th, 2012.