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August 19, 2010 / Gina D.

The U-T’s big reveal

The San Diego Union-Tribune unveiled their major redesign yesterday. And while I agree with Charles Apple that it’s best not to make snap judgments about a major overhaul, I think there’s a few things in play with the Union-Tribune redesign that make it fair, actually, to form some fairly solid opinions on Day One.

1. It’s pretty clear they’re not unwinding the new style slowly.

2. All the hyping on a teaser page of sorts (don’t call it a “preview”…) — complete with snippits and close-ups and behind-the-scenes-esque video — screams “build-up.”

3. They’ve been announcing and explaining it everywhere in every way imaginable.

4. We’re talking about one of Southern California’s flagship newspapers, whose design head also happens to be the president of the Society for News Design, despite what the either staff list says.

MY INITIAL IMPRESSION went something like this: OK… white space… I get it… [Scroll… scan… *cartoon screeee-eeee-eeeech*.] Wait… What?! Wow. They changed the name?!

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying I don’t like the new look. It’s clean. It’s tidy. It displays a full respect for graphics. What more could I want, really, barring an actual flip-through of a physical edition?

Except…

I started having flashbacks to the much-celebrated Chicago Tribune redux, the “coolest” parts of which kinda left me wondering “What’s the point?” Breaking down the big U-T launch, I should be ecstatic, really, given that most images on the main pages are stock art, infographics and such — striking elements that force the designer and the reader to stretch their imagination a bit. Every image on that initial A1 is — or is part of — a graphic, which is something they’ve told us to expect more of.

And although it kinda warmed my heart a bit to see the U-T made their redesign kickoff A1 CP out of a graphic fashioned from MUG SHOTS — mostly because of the amount of times I’ve been turned to myself to pull water from that well — ultimately, I was, well… underwhelmed. I guess I thought for Day 1 — if no other day — you pull out all the stops. And who knows? Maybe today’s front page will be the one that wows me…

ME LIKEY:

1. Cool quote treatments. With the addition of what essentially amounts to a tiny triangle, they turned a simple box into a speech bubble and gave an otherwise fairly standard pull quote treatment a little bit of personality. A bit Twitter-ish, and maybe that’s the point. Sort of a nod to the uptick in news via social media.

2. What’s in store. Easy to promise. Hard to deliver. (Fingers crossed, though.) I always initially worry the real changes will be reminiscent of  CNN and Yahoo! reduxes, featuring “news” that’s not news because they think that’s what readers want. And that sad, updated nameplate in Overused Blue (granted, it’s not reverse type — but still…) nestled precisely where all the “cool kids” are playing it these days, feels like following a trend and not making a conscious decision about what’s best for that particular paper. And if you do that with things most visible, a.k.a. design… where does it end?

NOT SO MUCH:

1. SoMuch. “White” space… (More on that later.)

2. That logo. Woof. So sad. I pray their employees never find out how much they paid for that.

I kinda dig the name change, though, since it acknowledges the moniker readers generally use to refer to the paper (I, myself, have called  it “the U-T” for years). What I don’t get is how could they completely discard their beautiful nameplate. They could have easily just snagged the initials from the original nameplate; it’s worked before. At least keep the cool Tribune “T,” for retro’s sake! And to top it with such a generic-looking font… It just makes me so… :'(

Insult to injury: placing the new “improved” nameplate up in that left corner as their full-on flag, a la the Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Sun Sentinel, the L.A. Daily News, the Gainsville, Fla., Sun, a la others, I’m sure. Just… not a fan of this treatment. Maybe because it’s starting to feel a little gimmicky. (Kinda digging on the slim skybox the Fort Worth Star-Telegram came up with, though. Or maybe I’m just jealous…)

Overall, the redesign is bold. Yes. Smart? Time (and readers) will tell. They’re already asking some good questions and raising some valid concerns in the comment fields, if you read between the trashing.

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