Page design and the law of unintended consequences   Leave a comment

Today’s Greenville News front page had a perfect example (perhaps “perfect” isn’t the operative word here) of what I call the law of unintended consequences. Here’s the front page:

Greenville News front page

(click on the thumbnail to see a larger version)

You might notice the two mug shots in the center of the scan (above the fold in the full page). You also might notice the large headline next to those mug shots – “Bauer comes back to win.”

If you guessed that those mug shots and that headline were related, you’d be wrong. I’m not going to try to get into the mind of the designer of the page, but I’d be worried that a reader just glancing at the page would associate the “Bauer” headline and the two mug shots.

Ordinarily, this bit of layout confusion would be a trifling thing, a minor chuckle. Except that the two mug shots are of two people who were convicted of killing a Greenville businessman in cold blood. Not the sort of image/text confusion that you want.
The layout itself is understandable. The designer was most likely trying to avoid having butting headlines, or butting photographs in the two elements. But the confusion of association is an unintended consequence of the layout.

There are several ways to correct this point of confusion. The easiest way to ensure there is no confusion about the association between text and photo is to place a hairline divider between the two page elements. Another way to resolve this confusion would be to put the “Bauer” headline below the associated photo and place the two mug shots within the associated story as thumbnails.


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