Wick Communications

With headlines, size matters

In Design on 27 May 2011 at 9:01 am

Recently, I read a headline-writing tip from Ed Henninger, one spread far and wide in an e-mail blast sent by the California Newspaper Publishers Association. Henninger is a well-known newspaper design consultant and has lots of good ideas. If you rifle through his blog, you’ll see that much of what he has to say about the various designs he runs across is pretty much common sense. Most of this stuff is stuff that you know, if not intuitively, then after a few years of experience with newspapers.

Anyway, the piece that grabbed my attention had to do with the size of headlines. Take it away, Ed:

Readers expect us to give them a sense of hierarchy on the page. Over the years, they’ve grown to expect that the largest, boldest headline will be on the most important story. Occasionally (see the illustration with this column), a lighter and smaller headline may be placed above the lead story if that headline goes on a feature package. But the lead headline will clearly dominate the page.

Henninger (and I) see a lot of headlines that seem to have more to do with fitting in the allotted space than they do with the story. Particularly on some inside pages, I see small but bold type high on the page, then a 55-point light headline at the bottom, and maybe four decks of 30-point in the middle. Just a jumble. What you need is a hierarchy, visual cues for readers desperately wanting to know what to look at first. …

Here’s Ed again:

That means writing a lead headline in three lines of 60 point that says: Three killed | as van hits | I-75 bridge … and not a two-line 30 point head that says: Three passengers killed | as van hits bridge on I-75

Yes, the smaller head gives one more piece of information (in a very long word), but it just doesn’t have the impact of the larger headline.

The page mockup attached here is Henninger’s. I think it’s pretty self-explanatory. Here’s the takeaway: There should be a reason one headline is bigger or bolder than another. And that reason shouldn’t be that the story came in too short or you don’t have enough room to do it right.



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