Bif! Pow! Wham! It's Headline News!
Have you seen the new & improved CNN Headline News? Graphic
Artist Nancy LeMay's report card on the new look!
It's been entertaining, has it not, to follow the reaction
to the redesign of CNN Headline News. It's rare that the work
of the broadcast designer receives any notice at all, much
less the column inches and e-mail threads that Headline News
Broadcast design has a certain Zen quality; viewers are meant
to 'see' what we do but not 'notice' what we do- at least
when it comes to design for news. Well, for the summer of
2001 anyway, out goes Zen, and in comes sensory overload.
These folks clearly do not think that Mies was right when
he said "Less is More".
Now, I am sympathetic to the desire of CNN to hang onto whatever
dramatically shrinking audience it does have: 179,000 viewers
now, compared with 246,000 viewers in primetime in 1996, so
said the LA Times during the first week we watched the 'new'
news. But I don't see how their visually shattered, polysensory
approach is going to bring people back into the tent.
CNN called it's viewers "time warriors" (wife to husband:
"Don't forget your long sword, honey..".), and compares the
new look of the channel to the internet. This is really unfortunate,
because the internet is, for the most part, a nightmare of
bad design and should not be the graphic model for anything.
I offer in support of my theory two things: first, watch Headline
News for a few minutes with the sound off, and notice how
annoying it all is. Then, visit the website by Vincent Flanders
called Web Pages That Suck, www.webpagesthatsuck.com. Flanders
manages to be both entertaining and informative on "WPTS";
he has deconstructed some very highfalutin' websites, including
the Museum of Modern Art in New York and Pasadena's own Art
Center College of Design.
He has been able to keep WPTS updated continuously for five
years; he also published a book by the same title (Sybex is
the publisher) in 1998. That, my friends, represents a great
deal of bad design... It just does not make sense to model
the TV screen after the internet screen.
Here is the fault in thinking: websites display information
for individuals who need to know what their options are for
navigating around a virtual place. The website needs to inform
the user the way a map informs a traveler: the 405 connects
to the 5, take the 5 to Burbank, etcetera. Click THIS button
to get THIS information. The internet is a utility. The TV
is not. The internet is non-linear. The TV is very linear-
one thing follows the next and the next follows that. The
internet is also powered by the actions of the user; if I
want to know how the Yankees did last night, I can get that
information when I wish and, if I want to take 3 minutes to
sit there and ponder that information, I can.
That makes the getting of a piece of information from the
internet much more like reading a newspaper than looking at
TV, no? The folks who are designing these multitasking TV
screens are thinking about what the web looks like-a train
wreck, generally- and not how people are using it.
TV is something we watch, and the internet is something we
use. Now, you may be thinking, isn't LeMay a broadcast designer?
Isn't she thrilled that her profession is poised to completely
take over the TV screen, in some odd, black-clothed designer
junta? Well, in a word, no. Really- no.
I'm still too interested in content, and I believe my job
as a designer is to help people understand the content. I
don't see how having nine or more unrelated visual elements
on a TV screen- as Headline News does, count 'em- helps convey
content more clearly. And if, as some have argued, CNN is
really poised for the coming HDTV future of multi-stream content,
But for now, fellas, its' back to the drawing board.
About the Author
Nancy LeMay is a five-time Emmy winning broadcast designer
who has worked both in New York and LA, in network and local.
She is a teacher and a painter as well. You can reach her
through her website, www.Nancylemay.com
and by email at NancyLeMayCo@aol.com