Sign The Guestbook
View The Guestbook
Archived Guestbook
Submit An Article
Staff List
Privacy Policy



Archived Weekly Features
This View by Nancy LeMay
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, and by email at

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 has generated.

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, 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, OK.

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, and by email at