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Changing Times:

New ideas, technology alter Crimson design

By Stephanie K. Clifford, CONTRIBUTING WRITER

Over the decades, designing each issue of The Crimson has involved time, effort and, in the pre-computer days, large sheets of wax.

Despite these constants, the process of laying out the newspaper and the look of the completed issues have changed dramatically.

The Early Years

In the earliest issues, short articles were laid out in two wide columns on sheets measuring only ten inches by seven inches. Advertisements ran on cover sheets printed for each issue.

When The Magenta became a daily in 1883, it was renamed The Daily Crimson and the layout changed to look more like a traditional newspaper.

Articles were still short, but they were now arranged in four thin columns with brief headlines and subheads.

For the first few decades of The Crimson's history, advertisements contained the only graphics in the paper.

Around 1910, blurry photographs first appeared, but their size was limited due to poor quality.

Layout stayed essentially the same until 1920, when the newspaper expanded to five columns.

Proving that the Depression era at The Crimson was not marked by an economy of words, story lengths began to grow in the thirties. By the late 1950's, a modern format had been established that would stay essentially the same for forty years.

Modeled after the design of The New York Times, the new format featured lengthier articles and more high-quality photos, says Joshua J. Schanker '98, president of The Crimson in 1997.

Departing from its earlier columnar layout, The Crimson now contained articles which snaked around the page in irregular patterns.

The Crimson became more reader-friendly due to the efforts of the 1967 executive board--the headlines were more spacious and easier to read, the banner reading "The Harvard Crimson" increased in size and clarity and stories spilled over to the back pages.

The size of the paper itself also was increased by a few inches.

The same number of stories--eight to nine--remained on the front page, but with the larger size, there was room for more of each story.

During the seventies, the physical size of the paper increased once again and editors began to play with visual effects, such as using different fonts for page headings, using drawings and placing more emphasis on photos.

The Real World was added as wire releases filled their own quarter-page. Comics appeared in the late seventies as well.

The eighties saw further experimentation with headings and fonts and executives created graphics to accompany articles.

Changes in Technology

Despite the numerous changes in layout, The Crimson's look was still very limited by the available technology.

Printing each issue involved a complicated and laborious process of making a rough sketch of the layout, running the stories through a machine that coated one side of the article with wax, arranging the articles on a dummy sheet and then photographing the page with a giant camera.

Production Manager Patrick R. Sorrento assisted the executives in this process, ensuring that the paper had a clean and finished look.

In the fall of 1991, a new computer system gave The Crimson Quark XPress and Imagesetter capacity, enabling the editors to lay out the paper on computers.

The transition between systems was far from smooth, however. The old headline and text fonts did not translate well to the new systems, says former Crimson president Julian E. Barnes '93. "Instead, it just looked like...a parody of The Crimson," he says.

Designers Take the Helm

With the new technology came a call for a staff assigned to work solely on design. A design board was officially created in early 1991, taking over and dramatically changing the design of the paper.

"We had no design board before because our expectations of design were so low," says Joseph R. Palmore '91, managing editor in 1991.

These expectations changed under Design Editor Dante E A.. Ramos Jr. '93. Along with Associate Business Manager Michael A. Schoen '93 and designers Nancy E. Greene '95 and James Cham '95, Ramos reworked and computerized the design of the paper.

"Not a lot of explicit design had gone on before because technically, there were a lot of limits on what you could do," Ramos says.

The designers spent fall of 1991 working with and learning about the computer system.

Then, as juniors were campaigning for the presidency of the Crimson, many of them talked to Ramos about the possibility of a design overhaul, which seemed imminent.

"Everyone felt it was time," says Maggie S. Tucker '93, co-managing editor in 1992.

"We spent all this money and time working out the new computer system and we didn't see why we should be constrained by the old layout," Ramos says.

In order to rework the design for the first issue of the new executive board, the newly-elected executives browsed other newspapers, looking for features that they thought might work for The Crimson, Ramos says.

The idea behind the new design was just to make it more readable," Barnes says.

To that end, Ramos says he tried for "a modular look."

The executives selected new fonts called Utopia and Minion for the headlines and the text respectively, replacing the more traditional Times and Transitional fonts.

Greene, the graphics designer, also added and integrated computerized graphics as a fixture of the paper.

In addition, stories were put in large, rectangular boxes; bylines were moved flush left and sub-bylines were added; the banner was enlarged; more of a contrast was made between the headline and text fonts; and the number of front-page stories was decreased.

"We wanted to make the design look more international and less haphazard," Ramos says.

The executive board's first issue, published in January 1992, displayed all the changes.

From then on, there were small day-to-day changes, but they were subtle, Ramos says.

"It was possible to do glorious gimmicks [with the new equipment], but not night-to-night," he says. "We made the design so that someone can replicate it--it couldn't be too ornate or it would invite error."


The design of the Crimson remained relatively unchanged until the summer of 1997.

Schanker, who was a design editor before he became president, overhauled the paper's design once again.

The free Crimson which undergraduates found outside their doors in fall of 1997 displayed many subtle changes that were meant to make the paper more readable.

The number of front-page stories was again cut--this time, to a maximum of five.

Several features served to draw readers into stories: "skyboxes," pictures and plugs for inside articles; subheadlines to get the attention of the readers; more space between articles and around pictures; and separate sections.

The Real World was moved to the second page, and the opinion page to the back. The reason behind this Schanker says, was to increase the news coverage. Under the old design, it seemed that there was "one page of news," he says.

The title of The Real World was kept for tradition's sake, although "the page was much more than just the real world," Schanker says.

Wire photographs graced the redesigned page. University Wire briefs, the Crimson Calendar, a schedule of campus events, three-day weather forecasts and financial market updates were also added.

Additionally, each day boasted a different feature, with Monday's College page, Tuesday's Science and Technology page, Wednesday's City and Region page, Thursday's alternating University and Faculty pages, and a new feature, Student Life, which appears each Friday.

Separate Sports sections on Mondays and Arts sections on Fridays gave these departments increased coverage while allowing the paper as a whole to have a more professional look, Schanker says.

Now featuring full page advertisements and multiple sections, today's Crimson has come a long way from the days of short articles, blurry photographs and wax-coated layouts.

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