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Design competition winner The Wire reflects both strengths and weaknesses of tabloid format.

Tabloid newsletters have an appeal all their own. Their "billboard-like" size permits large visuals, the use of varying type sizes, and the opportunity to place several articles on each page.

The front page of BankOne's The Wire reflects these attributes. There's space for a large, clean nameplate surrounded by white space at the top of the page, headlines and subheads introducing four main articles and three "briefs," plus teasers to additional articles on the inside.

In addition, the tabloid format blurs the distinction between newsletter and newspaper, gaining credibility in the process. There's something comfortable and newsy about a well-designed tabloid-format newsletter.

In The Wire's case that comfort is enhanced by careful use of typography to layer the content and vary the size of headlines not only to indicate the information hierarchy of the newsletter's content but also to avoid visual boredom. Important stories have significantly larger, more noticeable headlines and photographs than secondary or tertiary stories.

Information hierarchy and visual interest are also aided by the use of both serif and sans serif type on the same page. Although this technique can lead to visual chaos, it can also work like a charm-such as the brief profiles of employees on p. 3 compared with the longer interview on the same page.

Color is used with restraint. Headlines are, thankfully, black. Color is used primarly in illustrations, photographs and as backgrounds for the reversed-out department heads--all of which brightens the page without hindering readability.

Alternating column formats

The Wire is unobstrusively assembled on several different column layouts, including five, six and eight columns. Looking at the six-column format, such as the front cover or p. 3, notice how the pages do not contain six individual, parallel columns. Rather, as the "Inside" and "Briefs" departments on p. 1 illustrate, two of the columns are combined to visually separate categories of stories.

Pages 2-3 show a subtle use of nine- and five-column formats. Page 2, although containing a high word density, presents a very open image because the third column contains mostly white space in which articles are summarized. Page 3, which faces it, uses a five-column format. A three-column at lower right is balanced by the taller two-column article to its left.

Page 7 (illustrated below) is another page which breaks the rules and works because of the care used in integrating text and graphics. The top of the page contains a four-column article placed on top of five-columns featuring a two-column article and the three-column "Quick Hits" and "Book Report."


One of the main lessons that The Wire presents is that, if you are a careful designer, you can break the rules (which usually stress consistency) and still create an award-winning newsletter.

The second lesson that The Wire teaches is that if you want to use more than one column format the difference between them should be subtle.

Interestingly enough, The Wire's tabloid format is responsible for both the design flexibility it offers as well as the perennial problem associated with tabloid newsletters--namely, "What do I do with them after I've read them?" Tabloids are harder to store after reading than standard 8 1/2 x 11" newsletters (although The Wire does fold nicely to half its tabloid size).

Also, the extra effort required to make them succeed works against consistency. The staff has to have the resources, the time, and a lot of material to communicate in order to overcome the extra work needed for their success.

Perhaps that's why The Wire has three combination editors-designers.

Roger C. Parker, author most recently of Streetwise Relationship Marketing on the Internet (Adams Media Corp.), is also a noted design consultant and speaker--and contributing editor of NL/NL. His web site,, contains numerous resources to help firms and organizations improve the quality of their print and electronic communications.
COPYRIGHT 2001 The Newsletter on Newsletters LLC
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2001, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Parker, Roger C.
Publication:The Newsletter on Newsletters
Date:Apr 15, 2001
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