This week we talked with Larissa Tyler, creative director and designer at the Chesterfield Observer. She talks about good design, the importance of a front page, how every newspaper is a culmination of everyone’s talent and more. Make sure to look below at some of Larissa’s favorite designs she has made while at the Observer.
To start can you please introduce yourself and give a little background on where you work, what you do and how long you’ve been doing it.
My name is Larissa Tyler. I am the Creative Director for the Chesterfield Observer. I have been in this role for two years. The Chesterfield Observer is the news source for Chesterfield County. We provide in-depth information about our local government, schools, sports, community events, and more. We are also the newspaper of record for public and legal notices. Currently, we distribute over 70,000 papers each week.
How did you get started with design work?
I actually started off interested in photography. I took some photography classes, fell in love with it and decided to pursue it. I attended the University of South Carolina, which had a really great art program. I took graphic design courses and realized I had a passion for graphic design as well. I would spend hours on design projects as well as hours in the dark room at that time. It really consumed me and I loved it.
My first job was at a small design firm in South Carolina. From there, I moved to Richmond and worked at Style Weekly Magazine. I then became the Creative Director for the YMCA of Greater Richmond. After being blessed with the birth of my son, I took some time off and now I’m here at the Chesterfield Observer. Every week is a new challenge that keeps me on my toes. I love it all.
How do you approach the design of the Observer each week? Does it start as a blank canvas and you go where the stories and their images take you? Or do you have some things you try to incorporate each week into the design?
For the most part it’s a blank canvas. There is an order to how things are placed in the paper, so there are some pages that run on a weekly basis (such as classifieds, legals, the calendar, the line up, and a few others) that I know need to be placed in a certain area of the paper and have a pretty consistent design. I work with my editor and managing editor to create a layout of where we want the stories to go. Much of it is based on available space and priority, but easily changes depending on what stories we end up with so it’s more of a starting out point. Space is really important to having an effective layout. If things need to be moved around to make a story work we do the best we can to make it happen. I really try to give each story the attention it needs. I look for the most compelling images or graphics to best accompany each story and engage the reader. I also pay attention to how the headlines look on the page. I try various treatments until I am satisfied with how it looks. There’s a lot more to the page however, than just a headline and photo. There are bylines, cutlines, photo credits, pull quotes, subheads and other elements that affect the layout of the page and I focus on those elements as well in order to achieve the best layout possible.
“My most memorable front pages are the ones that aren’t planned.”
Would you consider newspaper design an art of its own kind? It seems like you have to have an artist’s eye but an editors sword, so to speak, to effectively do the job right.
I believe so. I’ve worked in the corporate sector before. As the Creative Director for the YMCA of Greater Richmond, I was in charge of advertising for membership acquisitions, annual giving materials, annual reports, capital campaigns and so many other marketing needs. I got to work on an array of projects, but the one thing I had going for me working on those projects was time. Not always as much as I would have liked but it was there. Working for a newspaper is so different. I find myself many times working against the clock. A deadline is a deadline, no ifs ands or buts. I also have to count on the printer to do a good job. I don’t get a proof from the printer to approve. So I have to make sure that every photo is adjusted just right so it prints well. I have to be mindful of color selections. I have to think to myself, what works well in newsprint? I have to edit myself quickly when I’m laying out a story because I have to move on to the next. I have to have speed, but I also have to have self control in order to focus on each story and give it the attention it needs. It’s challenging at times, but that’s one of the things I love about it. Page layout looks easy because most people don’t see the amount of work that goes into it. They just see a finished product. But I guarantee you, it’s not. It’s a lot of hard work.
What have been some of your most memorable front pages and why?
My most memorable front pages are the ones that aren’t planned. Sometimes we want to feature a story but we have limited art and I have to think outside the box for a solution. Sometimes I have to come up with a photo illustration that captures the readers attention and collaborates with the story. I get really excited when I’m given a powerful image form our photographers that immediately draws you in and speaks for itself. When that happens, I work around the photograph. I let the image do most of the work. I’m gratified when all the elements of the front page (the headlines, artwork, teasers, even advertisements) come together and work cohesively. I like it when I have a front page that doesn’t look like any we’ve run before. There’s so much attention to detail that goes into designing the front page. The front page is the most prominent page. It’s the first page people see and the deciding factor on whether your newspaper is picked up or not.
So the front page is not something you take lightly. What, in your opinion, makes for a memorable and well-crafted A1 design?
It’s really a group effort. You need great stories to start, and our writers, editor and managing editor do an amazing job of putting the stories together and creating engaging headlines. We have photographers that work really hard and take the time to give us the captivating images we need. And my job is to take all these elements and create an exciting front page. We all have to work together toward the same goal. We have to be passionate about our work. When that passion is reflected in the work, we have a memorable front page.
Biggest type you’ve managed to use in a headline: 72pt. Raleway Extra Bold Italic
A1 design you are most proud of (would be good to include this one): The last issue of 2017. It was highlighting our year in pictures photo essay. It was a completely different layout than anything we had done before.
Favorite authors and or designers: I don’t have any favorites. I get inspiration from all different design styles.