What could think tanks learn from newspaper design/communication

I have been following (and trying to learn ) about communication of policy products. In learning about it, I have taken two main avenues: a) learn from think tanks which do it well, but also b) look in other ‘industries’ where similar challenges exist.

Naturally media has been one of the inspirations. Few months ago I have discovered an innovative design of a Portuguese newspaper and recommend policy centers to look at i (the name of the newspaper) principles and try to apply when designing their own policy briefs.

Now I have stumbled upon a creative designer of newspapers in Central and Eastern Europe. Jacek Utko, a Polish designer has managed to make miracles with some of Eastern European newspapers. I really recommend you to spend 6 minutes and watch his talk on TED.

Two key messages I drew from this talk:

1. Even the best contents needs to have visual/communications appeal.

My comment: As we all know think tanks are generators of some exciting content, but often too many of them get satisfied with getting the plaudits form their peers – experts, some policy makers and other policy wonks, without adjusting the products for other audiences. True, for some policy reports, this is sufficient. But many more need to appeal to broader audiences and more diverse group of stakeholders. Using the experience of newspapers and adding some design might help in packaging the content of the policy analysis.

2. Low budget is far from being an obstacle. It is rather a reason for innovation

My comment: it is not a secret that the region’s think tanks have low budgets for communication of their policy products ( with some of them coupled with low energy to do it :-). With availability of many Internet tools, with think tanks having access to both traditional and new media and  following the increase of government data available online there are more challenges than obstacles.

Last word of caution: Jacek Utko’s talk is not the most charismatic speech that you have ever heard, at moments the speaker might sound arrogant (maybe because of stage -fright), but if you focus on the contents your 360 seconds of attention will not be wasted. :-).

For those who want to give Utko a second chance read his interview and check out his cool web-page :-).

Does this excerpt from the interview sound familiar (I liken this discussion make a parallel with the debate on the length of policy briefs or between communication directors and researchers , for example)

“Talk about this conflict between the design end and the editorial end.

The conflict is diminishing, but it has been very strong in the last years. Writers don’t like you. They treat you as an enemy, because they believe in words, and they believe you’re cutting the words. They don’t believe that people don’t want to read more text.

People need entry points to text. People look at headlines. People avoid long stories. There are many proofs for this, such as eye-tracking research. Editors often don’t understand this. They don’t treat a designer as someone who is a marketer of their text, who is trying to sell their text better.

This is also the designers’ fault. Some designers are not journalists; they only think about their pictures looking good. But readers do look at papers for more than just beautiful art. They look for the content.”


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