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Posted at 11:22 AM ET, 11/04/2011

Five goals for The Post’s front page layout: A Q&A

The main front-page photo for Sunday, Oct. 16, 2011. (Steve Raymer for The Washington Post)
Each day, we ask readers to critique our front page, in addition to sending us questions about our news coverage and Web site. This week, a reader asked about our front-page layout. We checked with senior news designer Jon Wile, who weighed in on the goals that The Post’s designers keep in mind when laying out the front page.

Q: Why do the front page layouts rarely change? The four-column photo in the middle and one-column stories on each side gets boring to see almost every day. Is this intentional? Do the editors think the print edition should emulate the unchanging look of the Web site front page? — Charlie30

A: From Jon Wile, senior news designer:

Charlie 30,

We do use a 1-column story on the left, a 4-column photo in the middle of the page, and a 1-column story on the right, but it is hardly our default.

I have included a set of front pages from two weeks ago (you can also scroll through them below), which was mostly an average news cycle (some quiet days, some days with more news). You will see that the pages have more variety, but there are a few common themes we strive for on Page One every day:

1. The goal is to get three headlines above the paper's fold to attract readers. We want stories to move vertically rather than horizontally. It helps push the reader down the page and provides a smoother reading experience with one longer stick of type as opposed to five shorter legs of type.

2. The majority of the main photograph needs to be above the fold to draw in the reader, preferably anchored right below the nameplate (the New York Times does the same thing). Our executive editor, Marcus Brauchli, has asked that the photo be a “harpoon” to stop the reader.

We try to avoid large, uninteresting pictures that we often used in the past (i.e. very literal photographs like a picture of Obama/Geithner/Bernanke with every story related to them). Thus you have seen more variety and depth in the Page One photography.

3. Editors consider the top-right story on Page One to be the most important story; therefore, the size of that headline (1-column or 2-column usually) and the point size (between 39 and 54 points) dictates how the rest of the page is going to look. Usually when we have the 1-column story on the right side, it's a slower news day.

4. We have structured our front page to a strict 6-column grid during the week to provide more organization and consistency. We have four different designers a week doing the front page, so placing guidelines helps the page have a more unified look.

5. The Sunday paper has a very different tone visually. We run only four stories on the front (instead of the usual five or six during the week), using the teasers above The Washington Post nameplate and an all-caps headline on the main story to help make the paper feel more long-form and like something you will spend more time combing through.

I hope this helps explain things a little bit more clearly.

This post has been updated.

Do you have questions for Post editors? Submit them to this week’s Q&A thread or on Twitter using the hash tag #askthepost.

By Washington Post editors  |  11:22 AM ET, 11/04/2011

Tags:  Q&A

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