Modern design is a core component of media convergence and can make the difference in keeping today’s busy readers interested in the stories on the page.
That’s a lesson Dr. Steve Urbanski (BSJ, 1978), a former newspaper design editor and the new director of graduate studies at the School of Journalism, passes on to his students.
“Teaching design is essential in today’s world of media convergence,” said Urbanski. “The importance of design lies in the subliminal ability to grab a reader’s attention and hold it. Modern readers have less of an attention span for long articles, and producing a fresh, visually appealing page helps to keep them interested in the story.”
Urbanski said students who learn the basics of design can carry that technique into all aspects of journalism, whether it’s on a printed page, advertisement or website.
“If you understand and apply the basics of design, like good proportion and white space balance, you can do it well,” said Urbanski.
For more than 28 years, Urbanski has been “doing it well.”
His journalism experience encompasses design, editing and reporting with such newspapers as the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette; the Herald-Standard in Uniontown, Pa.; the former Sun-Tattler in Hollywood, Fla.; the Mountain-Statesman in Grafton, W.Va.; The Spirit in Punxsutawney, Pa.; and the former Dallas Times Herald. For 14 years, he was a page design editor at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette where he won a number of state, regional and national awards, including portfolio awards in 2005 and 2006 from the Society of Newspaper Design.
He also has experience in academia, having taught journalism classes at Duquesne and Point Park Universities, and he was advisor for The Duquesne Duke school newspaper for eight years.
Urbanski is excited to be teaching at his alma mater. He worked with students in his copy editing and design class to help create the new look for the SOJ alumni magazine. “We tried to establish a fresh look for the magazine,” said Urbanski. “We used several examples of different alumni magazines from around the country, trying to meld some of the finer points of each to come up with an inviting format.”
According to Urbanski, many journalism schools view design as being strictly in magazines, newspapers and advertising. But he likes students to extend their design view into their everyday lives.
“I challenge students to look at the world around them with a more critical eye,” said Urbanski. “I want them to see how basic design components, such as proportion, balance and white space, are at work around them all the time. By seeing these foundational elements in action, I believe students begin to grasp how vast design is in our world.”
His students seem to be taking the challenge. One of Urbanski’s students went on a trip with his girlfriend and kept noticing that headlines in out-of-town newspapers weren’t “kerned” enough. Kerning is the altering of space between each letter of a headline.
“This is a funny but important story,” said Urbanski.
“It’s funny because I’d much rather the student enjoy spending time with his girlfriend. But it is also nice to know that he was applying the techniques we discussed in class.”