Helpful Hints

If you’re looking for the

Henninger Helpful Hint

…you won’t find it here anymore.

The hint is now on Ed’s web site at

 So, if you click there

it will take you…

Previously posted hints follow

 05.10.12: Snowed under


I hate cute.

But I know I can depend on at least a few newspapers each year to trot out the snow type—usually when there’s a major (wouldn’t you know?) s-n-o-w storm.

Let’s find a better way to report on that. How about some good photos? A chart showing major storms from the past? Even the ruler/yardstick-standing-in-the-snow photo is better!

Snow type? Put it on ice.


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05.03.12: Turn the page

The word “page” is an unnecessary encumbrance in newspaper folios.
Better to just use the numbers.

MAYBE IT’S A TRIBUTE to tradition. Maybe it’s an attempt to create a greater sense of credibility.

Or maybe it’s because “that’s the way we’ve always done it.”

Whatever…placing the word “page” in your folios is an approach that gets in the reader’s way.

Why make them read “page” when they already know it’s a…well…page?

And why put that extra word in the way? When readers check a folio, what’s the one most important thing they want to see? Right: the number.

Let’s make it easy for them to do just that.

If you use the word “page” in your folios, excise it. If you don’t use the word “page” in your folios…good for you!

04.26.12: Go l-o-o-o-ng!

If “Wednesday” and “September” fit in the ancillary type next to a nameplate, well…
any other day/month combination should be good.

A TRICK I’VE USED  for many years is the use of “Wednesday” and “September” where dates are needed in my design mockups.


Simple, really: “Wednesday” is the longest day of the week (in number of letters) and “September” is the longest month (ditto).

I figure if I can make those two words fit properly into the design, then any other day/month combination will fit just fine.

Now, you may consider that just common sense. But…where have you heard it before?

You’re welcome.

04.19.12Listen to your gut

Listen to your gut…but don’t make it have to yell.

FROM A RECENT conversation between a design director and an editor:

Editor: “I just don’t like what I did with this page. What do you think?
DD: “Well…what does your gut tell you?”
Editor: ” I should’ve run that picture larger. It really needed to go full-page wide.”
DD: “Uh-huh…and what else?”
Editor: “The headline needed to be bigger.”
DD: “Uh-huh…and what else?”
Editor: “I should’ve trimmed the story. It’s too long.”
DD: “Uh-huh. So…what’ve you learned from this?”
Editor: “I gotta learn to listen to my gut.”
DD: “Uh-huh. Your gut was saying the right things. Listen to your gut.”

I’m not a strong believer in “gut.” To me, design is more than “gut feelings.” It’s a craft, a discipline, a set of guidelines to help us offer the reader a compelling and easy-to-follow package.

But if all of the rules are satisfied, if you’ve taken the time to craft the package…then give yourself at least a few moments to listen to your gut. Usually, it will tell you just what you need to hear.

If…you listen.

04.12.12: Laying pipe

CALL IT “THE PIPE.”  Call it a “vertical slash.” Call it the “caps backslash.” Call it whatever you want.

It’s the special character you get when you type the caps backslash on your computer keyboard. And it’s straight up-and-down.

I like to use it as a separator. One of the places I use it most often is between the name of the photographer and the name of the publication in photo credits, as in the top example.

The “pipe” works for me precisely because it is straight up-and-down. I like the feel of it better than the forward slash or the dot in the other examples. It just seems to blend better with the condensed sans serif typefaces I use as a rule in photo credits, bylines, taglines and other elements.

Try it in your design. You may find it works nicely for you, too!

04.05.12: A capital idea

MANY NEWSPAPERS LIKE to set off their columns from other text with some special typographic touches.

If all news text is set justified, for example, columns (as well as other features) will be flush left. Often, the headline will be italic.

And often, a column will begin with a drop cap. The default setting for drop caps in both InDesign and QuarkXPress is three lines, so most columns with drop caps will have that first letter three lines deep.

When I design crop caps, I like to set up that drop cap with a very bold sans serif font, often in a dark gray  (as in the example at left). That gives the drop cap typographic punch while keeping it from becoming too strong.

But…there are other ways the set up the beginning of a column. One of my favorite options is to use small caps—a bold sans serif again in the example at right—for the first three or four words. Here I’ve also increased the size of the drop cap words just a bit, so the top of the drop caps aligns with the meanline of the text.

If you’re looking for an option for drop caps, check out the small caps approach.

03.29.12: Two pfast pfriends

THOSE WHO HAVE OBSERVED my work over the years have come to know my two pfast pfriends, Pfred Pfremelgarn and Pfarcus Pfarquhardt.

I introduced Pfred to my clients many years ago. Pfarcus only joined us within the past 10 years or so, but still he’s an important part of the effort. Then there are the Pfoopfengiks, the Pfnoogengoogens, and Pfilo, Pfreda, Pfillipa…and assorted others.

All of them are placed in my mockups, either as bogus newsriters (as above) or letter writers or engaged couples or those celebrating anniversaries or other milestones.

They are there because I prefer obviously made-up names when creating my mockups—and I never want to get in a sticky situation because I used a “Smith” or a “Jones” in a headline and a Mr. Smith or a Mr. Jones takes offense.

It’s a way of playing it safe and I suggest you consider that course when you are creating mockups for whatever reason.

And…it’s a way of having fun with names and spelling—something we rarely get to do when we are committing the act of newspapering!

03.22.12: In this corner…

I’LL OCCASIONALLY SEE a newspaper that’s trying too hard to look “different.”

One of the tricks they’ll use is a “different” approach to photo borders…especially corners.

The result of this can be corners that appear…well…bizarre. These looks call more attention to themselves than to the photo they border.

Readers don’t need overdesigned elements to get them into your pages. Instead, they need a design that is simple, clean, inviting.

They don’t want “different.” They want good.

03.15.12: Frameless



In last week’s hint, I offered a few options for framing photos.

What I forgot was…you also have the option of going frameless.

When I mention that to some editors, they wince. They’ll tell me it doesn’t work. They’ll give me at least a few reasons for not doing it, but at the core of those arguments is the fact that they’ve never tried it and it’s not their style and they’re convinced it’s just wrong.

Wrong for them, perhaps. But not for everyone.

It’s a look, but one that some papers—including The New York Times—use successfully.

Others may think it’s wrong. I think it’s…different.

03.08.12: “I was framed!”

IF A PICTURE IS WORTH a thousand words, how much verbiage does it take to cover the topic of photo frames? Not much.

If your newspaper has a style for photo frames—and it should!—then stick to that style. Always!

But…what about special photo pages? And that bridal section? And the newcomers’ guide? Must they follow the same style?

I think not. As a matter of fact, it’s probably advisable for those pages and sections to deviate from the style of the newspaper. You want those products to have a different look and feel.

The photo at left above is framed with a half-point rule—standard fare on the pages of most newspapers. But there’s nothing that says you can’t use a heavier rule in a special section. Or a thin-thick combination. Or a drop shadow.

When you’re planning a special section, think of giving photos a special frame.


03.01.12: By the numbers…not!

I CONTINUE TO BE BAFFLED by the use of overly-large page numbers at the beginning of teasers.

The huge B1 at the beginning of the top teaser here puts the cart before the horse. It tells me where to look without first giving me a reason to want to go inside.

First, tease me. Give me a bold word or two that gets my attention and makes me want to read the rest of the teaser. If I’m interested, the page number (still in red) tells me where to go to find the package inside. That’s the rationale behind the bottom example.

Tease me with words. Numbers (I’m not a CPA) leave me cold.


Got any thoughts, suggestions for this blog? Send a quick note:


02.21.12: The indented center

IT’S A MISTAKE that’s easy to make—but also easy to fix. If you’re paying attention.

When we import text from another application, it will often come over with an indent already built into the formatting. It’ll look much like the  example at left (the gray boxes indicating the indent).

If we take that text and center it, well…it’s not really centered. Instead, it’s what I call an “indented center.” The type is centered, but with the indent. That actually pushes the type a bit to the left of center (as in the example in the middle). How far left depends on the amount of the indent.

Take care to remove the indents when you center text and you’ll get a true centering, as in the example at right.

It’s a teeny-tiny detail. But then, excellence lies in getting the details right.

02.16.12: It’s eeeeezy

A COMMON FAULT of many newspapers is poor word spacing. This is often more obvious in text wraps, but for some papers the problem lies in their default setup for text.

Sometimes, it’s the font itself that’s the problem. Occasionally, it’s an anomaly that has crept into a body text style sheet. Or it could be a problem with the text font itself.

For typographers, the optimum space between words is the equivalent of the space of the lower case “e,” in whatever size…in whatever font.

Now, it’s unreasonable to expect you to check that out in each story—especially on deadline. But when you can, take the time to check the spacing in your text. Is it too tight? Too loose? If so, then adjust it as necessary. Then set it up as a new style sheet.

Eeeeezy, huh?

02.09.12: Tilt!

A RECENT FAD I’ve observed in some newspapers is the use of tilted photos—especially on features pages and sports fronts.

When I ask, editors tell me that the idea behind this approach is to “give the photo more visual interest.”

Nope. I don’t buy it. If the photo needs “more visual interest,” then it needs to be a more visually interesting photo. Taking a dull photo and tilting it doesn’t make the photo better—it just takes a bad photo and does a bad thing to it.

If the photo is weak…get another photo. If it isn’t, it’ll be just fine without the tilt.

02.02.12: Teeny tiny type

YEARS AGO, when I was in charge of design and graphics at a daily, I was doing my usual morning drill: Going through the paper to look for design highlights and lowlights.

Inside the sports section, I came across a story that had a full-size headline on it—with the text set in 7 point sans serif.

It leapt off the page at me.

It certainly wasn’t style—at the time, we were running our text in a serif, about 9 point on 10.

I had no idea what was going on…and I knew it would take me a few hours to get to the bottom of the mystery: the sports guy who had laid out that page didn’t come in until 3 p.m.

After he arrived, I gave him some time to get settled in, grab a cup of coffee and prepare for the evening’s work. It drove me crazy earlier in my career when I would walk into the office and someone would immediately jump on me for something that hadn’t gone right the evening before—and I didn’t want to subject the sports guy to the same treatment.

Eventually, I sidled up to his desk. We exchanged greetings and a bit of sports small-talk. Then I asked him: “Why did you run this story in such small type?”

“Well, I wanted to get it all in. I thought it was a pretty good story.”

“It was,” I agreed. “But here’s the problem: You got it all in…but in a type size so small that nobody’s gonna read the full story. So, what you did with the type defeated what you were trying to do with the story.”

“Yeah, I thought about that…maybe I should have just edited it.”

“Yeah. Maybe you should have just edited it.”

Lesson learned.

01.26.12: It’s punderstood


“No, it’s not,” I said. “It’s a pun. Well, technically it is a misspelling. But I did it on purpose.”

“You did?”


“Shouldn’t you have put quotes around it?”


“Why not?”

“Because putting it in quotes insults those readers who get the pun. And…if others don’t get it, then putting quotes around it really won’t make a difference.”

In his wonderful book, “On Writing Well,” William Zinsser says puns work only if they are understated, almost hidden. Putting quotes around a pun tells readers: “HELLO! You may be too stupid to get this without my highlighting it for you with quotes so I’m gonna do that just to make sure you see it!”

Zinsser points out that those readers who do see the pun appreciate it all the more because you have not made a fuss. Of those who don’t get it, Zinsser says: “Sometimes you have to leave the dullards in the dust.”


01.19.12: Strangling the stork

I’M A SMART ALECK. Sometimes that causes me problems because people just don’t understand that I’m kidding. At other times, it helps me make a point.

Here’s one example.

I occasionally see a newspaper that lists area births under a header labeled “New Arrivals.” Often, that header has a piece of clip art showing a stork carrying a baby, like the one above.

I’ll ask: “If we’re gonna call births ‘New Arrivals,’ then why don’t we call our deaths ‘Old Departures’?” See the illustration below.

Now, I’m not making fun of death or of the bereaved. But I am pointing out—in my smart-aleck way—that “Births” is a lot better header for…well…births.

And who among your readers r-e-a-l-l-y believes that the stork brings babies?

Occasionally, a smart-aleck zinger is all it takes to make editors see the light.

01.11.12: Who stole the dot?

“WHO STOLE THE DOT? The dot on the “i”—where is it? Who took it?”

“No one.”

“Well, then…where is it?”

“It’s right there.”


“Right in front of you. Look at the ball at the top of the “f.” It serves as the dot on the “i,” too.”

“It does?”


“How’s that?”

“It’s called a ligature. It’s a special typographic character made up of two or more joined letters. If we didn’t have ligatures, the dot on the “i” would just crash into the top of the “f.” A ligature can also be the stroke that joins adjacent letters, as in the bottom example.”

“A ligature, eh?”




01.04.12: No cartoon? No problem!

WHAT DO YOU DO when you want a visual on your Opinion page…but you’re a community newspaper and you don’t want to run a political cartoon focused on the plight of the poor in Pakistan?

Some of the community papers I’ve worked with over the years use a simple approach: They run a local photo. It can be a scenic or a picture of a local event. In some cases, the photo doesn’t even carry a caption. Perhaps it can be the seed for a contest asking readers to identify the scene.

The photo creates a center of visual impact on the page—and it’s consistent with the newspaper’s focus on local people, local places and local faces.


IF YOU FIND THESE HINTS HELPFUL, check out Ed’s book full of tips, tricks and simple answers to complex design problems! It’s 101 Henninger Helpful Hints. Go to “Ed’s Books” on this blog for information on ordering.

4 responses to “Helpful Hints

  1. Jenny

    Thanks Ed – I love the last helpful hint!!

  2. Regarding puns — seems there’s enough problem with reading comprehension as it is :) But I do like the suggestion.

  3. Anonymous

    I really enjoyed these helpful hints. Good advice. We had a former editor who often titled his photos, so I got a kick out of that entry. I can totally relate to the frustration of having someone at my door with an issue before I get my coffee. I even have a picture of Dilbert on my front door and the message says “Not before I’ve had my coffee!”

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