When Pope John Paul II died, the Los Angeles Times relied on its graphics staff to make the major metropolitan periodical’s coverage a work of art.
“We were dealing with a breaking news story that was covered by newspapers, magazines and TV stations around the world, and it was a challenge to differentiate our coverage from what people would see elsewhere,” said Les Dunseith, graphics editor of the Times.
To make the graphics distinct, the staff used a “hand-drawn” approach formulated by Deputy Managing Editor Joseph Hutchinson.
“His vision was that this drawing style would be well-suited to the reverential tone of the accompanying stories and photographs,” Dunseith said. “It also allowed us to present the information over several weeks in a consistent visual style that signaled the uniqueness of the Times’ coverage.”
The hand-drawn approach, which actually was computer-generated, was used to create graphics that were attractive, while remaining simple. Everything from the inside of the Sistine Chapel to the pope’s burial sight was made easy for Times readers to visualize. And more importantly, understand.
“Although many of the illustrations in our pope coverage are beautifully rendered, our first priority was to organize the information clearly and edit the content to its essential elements,” said Dunseith. “Hopefully, the readers found them to be both artistically appealing and informative.
“At the Times, we expend a lot of effort to organize graphic elements so that readers are led through the content easily. We prefer to let the information carry the burden of storytelling, and we try to resist the temptation to overload graphics with too many topics, or overdraw something when a simpler visual approach will better serve readers.”
Dunseith said that balance is the key to graphic art that enhances, and not detracts.
“When graphics, stories and photographs work in harmony, readers get a very satisfying understanding of news events,” Dunseith said.