The Yale Free Press: A Midterm Critique

Design by Alina Susani

“Design is intelligence made visible.” – Lou Danziger

“The Yale Free Press is Bringing Courage Back to Campus,” proclaims the publication’s editor-in-chief in a letter introducing their October FREE SPEECH EDITION. The once-moribund magazine is “ramping up” this year, trading in last year’s pseudonyms for (mostly) real names. But there is no Creative Director listed, nor any sort of designer. I don’t envy the anonymous soul responsible for designing the Free Press (for starters, they had to read the Free Press), but I would like to offer them some aesthetic pointers. 

We will start on the outside. This issue’s cover photo, printed at ~18 pixels per inch, depicts Phelps Hall at midday. The tower is just noticeably off-center, and the entire image is at a 5% rightward tilt. The publication name is in a brush script; the edition theme is in a stencil font. The back cover image is a gray and white cat, twisting to avoid the hand attempting to pet it. (These are facts; the critique is implicit.)

Along the inner edge of the first page, a tall narrow box delineated by not one, but three thick racing stripes contains the masthead and colophon. Text is centered and crammed to both sides of the box except when words are inexplicably left entirely alone on the line, making the reading experience almost poetic: “all correspondence. Not every / submission / may be printed.” 

Turning to the articles, the Free Press has decided to both indent the beginning of each paragraph and leave a blank line at the end. The result is that each paragraph stands isolated from the last. One can begin at any paragraph, and no visual (nor intellectual) cue guides the eye to the next. Pull quotes are placed directly after the body text they parrot, leading to such reading experiences as “I doubt this was spearheaded by Indigenous people. I doubt this was spearheaded by Indigenous people.

And then there is the illustration. From the total misunderstanding of 3-dimensional space, I assume that it was courageously AI-generated. One such creation, facing an article titled “Thinkers of the World, Unite!” depicts a tiger staring into the camera, crouched on mangled hindquarters. Shapes that gesture toward birdliness fly above his head, and deep in the background, he is flanked by two onion-domed palaces. AI is a black box; we will never know what prompt generated this. 

Other artwork includes historic political imagery, such as a suffragist political cartoon from early 20th-century Britain. In one instance, a recreation of Paul Revere’s iconic Boston Massacre engraving is set alongside an article equivocating on the “alarming and incendiary,” but also “much-needed” crime fliers distributed by the Yale Police Benevolent Association at move-in this September. And on one spread, the Free Press embraces text-as-image, filling blocks of unused space with the preamble to the Constitution and an unattributed Teddy Roosevelt quote beginning, “No man can be a good citizen who is not a good husband and a good father.” Each quotation is typeset differently and equally garishly. 

If anyone would read another 700 words of critique, I might also get into: by-lines placed at both the start and end of the EIC’s piece, inconsistency in drop caps, inconsistency in column width, abuse and inconsistency of small caps, misaligned text, and a paragraph break inserted in the middle of a sentence.

Finally, since my name is on the masthead as a Creative Director of the Herald, I will hedge: no publication is perfect, certainly not on this campus. Those who wish to critique the design of the Herald are encouraged to email this writer directly. Particularly vitriolic letters may even be republished in these pages. Your speech is safe with us.

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