New York Times' 'Seinfeld-esque' sports page shows the power of nothing
Kapow! Blam! Surprise! Sometimes, that's what nothing can do.
The New York Times sports staff reminded us of that again with their cover "story" about this year's Baseball Hall of Fame inductees — or lack, thereof.
"Given the news, the package was Seinfeld-esque," said Sports Art Director Wayne Kamidoi, "a cover about nothing."
Kamidoi likes to push the boundaries when it comes to conceptual design, especially when there is a point to be made.
Conceptual design often involves a marriage of words and images that tells a story in the arrangement itself.
The staff was not surprised that nominees Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens didn't make it, but it "felt like history had spoken," said Sports Editor Joe Sexton in a note to staff sent Thursday morning. "How to convey that to our readers? I think we did it—a striking, profound emptiness."
As they planned the design throughout the evening, most of the discussion was contained to the sports department. "Maybe out of fear?" wrote Kamidoi in an e-mail interview. "There was some apprehension, including from myself," he said. "I was not reassured when the sports editor said on his way home he told the news desk about what we were planning ... and walked away very fast."
Concepts as unusual as this one work best when all of the details have been considered. It might be a visual wink and nod to a situation that captures the reaction to a story that people will be talking about the next day.
In this case, the staff felt the amount of white space represented was appropriate "to present a story that COULD have been," if there had been an actual list of inductees, said Kamidoi. "Ultimately, some of the marquee names of The Steroids Era were rendered in agate-size type, a mere footnote in baseball history, at the bottom of the package."
They worked to ensure that the few words that did appear in the story worked clearly. "I'm fortunate to have some sharper minds nearby like designer/illustrator Sam Manchester, graphics editor Joe Ward and baseball editor Jay Schreiber," said Kamidoi, "to refine the concept."
Over the years, Kamidoi has been inspired by a body of conceptual design work by "the informal fraternity of newspaper sports designers" he said. "Most of the best and fun concepts are done under deadline duress, and without having staff pizza. Concepts by Joe Zeff, before he became an app design warrior, and Christoph Niemann are some of my favorites."
The power of a simple idea—in this case a startling void of information as an avid sports reader opens up the paper—can be remarkably engaging.
"Our night sports editor said we received phone calls from two of our print sites to see if we had made a mistake in typesetting the page," said Kamidoi. Most savvy sports readers likely caught the gist, right away.