Designing The Breach

Designer Kevin Yuen Kit Lo explains how small publishers should think about approaching their design.

A key part of any indie outlet’s development process is their web presence. This week, we’re diving into the nuts and bolts of design with Kevin Yuen Kit Lo of Loki Design, who designed The Breach’s visual identity. He talked with John Loeppky about what you should be thinking about when choosing a designer and what went into the process at The Breach.

John Loeppky: Can you tell me a little bit about your experience as a designer?

Kevin Yuen Kit Lo: I came into design in the early 2000s, when there was a lot of discourse around the social role of design and questioning its relationship with advertising. That always stuck with me. As I grew in my career, I always maintained a separate practice where I was doing more personal, experimental or much more political work for social movements and things like that. But at the same time, my day jobs were in website design, interactive design and branding at various different studios and agencies. About five or six years ago now, I left that world and really tried to see if I could find a way to do the kind of work that I wanted to do in a sustainable way.

JL: What are the kinds of questions that you’re asking, or the information that you’re trying to get from your client, when it is a small media outlet?

KL: As a designer, I actually start from language — trying to find these core values to use, the mission and the naming, etcetera, in order to then translate that into a visual form. The core value that we identified [for The Breach] was a platform that was adversarial, rigorous and in-depth, critically optimistic and honest, transparent and action-oriented. Once we have those, that gives me a flavour of the way in which we want the design to go. When we’re talking about a notion of rigorousness, we want something that allows for longform content that can be interesting to read because we want to make sure that we’re allowing for that space. I think critical optimism is reflected in the types of colours that we use, and then the action-oriented feel comes from maintaining some of the militancy of the digital collages that are being used to illustrate some of the articles.

We really wanted to see what it was that would define not just the visual identity, but also what we call positioning — the voice of the platform. From there I started working on the visual identity. The logo itself was a starting point — it was quite a literal translation of the idea of a breach. It was a really different colour palette than what is typically seen within those kinds of journalistic organizations.

JL:  Why is a clear design important? 

KL: There’s a few ways we can interpret that word, but I think one of the things is a basic level of accessibility. So, making sure that something is easy to navigate, easy to understand and easy to read. I think, unfortunately, the default typography that we see on the web, a lot of times, is quite difficult to read. 

It’s really about establishing a clear hierarchy and establishing clear content types. That’s question number one, structuring the content in a way that makes sense. Then I think there’s also a real importance in terms of a clarity of purpose so people understand why they are coming to The Breach and what sort of information they’re going to get from there as opposed to going to a different site.

JL: How should small outlets look for a designer and what should they be thinking about when they’re trying to choose one?

KL: Understanding the space within which you’re working and finding a designer that’s aligned to that is super important. I think the most important thing is having that first initial conversation and seeing: are you speaking the same language, and does it feel comfortable? Does it feel practical? Does it feel like this person could be your friend? 

There’s so much in design work that is relational. There’s so much that needs to be a back and forth between the client and the designer to get a good understanding, to find each other in the right place. And, obviously, a level of mutual respect. Then on the level of the visuals and aesthetics, I mean, that’s a much more subjective kind of choice. 

The last thing I would say is to find people that are also engaged in that strategic thinking. So, not just working on the level of ‘Give us the content, and we’ll design it for you,’ but are really trying to get at the heart of what you’re trying to say.

This Q & A has been edited for clarity and length. 

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