Friday, January 11, 2008

The man behind 'XPRESS'

Wherever Mario Garcia travels in the world, there is something in which he can take the same sort of pride that architects take in their soaring edifices.

Published on December 18, 2007

The man behind 'XPRESS'

Mario Garcia

Garcia is a newspaper designer - he reshaped the Wall Street Journal and more than 500 others - and his latest baby is Bangkok's XPRESS.

The compact and free-of-charge little sister of The Nation will hit the streets in March.

Garcia brings to the business of graphic design, in which he's a veteran of nearly four decades, a pioneering use of "eye-tracking" studies. Volunteers wear devices that monitor their eye movement as they peruse the paper, recording where they look first, second and third and how long they spend on the various components of each page.

From such observations he's been able to extrapolate some keen insights into how we get our information - and how we choose the source. "Readers decide in 10 seconds whether they'll buy or read a newspaper," he says. "Five years ago it took them 25 seconds."

Hired to give Bangkok its first free, big-circulation English-language newspaper, Garcia immediately surveyed the scene. "I took the Skytrain and the subway back and forth to observe people's lifestyles," he says.

He was struck by the capital's liveliness, which will be reflected in the bright orange front-page banner. "The colour represents the vibrant city and its people."

"The way people read doesn't differ much from one country to another, but the differences in culture might be reflected in their colour preference. For example, people prefer grey or light blue in Scandinavia, while in Latin America they want more sass, including yellow and orange."

He noticed Bangkok's modern young people - fashionably dressed and often plugged into an iPod - who reminded him of the youth of New York and London.

XPRESS will have plenty of youthful exuberance. The stories will be short, to the point, geared to people on the go. There will be plenty of small bites of encapsulated information - Garcia has warned the staff that the paper will be easy to read, but of necessity that means it will be tricky to edit: Judicious selection of only the most salient facts will be essential.

Garcia became a keen observer of readers' habits as a reporter for the Miami News. He was fascinated to watch how their eyes moved around the page as their facial expression changed.

The one-time child star of Cuban television couldn't speak a word of English when he moved to the United States at age 14. The language barrier kept him off American TV, but at school in Miami he discovered a love of writing. Soon after he became a newspaper reporter and then a designer.

Nearly 40 years later, Garcia remains fascinated with the newspaper business and its never-ending evolution. He's learned something fresh with every new project, but while he long ago realised that "screaming" photos and snappy headlines grab young readers' attention, he still believes it's solid content that makes a newspaper great.

XPRESS is the 21st brand-new paper he's birthed, and he's definitely going for the younger groove. "Young people hardly ever buy a newspaper, but they'll grab it if it's free and if the design appeals to them," he says.

Garcia is often asked if, in refashioning newspapers, he's not just nailing new shoes onto a dying horse, but he's too much of an optimist to believe claims that the Internet has killed off the print media.

"One medium can't replace another, as we've witnessed with radio, TV and now the Internet. On average a person spends 35 minutes reading six to seven websites, selecting the stories that interest him, and in this way we all become editors on our own. Yet online readers don't remember what websites they've just scanned - but they remember which newspaper."

Having just finished the final design for XPRESS, Garcia will be moving on to another project on another continent. Wherever he's repackaging the news he'll be running a marathon. In his 60s he's still a keen runner and has competed in New York, Hamburg, Copenhagen - everywhere he goes. "While my feet are running, my head is doing something else," he says.

And wherever he's running the marathon, he'll be watching the spectators to see where they're looking.

Veena Thoopkrajae,

Lisnaree Vichitsorasatra

The Nation

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