Beninqui GaGne

A Design to Bring Life to Death

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Death is not often a cause for joy. But a special edition of Overlooked, which tells the stories of a dozen extraordinary black men and women who were left out of The Times’s obituary pages when they died, is a reason to celebrate.

I designed the print edition of the project, which marks the arrival of Black History Month with a special section in Sunday’s newspaper. These obituaries reanimate the legacies of the overlooked, so it was important that the design felt as joyful and respectful as the articles themselves.

With that in mind, I wanted the design to render those feelings of discovery and celebration and to largely avoid the plaintive grayscale imagery that often dominates the visual vocabulary of death.

On the cover, I collaborated with Carrie Gee, another designer in The Times’s news design department. We landed on an all-type solution that centered identities and accomplishments with descriptive cover lines. The type starts out nearly illegible, a faint gray on a black background, but as the descriptions snowball and build upon one another, they become brighter and more visible.

On the next page, a colorful table of contents matches the descriptions to names and page numbers. Those colors — rich backgrounds of green, gold, red and black — continue through the rest of the section, lending the archival frames a sense of contemporary vitality. The colors are also associated with Pan-Africanism and black identity around the world, and they suggest that these stories are not isolated, but part of a vibrant and ongoing narrative.