Laughing on the inside

Tarun Sepuri, Director of Design

Design is not perfect. Every time you design a newspaper in Adobe InDesign, accounting for the lengths of the articles, the dimensions of the images and the number of pieces in such a way that they fit neatly into 12 pages seems impossible. It is tough to come to terms with the fact that you cannot put the articles you want in the places you want. When I did my first layout almost four years ago, I thought I had it figured out. I put in the articles and images painstakingly, like pieces in a puzzle. That is not to say that layout design is arduous or Adobe InDesign is difficult software to work with, but I felt like those compromises and those puzzle pieces were my responsibilities. 

What those compromises have meant to me, and what The Observer has meant to me, has changed over the last four years—which is surprising since ultimately all I did was stare at some iMacs every Wednesday night. I decided to join The Observer as a layout designer during my first year at CWRU, with no experience, because I had a feeling from being an editor of my high school magazine that the environment of a college newspaper would be fun and purposeful. What I was met with was different from what I expected. I mainly stayed to myself, under three tumultuous different directors of design, usually unsure what the rest of the editorial board was talking about. CWRU did not meet my expectations either, and I was left uncertain whether I belonged, especially during cold, dreary winter days. When the pandemic sent us home and when I could not work for The Observer during my sophomore year because we didn’t have a physical newspaper, I felt a strange sense of nostalgia. I didn’t second guess coming back my junior year. I stayed, I think, because of the excitement I got from opening the newspaper on a Friday to see how my design had been modified after I went home. I stayed because despite barely knowing anyone else at the newspaper, the jokes the editorial board shared—that I overheard—had me smiling to myself, and I wanted another chance at experiencing that.

My junior year was when I felt a true sense of belonging at The Observer. Maybe it was the new director of design or the onus of responsibility as the only layout designer, or maybe it was the late nights I would spend every Wednesday. What it came down to was the pride in the work we were doing and the hope that one of my memes I created for the Fun page made somebody laugh and have a better day. The nights were never perfect, and I sometimes left miserable, but I kept coming back. On the iMac on production night and in the University Media Board office, I felt some sense of sanctuary and beauty in the cycle of imperfections and compromises every week, in the laughter and camaraderie of the editorial board and the moments of liberty while creating themed graphics, redesigning the Fun page, adding the crossword, meme and word search. 

My senior year as director of design was the most rewarding but also the most uncertain. The real art in design was not the compromises but the decisions that had to be made with the given articles without ever disconnecting completely from the vision of the paper that the team as a whole set out. The Halloween week article and the April Fools issues were highlights, but so were getting Jolly milkshakes and going to a college journalism conference in San Francisco. Redesigning the newspaper was all more rewarding, not from my own work but from the people I was surrounded by. The work would be impossible without the other layout designers that made our design what it was and kept me sane. Shifra Narasimhan, who joined the newspaper after I enticed her with free food, Dasha Degterev, Catherine Choi, Auden Koetters and Mulan Ma, may have all been at our iMacs, but we still felt like a cohesive part of the editorial board. The conversations we had were never productive but comforting, freeing and somehow creatively insightful. We laughed through the struggle of getting the paper and our work done, but through rough weeks and rough Wednesdays all the same, I always looked forward to production nights. 

The amalgamation of emotions that I feel now and as I leave CWRU is the same uncertainty and the feelings that the silent drives back home after production night evoked. I feel not only accomplished and exhausted, but also anxious about mistakes. I do wonder if I have done what I set out to do or ever came close to fulfilling a perfect college life. CWRU was never perfect, and my experience here was never without my fair share of mistakes. However, if this design process has taught me anything, it’s about dealing with mistakes. While the mistakes I make every week are imprints on papers that will stay with me wherever I go, those mistakes are also not reflective of the entire piece of work; they will lose their weight with every weekly newspaper, every lesson and every design change. The uncertainty will stay with me for now, unsure of a vision still marred by compromises, but I think, more importantly, I know why I stayed. I am smiling, not in the uncertainty, but in the afterglow of all of the imperfect conversations, laughter and layouts held up by the people around me. Also, the title of this article was supposed to be a callback to the memes I frantically try to create at 2 a.m. while executive editor Shreyas Banerjee and director of print Sara Khorshidi are desperate to go home. I will miss The Observer dearly.