Busy week for news design geek

Notebook: 21 January 2018 | NEWSPAPERS

It’s been a busy week for a news design enthusiast like myself – digesting and enjoying the new-look Guardian and Observer newspapers (and website) whose re-designs have been prompted by their switch from their unique Berliner size to tabloid, to save money. And this coincided with me running a newspaper design project for students on the NUA Design for Publishing course in Norwich. Here was my week…

Sunday 14 January: Scouring the internet and Twitter, I catch my first glimpse of the re-designed Guardian. Gone is the familiar white-out-of-blue, slab-serif masthead, and in its place is a black-on-white, two-deck arrangement set in a new, sharply chiselled typeface. It’s looking good…

Monday 15 Jan: More sharp looking pages surface on social media. I hurry to the newsagent to grab a copy but can’t see it and worry that they’ve sold out. Hold on, there it is. Sub-consciously I must have been looking for the old blue title. I study the cover and ponder if the masthead needs to be 5 or 10mm bigger just so that it pops out more. Back home I look at it in more detail – I like it very much. It still feels like The Guardian even though it’s much smaller. They’ve split it into three parts: News and sport, Journal (Opinions and ideas) and the old G2 (features and Arts). G2 is a bold and busy, primary-coloured centre section with drop caps, pull-out quotes and side bars that all provide multiple entry-points for the reader and good use is made of the flexible 10-column grid that allows for narrow columns that carry captions and other snatches of info. Likewise the sports section at the back bristles with colour, energy and useful infographics. There’s plenty of reviews and debate that pops up on Twitter as the day progresses including this good summary from my fellow Sheffield Hallam journalism and design lecturer Arlene Lawler. And here, Magculture’s Jeremy Leslie gets to chat with the Guardian’s in-house designers Alex Breuer and Chris Clarke and they explain why it wasn’t a case of simply shrinking down the old design.

The Guardian’s weekday package: News and sport, The Journal and G2

Tuesday 16 Jan: My second of three day’s of newspaper design teaching at Norwich University of the Arts. On the train I catch up on more Guardian reviews including one from GQ mag by Matt Kelly, editor of the New European. Interestingly the New European (which is produced in Norwich by Archant) used to be Berliner size and was printed on The Guardian‘s old Berliner press but recently went tabloid itself. Kelly says that since they made this switch their sales have increased by 15%! How you explain this, I don’t know, but maybe The Guardian will see a similar pick-up. Kelly points out that, “as trades go, that of newspaper designer is right up their with blacksmith…” and he’s not wrong – there aren’t many newspaper designers around, and there never has been, even in the days before digital. So why do we bother to teach newspaper design to graphic design students at Norwich? The answer is that it teaches them a huge amount in a short space of time; not just about using grids and fine typographic detail, but about picture use – commissioning, selection and editing – which plays such a big part in effective visual journalism and storytelling. Up in Norwich I chat with the students and other lecturers about the new look Guardian. It’s a thumbs-up all around, although there is a feeling that they could have been even bolder with their front page in order to attract a younger audience…

Wednesday 17 Jan: I notice that Wednesday’s Guardian has the masthead pushed to the top of the page with the teasers along the bottom – which demonstrates the front page versatility that Alex Breuer and Chris Clarke were after. I’m in London for the day and after a meeting in the City I wander through the Barbican to Clerkenwell to visit the MagCulture shop. I come away with a cluster of good-lookers: Mold magazine, the brilliant California Sunday mag, Pulp journal and The Modernist. I meet Simon Esterson (creative director of Eye magazine and creator of last year’s successful Sunday Times re-design) for a cup of tea and we chat about The Guardian. Simon declares the new look a success although he’s not so keen on the stacked masthead and, like the students at NUA, wonders whether the front page could have been a bit more adventurous. We are both keen to see how the bigger Saturday edition looks.

Friday 19 Jan: I’m back up in Norwich for my final day with the Design for Publishing students. Their task has been to re-design pages 1-3 of The Sunday Times (NUA have a longstanding tie in with the ST who take students on work experience each year). We’ve encouraged the students to think of themselves as typical readers that the ST want to attract i.e. a younger audience (who are used to consuming their news digitally through social media and who find a newspaper quite alien), to replace the older readers who are toppling off the end. The students have experimented with various new formats: tall and skinny, short and fat, A4 and tabloid as well. All of the young designers have embraced the complex challenges that newspaper design brings and have got to grips with the attention to typographic detail that is needed and that newspapers such as The Guardian value so highly and do so well. Some of the students’ design solutions from this year and 2016/2017 are shown below. The students now move on to produce related digital news design solutions for phone, tablet, laptop and desktop.



Sunday Times front page re-designs by NUA Design for Publishing students

Saturday 20 Jan: The weekend edition of The Guardian is a goodie. The black-on-white masthead has been replaced with a white version on a large pink panel highlighting the five ‘magazines’ now to be found inside and each at a new and different size. I’m especially taken with the clarity of design and squarer format of Feast, the new food supplement – lots of enticing pictures and delicious bands of white space. And the old Berliner book Review section has morphed into a stylish, stapled magazine that reminds me of Penguin’s brilliant The Happy Reader mag. Both Feast and Review are very well printed, a real pleasure to handle and consequently feel quite collectable. There’s a lively Travel section and the Weekend mag has had a tweak. The only disappointment for me is their listings mag, The Guide, which feels trashy and throwaway. But overall it’s a big success. It’s nice to see that The Guardian is still championing illustration and seeing its value as part of the storytelling process – I counted 19 separate illustrations in the Saturday edition as well as lots of useful infographics.

The Guardian’s weekend package

On Saturday evening I get my first peek of the re-designed Observer front page. Just like its sister title, The Observer has been reduced in size from Berliner to tabloid. I reserve judgement until I have a printed copy in my hand…

Sunday 19 Jan: We live on the Norfolk/Suffolk border and so our village shop sells both the Eastern Daily Press (from Norwich) and the East Anglian Daily Times (from Ipswich). These local daily papers are stacked side by side on the shop counter and I notice that they both carry the same story and use pretty much the same headlines and pictures (as well as similar designs¹). This is not unusual because they are owned and published by the same media company, Archant (where I worked for many years as creative director of their customer magazine division). The regional press have suffered from declining sales and closures even more so than the national press, so the sharing of content, resources and staff between titles has become common place in order to cut costs – the trouble is, they run the risk of diluting the finished product.

Regional newspapers, the EDP and the EADT share content and resources to keep costs down

The Observer has been re-designed by Creative Director Lynsey Irvine and her design team. Rather than just taking the design of the new look Guardian and slapping an Observer masthead across the top, they have gone for their own design which is understandable – they may be part of the same group but they are still completely different newspapers. So instead of using Guardian Headline (the Guardian’s new font that has replaced Guardian Egyptian – designed and supplied by Commercial Type), they have opted for a similar bold and sharply chiselled serif font called Sole² from the Italian font supplier Cast. The new design is a big improvement on the old. The previous somewhat clumsy mix of sans, slab and serif fonts have been replaced with Sole in a mixture of weights – so we have ballsy, bold headlines for Sport, a medium weight for news and a lighter, more refined weight for The New Review section. While the rest of The Observer has shrunk in size, the magazine has grown bigger, uses a jolly colour palette of reds, pinks and oranges and feels nicer to read and handle as opposed to its pinched predecessor. Today’s issue also comes with their Food Monthly mag and this one just happens to be their 200th issue and is packed full of great portrait photography (apart from a disappointing cover featuring a very ordinary picture of Nigella Lawson).

The new package from The Observer

So no more Berliner-sized Guardian or Observer. Readers and designers will mourn its unique size and the iconic Guardian design by Mark Porter, (much imitated by other newspapers¹ in just the same way that David Hillman’s previous design had been) but they will quickly welcome the smaller size and new design. Back in 2005 The Guardian group spent £50m on the new Berliner presses but for much of the day, those presses just sat idle. By moving to tabloid, they can outsource the print which should allow them to save millions of pounds per year.

Meanwhile the Sunday Times, and Telegraph, remain as broadsheets and while they continue to sell plenty of advertising (the ST is always packed full of adverts) they are unlikely to move to tabloid for fear of upsetting their existing but ageing and gradually declining readership. Maybe one day they’ll change to a smaller format and adopt a fresh new design that will attract younger readers back to print – or they may abandon print altogether, in favour of a digital future – but let’s hope not.

You can read more about the newspaper design project that 2nd year Design for Publishing students carry out at NUA in my article ‘Wrestling with a broadsheet’ that I wrote this time last year. And here you will find a very comprehensive review of The Guardian re-design including an interview with Alex Breuer and Chris Clarke that appeared in Creative Review.


¹Commercial Type’s Guardian Egyptian font was designed in 2004-2005 for the new Berliner-sized Guardian. Its strong slab-serif design was available in a good range of weights and soon became popular. It was adopted by other newspapers and publications including a large number of Archant regional papers such as the EDP and EADT as pictured above.

²The Sole typeface works very well in Pulp magazine (by Italian paper manufacturer Fedrigoni) designed by Holly Catford and Simon Esterson. You can see more of Pulp here