Newspapers, Notebook

‘Newspaper Design’ published by Gestalten: my design book of the year

Notebook: 8 December 2018 | NEWSPAPERS

Newspaper Design published by Gestalten: my design book of the year

7am Monday morning on the last day of January in 1972 – I was delivering a sackful of morning newspapers on my paper round. The previous day, British soldiers had shot 28 unarmed civilians who were taking part in a peaceful protest in Derry in Northern Ireland – and 14 people died. The Daily Mirror captured the occasion with a bold headline, Ulster’s Bloody Sunday, together with a shocking photograph that showed a priest performing the last rites to a dying blood-splattered protestor. It was strong journalism and that front page and photo stayed with me for a long time.


As a teenager with a fledgling interest in graphic design, my paper round not only helped me understand the power that an image can bring to storytelling but it also stirred my interest in newspaper design because staring at the mishmash of newspaper front pages as I stuffed them through letterboxes, I began to redesign them in my head. My perfect newspaper would bring order to chaos – it would be modern, modular, easy to navigate and full of simple, sharp typography that would be brought to life with great photography and illustration. I had pictured it looking something like the beautiful 1970s New York newspaper The Herald (pictured above), designed by the legendary American graphic designer Massimo Vignelli (which at that young age I had not seen before but which I stumbled across many years later. More on The Herald here).

The Herald makes a brief appearance in a fantastic book called simply, Newspaper Design which was published by Gestalten back in the summer and which I’ve only just finished looking at. It’s a rich feast of graphic design and visual journalism and a must for anyone with an interest in words and pictures, typography and data visualisation. It gathers together worldwide examples of the best of news design from the last 20 years or so and brings us bang up-to-date with the inclusion of the January 2018 Guardian redesign. The book is a combination of newspaper Case Studies, designer Profiles and industry experts’ Insights that give us glimpses of what the future might hold for both digital and print in news design and publishing.

Case studies include chapters devoted to three of my favourite non UK newspapers: Libération, Journal i and La Repubblica with each publication given over 20 pages which analyse their design in detail with text, captions and a full display of pictures of newspaper layouts. The punchy French left-leaning tabloid Libération has had a strong identity ever since its birth in 1973 with its use of bold but always finely crafted typography and its commitment to using beautiful photography. Pictures are given the same level of importance as text, and across the years they have commissioned master photographers such as Henri Cartier Bresson and Sebastiao Salgado. 

A spread from the Libération case study

Journal i is an innovative Portuguese daily launched in 2009. It has a wonderful, sharp, snappy design that uses a palette of primary colours and is much more magazine-like in feel and content. Both Libération and Journal i have been designed by the multi award-winning editorial designer Javier Errea and he is featured in one of five designer profiles that include Mario Garcia, Antoni Cases, Lucie Lacava and Mark Porter. 

Journal i, the Portuguese daily designed by Javier Errea

The quality Italian newspaper La Repubblica was redesigned last year by Angelo Rinaldi and Francesco Franchi (Franchi is author of Gestalten’s excellent 2013 book, Designing News). It’s architectural structure and superb use of imagery is a stonking visual delight. La Repubblica has ‘changed the basic formula of Italian journalism because it (does) not present itself as a daily newspaper that naturally records the facts, but as a cultural instrument the interprets, orders and classifies them’.

Woahh! A couple of spreads from the book’s profile of La Repubblica

What do these three newspapers all have in common? Their owners and editors have recognised how their papers must reinvent themselves in order to offer a reading experience that is different to what is available online – and they know that they have to appeal to a younger/new audience without alienating their older readers. Of course, design plays a huge part in this process. As Mark Porter says in the book: ‘In a media landscape where there are so many voices all trying to shout louder than the rest, design can make the difference’.

Don’t be misled by the title of the book, Newspaper Design, because it also covers off news design in broader terms and includes articles that look into new ways of ‘telling stories’ be they online or in print. There is an excellent chapter on The New York Times which is rightly described as a ‘factory of innovation … defining multi-media storytelling for the news industry’. Recognising that their online reporting was dominated too much by long strings of text rather than offering a richer visual experience, we learn that the NYT has increased the number of ‘visual experts’ who work there – not just more designers but more visual experts in leadership roles as well – hoorah!

The New York Times has a long history of innovative design and the book reproduces a couple of layouts from the late 1970s by its legendary art director Louis Silverstein who transformed the newspaper’s fortunes with his bold designs and radical thinking. For many years I held on to a copy of a 1979 issue of the paper which I’d dragged back with me from a trip to the USA, until it finally disintegrated. I’d treasured it for its striking typography, large photos and clever illustrations.

The New York Times leading the way in the late 1970s. The design was by Louis Silverstein

The Guardian justifiably has a whole chapter devoted to its design from David Hillman’s radical 1988 redesign, through to Mark Porter’s wonderful 2005 Berliner designs, and then right up to the present day with Alex Breuer’s January 2018 reinvention of the paper in tabloid format. Way back in 1992, The Guardian launched its groundbreaking daily G2 supplement in addition to the main newspaper. G2 offered readers a longer read – feature length stories at a more relaxed reading pace – and this was a formula that was copied by many quality newspapers around the world. 

Saturday’s Guardian now includes a variety of supplements including a food magazine Feast, full of enticing pictures and delicious bands of white space, and Review a stylish, stapled book review supplement printed on good quality newsprint. Both Feast and Review are a pleasure to handle and consequently feel quite collectable – which is precisely The Guardian’s intention: offer a more immersive, tactile and magazine-like experience that digital cannot offer. As Eye magazine’s Simon Esterson says in his Insight feature: ‘Design the pages (of a newspaper) in the spirit of a magazine’. Newspaper Design gives us plenty of super examples of newspaper supplements – and a corker that I came across at a second sitting is DN STHLM, the local Stockholm news section that accompanies the Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter. The supplement is finely crafted and, like the main paper, bristles with dynamic reportage photography.

DN STHLM, the local Stockholm news section that accompanies the Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter

The colour magazine has long been part of a newspaper’s weekend armoury, offering the opportunity for longer features, great photography and illustration, and as an additional platform to generate income from advertising. Newspaper Design has some of the best examples on display: the legendary New York Times Magazine; Metropoli and Zen from El Mundo; and Robinson, Francesco Franchi’s explosion of creativity that accompanies La Repubblica each Sunday.

The New York Times Magazine

Metropoli and Zen magazines – supplements that accompany the Spanish newspaper El Mundo

Francesco Franchi’s Robinson magazine

Is there anything missing from the book? A debate on the design, or lack of design, of the popular ‘red-top’ tabloids would have been interesting – there must be some good looking mass-market newspapers worthy of inclusion – Germay’s Bild perhaps – or maybe not?! The Daily Mirror gets a small mention (it was redesigned in 2007 by Antoni Cases who has designed over 100 newspapers across 37 countries). And there are few, if any, examples from the regional press – is newspaper design helping regional newspapers secure their futures (or has all their attention to good visual journalism been abandoned in a round of cost-cutting?) and what lessons can the regionals learn from the likes of The New York Times, The Guardian or Journal i?

Newspaper Design is a must – it’s my favourite design book of the year and it’s not too late to add it to your holiday season wish list. I’ll leave you with a spread from the book that features Javier Errea’s bold redesigns carried out for The Independent in 2011.

Merry Christmas!


Our review of The Guardian redesign. January 2018

Our review of the new-look Sunday Times. April 2017

Jon Hill’s Telegraph apps: Designing for a digital audience. March 2017

Wrestling with a broadsheet: Teaching newspaper design at NUA. February 2017

A look at The New York Times Magazine covers. July 2017

Our look at the best of the Muhammad Ali newspaper tribute supplements. June 2016

A look back at 30 years of The Independent’s design. March 2016

The design of the UK ‘red-tops’. August 2015

Libération redesign. June 2015