New Book Chronicles Fast-Changing Newspaper Design

By: Carl Sullivan

“Newspaper design is changing at a rate we haven’t seen since the days of Hearst and Pulitzer,” says noted designer Roger Black in the forward to a new collection of essays, “Contemporary Newspaper Design,” edited by John D. Berry. As visuals become more important and stories get shorter, “we are seeing a new wave of newspaper design,” Black says, pointing to designers such as Mario Garcia, Lucie Lacava, Simon Esterson and Ally Palmer.

Berry, a longtime design writer and editor, notes that newspaper designs cross the oceans more frequently these days, “partly because of the way the same consultants get hired to work on redesigns all over the world.” In the pages that follow, various designers explain the history and evolution of newspaper production, from the days of metal type to today’s digital page composition.

In one of the essays, Black details his design work at the Los Angeles Times, beginning in 1998, and recalls how his team’s work was caught in the middle of the Staples Center fiasco. A new prototype, including a daily sports tab, had been approved for implementation but was stopped cold when it became public that the Times had a secret deal to share advertising revenues with the Staples Center. “Before we knew it, our main contact, John Lindsay, was fired, presumably for throwing up the first red flag about the Staples quid-pro-quo,” Black writes. Not long after, the paper’s publisher and editor were gone, along with Times Mirror CEO Mark Willes. Black was brought back to L.A. after the Times was purchased by Chicago’s Tribune Co. and John Carroll was named editor.

In recalling her work on the new National Post in Canada in 1998, designer Lucie Lacava explains the freedom that starting a newspaper from scratch allows. With an entirely new staff coming together to build a new product, “we could implement the new design without resistance” from an entrenched newsroom or culture, she writes.

The book’s other essays include details about redesigns in Denver, the U.K., Sweden, Brazil, Switzerland, El Salvador and elsewhere. Designers discuss the merits of tabloids vs. broadsheets, typography, nameplates, reader testing, and advertising campaigns to promote redesigns.

And Berry provides an interesting study comparing two newspapers that use the same Gulliver type family — USA Today and Germany’s Stuttgarter Zeitung. “Comparing them is an object lesson in how wildly varying the effect can be, depending on how you use the typeface,” he writes. “Giving the type a little space [as in the case of Stuttgarter Zeitung] creates a quieter-looking page, while pumping up the type and squeezing it tightly gives it urgency [as USA Today does].”

At 192 pages, the book, from Mark Batty Publisher, makes extensive use of color illustrations, including many “before” and “after” shots of newspaper redesigns.

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