One of the most ambitious projects of 2005, the Guardian redesign has raised the benchmark of editorial design and already led to a significant uplift in Guardian sales. Having decided to shrink its broadsheet format to the new convenient Berliner size, the Guardian’s design team, led by creative director Mark Porter, used the opportunity to initiate a comprehensive and integral overhaul of the entire paper.
In an era dominated by instantaneous digital newscasts, the traditional newspaper is under increasing demands to compete for readership and attention. Yet the redesign of the Guardian was more than a reflexive response to its on-screen competitors; the team created a design which combined the most relevant aspects of newspaper tradition with digital technologies and printing processes to make the most of the reduced size, with colour photography, illustration or infographics on every page – a first in national newspaper design in the UK.
Although a newspaper has a shelf life of a single day, it is designed anew for each edition to accommodate changing news, advertisements and features. To ensure readability, coherence and continuity the design team implemented a rigorous five-column modular grid structure. A new typeface family – Guardian Egyptian – was commissioned from Christian Schwartz and Paul Barnes to enhance legibility and project a calm, contemporary personality.
More direct and visually focused, with an intelligible structure, and minimal distractions for the reader, the overall result is a newspaper designed to interpret daily news with clarity, complementing the high editorial standards the Guardian has celebrated since its first edition in 1821.
Q. What were the editorial requirements of the new paper and how does the redesign accommodate these requirements?
A.The brief was to create an intelligent serious paper, with a calm tone of voice, which retained a sense of the Guardian’s 200-year history, but was at ease with modern technology and culture. Our response was to design a calm, readable, typographically rigorous paper, which is also colourful and committed to visual journalism through the powerful use of images.
Q. Does the new-look Guardian relate to the Guardian’s heritage – what were the elements that you wanted to keep consistent?
A. Newspapers, and the way they are read, have changed so much over the last 20 years that it would be pointless to preserve design elements as if they were historic buildings. But it was important to retain the essence of the Guardian design philosophy: an approach to ordering the information, a way of using space and contrast, a love of typographic correctness, and a commitment to photography and illustration.
Q. What lessons did you learn looking at newspapers in Britain or abroad when working on the redesign?
A. As the project developed, we found that there were no existing models for what we were trying to achieve. We looked at, and admired, innumerable newspapers from all over the world, but most of the lessons we learnt were negative ones – things to avoid if we were to create something really special.
Q. Can you explain the origins of the term ‘Berliner’?
A. It simply refers to the size of the finished product. The Berliner was one of the three standard paper sizes in continental Europe when newspaper presses were built before the First World War. It caught on in Germany and Switzerland, and made inroads in France and Spain, but never made it across the channel until now. Ironically, there are no longer any Berliner-format newspapers published in Berlin.
Q. What were the reasons behind commissioning a new font for the redesign?
We tested fonts from many of the world’s top type designers, but in the end we didn’t find any which had all the characteristics we required. We were looking for something traditional yet modern, compact, and available in an enormous range of weights for use at text and display sizes. We found that the only way to achieve this was to create the typeface ourselves.
A. How has the newspaper adjusted to using full colour, and has it been successful?
Within a week or so the colour felt very natural. It gives us wonderful opportunities with photography, illustration and graphics. But it is also very useful in the typography, to aid navigation, and help distinguish different flavours of content. The biggest danger would have been to go over the top and use too much colour. But by combining certain elements in a few strong colours with black and a range of greys, we found a way of making the paper feel colourful but still intelligent and distinguished.
Q. The Guardian is a beautifully tooled paper, but how do you ensure that the readers are helped by the design rather than put off by it?
A. Any successful editorial design project puts the reader first, and usability was at the heart of this project. The typefaces were developed for legibility as well as character, and the pages are constructed to make the newspaper as readable and navigable as possible. Of course we care about aesthetics, but only when we are confident about functionality. We do not want readers look at a newspaper and see graphic design; they should see events, people and ideas.
Q. Explain how the "quiet" tone of the newspaper was achieved through its redesign?
A. We were keen to avoid the typographic inflation which is common in the newspaper world, whereby run-of-the-mill stories are routinely reported with headline sizes which would once have been reserved for World War III. We made an early decision to use a lighter headline typeface than any other daily newspaper, and to keep the headlines relatively small; we felt that as most media become increasingly strident, readers would value a calm considered voice. Of course, a newspaper must also reflect the energy and drama of its content, but we felt that could be better achieved by dynamic use of images
Q. What were the reasons for using a five column grid? How strictly is this used or do you allow some flexibility to respond to the news of the day?
A. A multi-section newspaper needs a strict grid structure to achieve coherence and consistency across sections designed by many different people. We chose five columns across the Berliner page – wider than most newspapers – because it was a much more comfortable reading measure; one of the strengths of the Guardian is its writing, and we aimed to make reading a genuine pleasure in the new format. But there are also underlying 10- and 20-column grids which, used with discretion, can inject some rhythm and variation into what could otherwise become a stately but rather monotonous run of pages.
Q. How has the reader responded to the design? What changes have you made since the launch?
A. Reader response has been overwhelmingly positive. We have adjusted some details in response to readers’ requests (certain colour combinations in a few places were problematic for colourblind readers, for example) but overall very little has changed. The G2 section is still evolving, as the concept of a magazine format with newspaper deadlines and production is so new that we are still exploring the possibilities.
Q. How many of the design decisions were influenced by the plans for the online version of the Guardian? What plans are there for the online?
A. Print and online are very different media. This was a print design project – and although we took into account the effect of the internet on the reading habits of our audience, we did not base any design decisions on our plans for the Guardian Unlimited. But we do have plans, and that is my next design challenge.
Q. What other newspapers and editorial designers do you admire?
A. I see much to admire in many newspapers, but I particularly love the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung for its austere beauty and The New York Times for its brilliant supplements (and its writing). Unfortunately, most of my design heroes – Willy Fleckhaus, Alexei Brodovitch, David King – are no longer designing magazines, but there is still plenty of talent in the industry right now.
1821 Founded by John Edward Taylor as the Manchester Guardian, published on Saturdays.
1830s Illustrations cut to make room for more news and advertisements
1855 Stamp Duty tax on newspapers abolished allowing the Guardian to publish daily, Monday to Saturday.
1872 Known for his liberal viewpoint, Charles Prescott Scott appointed editor.
1886 Illustrations reintroduced to accompany feature articles.
1908 Walter Doughty appointed first staff photographer.
1936 Ownership of paper transferred to the Scott Trust ensuring the paper’s independence.
1952 Unprecedented removal of advertising from front page, making the news the main focus.
1959 “Manchester” dropped from paper’s title to reflect national and international focus. Moves to London in 1961.
1988 Significant redesign by David Hillman introducing new masthead – a juxtaposition of an italic Garamond "The", with a bold Helvetica "Guardian”.
1992 G2 launched as daily tabloid-format supplement.
1995 First colour photograph on front page.
1999 Design changes led by Simon Esterson including clearer headings on news pages, new font, smaller headline sizes.
2005 Complete redesign of paper launches 12 September with Berliner format, new masthead and full colour.
2006 Designer of the Year nominee
2007 Selected for 25/25 - Celebrating 25 Years of Design