Monthly Archives: November 2013

The future of news design. In a BOOK!

The challenge with a book about news, is that as soon as it’s printed, it goes out of date. Which makes this book from Francesco Franchi, the award winning art director of Italy’s Il, all the more impressive.

The post on his own site has plenty of images and details about what he was trying to achieve. In particular, this line stood out:

‘Designing News explores how today’s media outlets can become credible, cross-platform news brands. Franchi advocates redefining reporting as telling a continuous narrative across a broad range of traditional and digital media. To this end, he proposes a new, integrated role for editorial designers in advancing the evolution of media for the future.’

The book quotes many people on this point, not least Khoi Vinh, who back in October 2011 argued the case for a new kind of ‘Editorial Experience Designer’; according to Franchi, a figure ‘who can build a great digital product out of great editorial content’.

On top of all this theory, the book is an excellent work of reference, with examples of The Guardian, Bloomberg, Il, The New York Times, Zeit online, New York, USA Today, Katachi and many more. The index is excellent, likewise the bibliography and all the references.

There are fine essays from Mark Porter and Richard Turley and a quite amazing story about the development of the Guardian font families from Paul Barnes and Christian Schwarz.

If I have a complaint, its that it all feels very dense. There are a LOT of words, and many of the pictures are similar sizes. But that doesn’t alter the fact that every designer, and every journalist should own this book.

You can buy one at Gestalten or on amazon.

This is just genius

Richard Turley’s Bloomberg covers are generally reckoned to be the best in the world, but this surely takes some beating. The little spinning wheel of death is a masterstroke, allowing the cover to work in print, but more importantly, animate online, which is where many more people can see it.

And this is how they got to the decision. Many thanks to for drawing it to my attention.

Newspapers are still taking our attention for granted. Here’s how they can change that…

Following on from my story on The Independent redesign earlier this week, twitter led me to this excellent post on Media Shift, entitled “What Newspapers Can Learn From Brands”

Their central thesis is that brands have successfully learned how to craft a voice in order to get digital content right. But that traditional newspapers have yet to learn how to do this properly.

This isn’t entirely true of course, The Sun newspaper is an amazing example of successful tone in print, likewise the Mail online and The Guardian across both, or at least to a degree. But many of the rest constantly overestimate the attention of their audience.

The Media Shift post is prompted by the Financial Times announcing it was taking the next steps in its “digital first” strategy, but then goes on to really lay out some home truths about news today. Here’s an extract:

‘The race to be first in reporting a story is leading to irrelevant news that doesn’t make the audience any smarter, well informed or engaged. People are emotional and pay close attention to things with context and connection….if a story lacks a voice and contextualizing information, it’s more likely to be overlooked and unshared.

What people need now is an interpretation of the news. This doesn’t mean adding in bias, but creating thoughtful and engaging content that starts conversation. The Internet has leveled the playing field and enabled audiences to set the stage, telling publishers in real-time the type of content they want to see and read… If viewers aren’t spending time on a website, it’s time to shake things up.’

But if you really want to shake things up, have a look at this. Switzerland’s oldest newspaper, The New Zurich Times, has turned itself into a coffee shop! Well, not exactly, but what they have done is partnered with a food and beverage concession to open a coffee shop at Zurich airport.

The report says the “sleek, light and contemporary” café serves fresh sandwiches including rustic Venticina salami served in Laugenstange german-style wheat roll, Pastrami with tartar sauce in a swiss bread called Bürli, or a Swiss traditional favourite of dried beef, smoked ham, salami, gruyere cheese in a Campaillette baguette.

Every customer at the café is also offered an instant download of the day’s editon of NZZ and a free four-week subscription to the publication.

Newspapers are in trouble, and no mistake. But rather than just beat themselves up, their opportunity is to seek profit outside themselves by partnering with like minded brands more aggressively.

This example of super smart thinking has been kindly supplied by Andy Pemberton from Furthr, who has also just shared the amazing graph below, showing the massive decline in newspaper advertising and Google’s corresponding rise. Magazine advertising has gone down, but all things considered, is actually holding up pretty well.

Why The Independent redesign does not go far enough

This is the fifth redesign in as many years, which suggests Last Chance Saloon is not too far away. But here at coverthink we live in The Now, so let’s not worry about that, and just look at the work. The website has been redesigned alongside the paper, and there are interesting plans to introduce a new tablet app, but overall there appears to be no big change to the marketing of the brand. So I’m guessing the four redesign KPI’s are as follows:

1. Differentiate the paper against ‘i’, the Independent’s cheaper tabloid cousin.

This picture shows the previous confusion between the two, with both carrying red in the masthead. The new design has undoubtably separated the two products, primarily through making the logo a black serif and putting it on its side. Magazine logos have been seen like this (The Face circa 1990) and I’m sure there will be European papers pulling this stroke too, but it’s not been seen on a British paper before.

Under normal circumstances, I hate type on it’s side. But in this instance I have real sympathy to the approach. Independent is a very long word, so this way the logo remains BIG and the remaining space is cut into a different sort of shape.

But with no logo at the top, the key is to put stuff in its place that genuinely expresses the brand essence. It can be content or marketing, but it has to really rock.

The top of the paper starts with a band of white space (including barcode and red eagle), signalling its ‘magaziney’ intentions. But this illumination means nothing if the content beneath doesn’t repay the investment.

On this cover the opportunity has been missed. The words are underwhelming, the type is small and there is no hierarchy within this critical part of the page. Which is frustrating, as some of the content is strong and highly ‘ownable’.

The second difficulty the new logo creates is how to divide the page. On a normal width, this can be done vertically, like the Daily Mail and Express; splash on the left, picture story on the right.

But with the new Indy, the narrow page means the picture story is presented over the splash. This profoundly diminishes the headlines’ importance, as well as suggesting the picture story is somehow part of it. All in all, it makes the paper feel more like a monthy review rather than a crusading, urgent and compulsive daily purchase.

2. Sell more ads.

This might work, as the paper looks more sophisticated. There’s a nice use of white space, elegant typography, and a sense of restraint all round. Regular advertising is going to stand out better. But as far as I can see, the increasing shift of clients money into content marketing has not been addressed.

3. Improve reader satisfaction

I loved the Independent when it launched in 1986, and so did many others. As the current editor Amol Rajan said this week, “It was radically different, politically neutral, with huge pictures and real gusto.” This is the top of the first issue, taken from the Indy’s own cover gallery. But in recent years it has struggled to maintain a clear editorial direction compared to the clarity of the Guardian, Telegraph and Times. Whether due to failure of editorial or creative direction is neither here nor there, a redesign is always an opportunity to have a fresh start.

The new look has been led by Matt Wiley, a well respected magazine designer, responsible for the upmarket men’s magazine Port, along with plenty of other good work.

A full set of original fonts have been cut especially for the paper. They’re really good new typefaces, and give a great opportunity for the Indy to deliver content in its own voice. There’s an excellent overview in Creative Review, taking us through the design in fine detail, along with many images of the type in action.

But for all the beauty of the type, some of it is just too small to be easily legible. Readers have complained, obliging Amol Rajan to say that he has taken these comments on board and ‘asked the designers to address them urgently’.

Roy Greenslade, writing in the Guardian, applauds the team for the redesign, appreciating the “commitment to essay-writing as distinct from news busy-ness”. But he also points to the weakness of placing the editorial on page two, as well as other flatplan adjustments. Overall, he suggests readers will more baffled more than anything else.

For me, I have mixed feelings. I’ve bought the paper three times in three days, having not picked up a copy for years. I’ve read it, and I’ve enjoyed it.

But for all the boldness of the new logo, they just haven’t gone far enough. If the Independent’s owner, Evgeny Lebedev, can describe his paper as having “a proud record of innovation”, he should have put his money where his mouth is and done this:

a) Make the splash headline really tell the story. A few more words would deliver real newsstand cut-through, as well as allowing the line to be replicated and owned across all the digital platforms.

b) Properly visualise the splash. Use an infographic, a powerful picture or a typographic solution. Make the whole cover an image that people will want to share, to establish the idea of the front page as an event, as opposed to a template.

c) Put less copy in the paper, make the type bigger, and let stories run longer online. That way, browsing the paper will be a more pleasurable experience, as well as letting the print serve to market the digital platform.

d) Move the horizontal ad position off page three onto page two. As it stands, the paper comes to a grinding halt before it’s even begun.

4. Stabilise newsstand circulation

As always, this is the only KPI editors and owners really care about. Here’s the petrol station in Hackney where I bought my issue last Thursday. Given the current landscape, you’d be a brave man to think that a redesign alone will shift more copies. The fact of the matter, is that paid-for media brands now have to work incredibly hard to stimulate demand. This requires great content, a powerful brand filter and a sophisticated marketing operation. Daily newspapers must set the agenda, and get talked about across every platform.

There’s an interview with Editor Amol Rajan in Media Week, where he talks a good talk about his hopes for the redesign. Media week says: “By recalling the spirit of its founders, Rajan hopes to reinforce the paper’s Enlightenment values and strike a chord in what he considers to be an increasingly ‘sceptical but engaged’ age”

But the line that caught my eye was: “There are maybe a dozen areas we can do absolutely better than everybody else”.

Like all the other serious broadsheets, The Independent covers just about everything. so communicating this brand’s point of difference is absolutely essential in letting the reader know why they are buying it. The primary task of a redesign like this is to focus the readers attention on the things that really matter, but for me this is where it falls down. The design is too polite, and the editorial direction not ruthless enough.

Add that to the lack of newsstand cut through, and I can’t see this redesign making any significant difference to copy sales any time soon. I really hope I’m wrong.