The Independent redesigns

The Independent revealed a new look today, the result of a three month-long project from designer Matt Willey and the newspaper’s in-house design team. Here, Willey and the paper’s Stephen Petch and Dan Barber, talk through the changes which include a new bespoke type family and a radical masthead redesign

The Independent revealed a new look today, the result of a three month-long project from designer Matt Willey and the newspaper’s in-house design team. Here, Willey and the paper’s Stephen Petch and Dan Barber, talk through the changes which include a new bespoke type family and a radical masthead redesign…

Since launching in its ‘compact’ format in 2003, The Independent has famously shifted its appearance several times; going full-colour in 2008 under Roger Alton’s editorship, relaunching again with Evgeny Lebedev’s acquisition in 2010, with another new look steered by editor Chris Blackhurst a year later that brought in the brick red sans-serif masthead (yesterday’s edition, shown below).

The front page of yesterday’s Independent

Last Friday, the paper’s editor Amol Rajan announced another redesign. Referencing the “gorgeous and radical” look of when The Independent first launched in 1986, the aim with its new incarnation would be to better reflect this “bold” and “forthright” founding spirit. Further, Rajan continued, the daily edition needed more differentiation from i, its sister paper, and greater emphasis on creating the “feeling of a broadsheet in compact form”.

News page and opening page of Voices section

All writer and columnist portraits are illustrated by Dan Williams

That Matt Willey, the designer behind Port, Elephant, and the recently redesigned RIBAJ, was brought in to refresh the newspaper, perhaps suggested that the influence of his magazine background would permeate the new look.

While elements of his experience in the field (which notably includes working with Arem Duplessis on the New York Times Magazine in 2011) occur throughout the new design, what is perhaps most interesting about the result is how he has so seamlessly turned his hand to newsprint.

Willey was initially approached to work on the redesign by The Independent’s head of creative, Dan Barber. From the outset, says Barber, it was clear that the two had very similar ideas on what the newspaper should be doing.

Willey knew of Stephen Petch’s work on the Independent on Sunday’s magazine, The New Review, and asked that he be part of the team. In-house designer Gordon Smith also contributed to the later stages of the design process, working on the Sports section.

“The whole reason behind it was that The Independent as it was didn’t look like The Independent,” says Petch. “It needed someone from the outside to come in and completely re-examine the whole thing, [to start] a stripping out process.”

The changes themselves are less a redesign and more a complete overhaul, thanks in part to the new set of typefaces designed by Henrik Kubel of A2/SW/HK and A2-Type, that are worked through the newspaper. Designing from the type up has meant that the way each page works has been rethought, restructured, and, in particular, de-cluttered and simplified.

Opening page to Section 2

“We knew quite quickly what we wanted the paper to look like, it was very organic,” says Barber. “We looked at the Antwerp face in the early stages then talked to Henrik; he started pushing it around and customising it. It’s the first time we’d actually talked about getting a whole family of fonts custom-made – and taking everything back to a family of fonts became essential. The majority of the identity for this comes from the typeface. We started from a very basic framework and built in the details and flourishes of interest.”

From the front page the new direction is striking. The blocky sans-serif masthead has made way for a new design that is at once radical but also elegant. Willey says its placement is a way of making the compact front page appear more sophisticated, creating a taller, more broadsheet-like format for the cover story and photograph.

“I wanted to go back to an elegant serif for the masthead which felt like such a strong part of the newspaper’s identity when it was a great paper,” Willey says. “Running it vertically allows what is a fairly long name to be prominent, unapologetic, without it getting in the way.”

Perhaps most importantly, he adds, the repositioning gives the lead story or photograph room to breathe. “The story can be at the top, you can lead straight in to it, without it being sat-on by the masthead. It’s a strongly and more clearly branded cover, but it gives more pertinence to the story, to the news of that day.”

With the masthead moved to the left, the ‘eagle’ device sites top-left of the front page. The logo remains true to the previous design but has been tidied up by Walter Molteni of Latigre and redrawn with particular scales and uses (e.g. digital) in mind.

For the type, Kubel has produced a set of custom drawn typefaces for use across the whole newspaper – an Indy Serif with italics (light, medium and bold); an Indy Sans (light, bold and heavy), an Indy Sans Condensed face (light, medium and bold) and an Indy Hairline, a version of which is used in the masthead. “I didn’t think of working with anyone else and I liked the fact that Henrik hadn’t done a newspaper typeface before,” says Willey.

“The fonts have been designed to deliver everything from delicate headlines, to hardworking text settings, down to very small point sizes for factual information and listings,” says Kubel.

“The final font set comprises 14 fonts in total, divided into four sub sets [above] and a special Numbers-only font. Each of the fonts share the same underlying structure and basic framework which means that, although they differ in look, style and weight, they do feel the same – a real family.”

The new-look weather page features illustrations of 11 cities by Sarah McMenemy

This holistic approach to the type means that all the sections of the paper have a clear visual link with one another. And Willey’s work has extended well beyond the daily newspaper to creating new cover templates for the Radar and Traveller publications, the insides of which are put together by the Barcelona-based designer, Jennifer Waddell.

Covers of the Radar and Traveller sections which will be published with Saturday’s edition

He has also redesigned the Saturday Magazine with Petch, alongside picture editor Annalee Mather and editors Will Dean and Larry Ryan. The new-look magazine incorporates “bold use of the Indy Sans Heavy for feature headlines [and] a cover template that pays homage to the Derek Birdsall-era design of the magazine”.

Cover of Saturday’s Magazine

Tim Key’s column in the Magazine, illustrated by Ping Zhu

While there is something of the classic look of the paper’s early days within the new design, Willey sees the project as addressing the very real concerns involved in producing a paper in today’s climate. “I think the design had lost some of its confidence and coherence,” he says, “it had become a complicated and chaotic thing both in terms of how it looks and feels to read, but also, crucially, in terms of how it’s put together by the team here.”

Editorially the restructuring has meant there are far fewer middle-length stories and more ‘news in brief’ and longer features. This, says Willey, made a big impact on how the pages looked as immediately there was more contrast between the stories just in terms of length. “It’s a difficult time for newspapers,” he says, “and the reality is there’s a limited amount of people doing a huge amount of work to tight deadlines. So you can’t design something like this without that being the first consideration.”

News in brief stories

The thin column to the right of articles takes captions, pull quotes and extra details

The small size of the team putting the paper together was a practical aspect to the work that the designers put to the forefront of their approach. “A lot of the pages are put together by subs under very pressured deadlines, and it was a complicated and unclear thing to build,” says Willey. “It felt important to do something confident, something cleaner, more sophisticated and so on, but it also had to be something that could be built better, put together more easily and with more understanding – something that could be sustained.

Spread from Saturday’s Magazine

Opening to The Back Pages section in the Magazine

“We were keen to strip out a lot of the clutter, to simplify the colour palette, to have more deliberate and rational use of colour, photographs and graphics, he says.

“The problem is that when everything is shouting, as the pages used to do, nothing actually stands out. By having cleaner simplified pages you can choose to put emphasis on something much more effectively, it can be more subtly done and be more impactful – it doesn’t have to fight with 30 other things on the same page.

“I get the hints back to the previous Independent designs but I wasn’t concentrating on that. This feels like something very new. It’s modern, it’s not too reflective. It just feels like The Independent to me.”

The redesign has also been rolled out on the The Independent’s website, independent.co.uk (horizontal masthead shown below), with an updated iPad edition appearing next week. More of Matt Willey’s work at mattwilley.co.uk. A2/SW/HK’s type foundry, A2-Type, is at a2-type.co.uk.


Ping Zhu also illustrates the ‘Let Me Ask You This’ column in the Magazine

  • Joe Baglow

    fantastic

  • George

    Great work for a great newspaper!

  • Mark

    Wow. Design of the year.

    You can tell they’ve really thought about where it sits alongside ‘i’ and the website, not chasing those with short attention spans but embracing the depth of their reporting.

    Obviously it’ll never shift the same amount as the Suns and the Mails but I can imagine it’ll revive a loyal customer base who’ll enjoy feeling pretty smug reading this in public.

  • Rob

    WOW.
    I always thought The Independent’s design was top notch, this is even better.

  • Exceptional work. Typography is beautiful and grid structure nicely organized.

  • adam

    Beautiful, the detail and typographic choices are wonderful.

  • Ian Bolton

    Why point out the mistake on the weather page?! :-)
    Really great design. Just looking through it now and there’s some lovely uses of typography.

  • Tom

    Ohhhh wow, hello my new favourite paper

  • Josh

    Love it!

  • Lloyd

    That’s pretty freaking lovely. Would love to buy it but I’m in America and don’t know if they’re sold here.

  • Brian

    Not unlike the guardian though

  • john

    we can wait (eagerly) for the ipad edition
    side note: there sure is a lot of stencil typefaces appearing these days

  • Lovely design work, clean, fresh and well thought out. Very good project.

  • Dan

    Nice!

  • I like how the redesign was not just about typography and grids and color, but also about a sustainable content strategy. Really nice work.

  • Brilliant stuff all round

  • I just picked this up from the newagents, it just looked amazing! I can say I haven’t been positively surprised by a piece of editorial design like this for a very long time. It looks fresh, contemporary and uncluttered, at the same time very appealing, makes me want to read the paper! Top marks to Matt and the design team.

  • Very nice. Shame that the website is a little flat in comparison. Perhaps that will be dealt with too, in time.

  • John

    Love it! Clean, modern and elegant. The Independent is now the best looking newspaper in the UK – if not the world.

  • Chris

    Ripping up traditional newspaper rhetoric and using rules in justified type… interesting

  • Natalie

    Love the new design, go the Independent! Well done.

  • Salahuddin al-Hanbali

    Drop dead gorgeous and a MASSIVE improvement from the frankly disgusting tabloid feel of the re-designed predecessor – this is far more elegant, balanced and mature.

    Shifting the masthead to the margin is a genius stroke, helping The Independent fulfil its namesake amongst an increasingly bland, UK market of printed news.

    Great work to all involved. Stellar job.

  • Thanks for the overview Mark, great to hear more about the details of this eagerly anticipated redesign. Matt has done a predictably brilliant job, I eventually managed to pick one up today, the only copy left in the last shop I visited – maybe a sign that the redesign is already shifting more copies. Its a lovely piece of work – deserves the praise its receiving and I expect to see this picking up awards in due time.

  • I love the new look. It is very refreshing & the readability has improved through The Independent.

  • Graham Clifford

    Henrik is speaking tonight at the Type Directors Club in New York

  • Dane

    Quality work! simple and clear design.

  • Johan Siebke

    I’ve read the Independent regularly since 1990 and lived through a few redesigns. The previous one in 2011(?) was absolutely horrible with its super fat headline type with next to no linespacing and blocky red masthead as if it tried to emulate the red-tops to sell more issues.
    This one, on the other hand, is fantastic. Receiving the newspaper yesterday morning really made me want to read it. Fantastic job, well done! Hope it will take longer until next redesign, this one is worth savouring for a while.

  • Really beautiful and authoritative. Enough to make me switch to The Independent as my choice of newspaper.

  • Ed

    It’s gorgeous, but will the website still look a mess?

  • amazing. well done!

  • Love the new design . It look great :)

  • Extremely impressive redesign, elegant and appropriate. Also pleasing to see a massive leap forward from the previous red masthead with a more sophisticated and restrained approach. Shows the worth of carefully crafted typography. Look forward to picking up a copy.

  • Great work. Independent need this. Return to form.

  • sb

    I enjoy reading the Independent, and agree generally with the positive comments on the new design. My one criticism is that you have made the text columns narrower, which makes the articles harder to read. I notice the Independent on Sunday has stuck the the previous column spacing. Ultimately access to the content is more important than just looking good.

  • I’m excited for the future of publications when something as common as a newspaper is made to this standard. Excellent work.

  • Scooterch

    “It’s modern, it’s not too reflective. It just feels like The Independent to me.”
    It certainly feels like The Independent, but modern? Frankly it looks as old as Punch. But I seem to be alone in thinking it looks a complete, fusty mess.

  • Andrew

    Design is a return to the classic Indie look when first launched. Sadly the journalism is shocking and has been since it started to tell people what to think.

  • Simple and beautiful – print’s not dead!

  • Tom

    A beautiful, intelligent redesign which hopefully will give the Independent a sense of purpose and a bit more of a clear position in its market. So great to see investment in design, especially in type.

    This is all particularly welcome after quite a few redesigns in recent years which has seen the paper struggle to find its identity. I suppose it remains to be seen whether the printed edition – which now has quite a different and more upmarket magazine feel – can claim a place in the market.

    On the other hand I do feel a bit disappointed when you hear about the redesign being ‘rolled out’ to a website as if it were just a formality now that the physical paper is looking good.

    The Independent still has a weak and fragmented digital presence and it would be a shame if the quality of the printed product was not matched by a similarly high-quality approach to their digital service.

  • splash

    It looks sharper than before, but totally reminiscent of its original concept. It also looks to have been ‘influenced(read copied)’ from The Guardian with their ground-breaking relaunch in 1988, even down to the lavish use of the ampersand. So although its slightly more coherent than before it doesn’t offer anything new.

  • andy watt

    I miss the illustrations by the excellent Darren Diss, and the other chap……..Andy Wattsisname?

  • A really beautiful design refresh

  • D Waterworth

    We have enjoyed your The Independent since it came into being but now it looks as though we will have to change to another newspaper because the type size has gone so small that we cannot read a lot of the news. This has been made worse by some inappropriate coloured print such as the pink colour used in headlines in the TV section. Great pity!

  • Ming

    I am from Malaysia, and would love to flip through a copy. Anyone willing to help? Thanks.

  • Love Matt’s work. Always classy, clean and relevant editorial design. This is no exception.

  • I’m clearly in the minority, I don’t think it works that well as a newspaper re-design. As magazines as newspapers merge together, I still think the editorial designer has to make a judgement on elements such as the large piece of display type (see ‘Section 2’) and whether it’s really necessary beyond shouting ‘hey’ we’re using new typefaces’. The small picture nor small amount of type on the page add anything in terms of drama or content, and one is left with ‘a look’, so prevalent in so many other magazines and newspapers.

    Are readers really going to use such minimal navigation in tiny chunks across the tops of pages, something we’ve seen in every fashion/style mag since Monocle? The top section of the paper looks pretty incoherent to me, and sets no style in any particular form, if anything it looks like a jam of several heading styles from different sections. The picture seems to sit with the lower heading, not with the light grey smaller heading above it.

    Matt has clearly made his decisions and the style of the re-design falls very much in line with the rest of his portfolio, with a small selection of classy typefaces being used to the fore and for more illustrative purposes when previously images would have been used. Does it set a distinctive, fresh, original style for a well-known daily? Not in my opinion, I’m afraid.

    Does it display a knowledge for how people actually read and does it make the best use of all available content? Again, not in my opinion. Take a look at the Times for instance, it’s streets ahead. Everything on the page, whether you find it attractive or not, has a reason to be there and the page structure is sound throughout.

    I get the feeling this re-design will be superseded quite soon. Sorry, as I say, I know I’m in the minority!

  • Gary Cook
  • bob

    back to the dark ages lol when will newspapers learn its time for colour not crap old journalism