Designing for Modern Times

With a new font, masthead, crest and thorough restyling of its navigational system, The Times has completed the final stages of its transition to compact format that originally began in November 2003. Neville Brody and designer Jon Hill talked us through the changes they undertook, working with deputy editor Ben Preston and the paper’s in-house design team. “I likened it to moving from a house to a bedsit but not unpacking,” says Brody. “We helped them to unpack and to put stuff on the shelves. We made it more spacious.”

Times

With a new font, masthead, crest and thorough restyling of its navigational system, The Times has completed the final stages of its transition to compact format that originally began in November 2003. Neville Brody and designer Jon Hill talked us through the changes they undertook, working with deputy editor Ben Preston and the paper’s in-house design team. “I likened it to moving from a house to a bedsit but not unpacking,” says Brody. “We helped them to unpack and to put stuff on the shelves. We made it more spacious.”

The changes themselves are indeed subtle but, as Brody admits: “90 per cent of the work we’ve done is under the bonnet.” On closer inspection the paper has a cleaner, more fluid nature to it (Brody refers to this as “pruning out the clutter”) and the redesigned pages make good use of panels of informative texts that help to guide the reader into a story.

Times Business
The new design, on the right, makes more use of panels and boxes of information. (Comparative image from NewsDesigner)

Part of the initial challenge for the designers was that the newspaper was still using many of the old design systems that were in place when it existed as a broadsheet three years ago. “It inherited a lot of structure [from the broadsheet version],” Brody explains. “It wasn’t failing by any means, it was still putting on readers, but it was difficult as things had basically been squeezed into a smaller box.”

Brody’s Research Studios already had a good relationship with The Times from last year’s work on the times2 section. But in order to ensure that someone with newspaper design experience would be available to concentrate solely on the project, Brody approached Jon Hill who had previously designed supplements for The Guardian and worked on the redesign of Swiss newspaper Le Temps.

Times Comments
The new look Comment page, right, allows the text to breathe. (Comparative image from NewsDesigner)

“The Times took the view to run the broadsheet and compact together for about nine months to get their readers’ reaction and support,” says Hill of the decisions made back in 2003. “When they realised that the readers preferred the compact shape they simply switched off the broadsheet. At no point did they set out to dramatically change over night, so this redesign is simply the next stage of that evolution; organising, clarifying, improving and articulating the content in an appropriate and intelligent manner for the format.”

So this redesign is evolutionary rather than revolutionary? “It’s sort of revolutionary masquerading as evolutionary,” says Brody drily. “It’s about storytelling – making the pages ‘story led’ not ‘design led’. It’s also about giving them a toolbox. It’s a very fluid paper now. We’ve tried to bring out the articulation and have helped reinforce the difference between news copy and opinion pieces.”

“As with any large publication – on some days it can be as big as 120 pages – there’s a temptation for different sections to create their own pieces of furniture,” says Hill. “A large part of our work was to rationalise this so the reader has a smooth journey from the front to the back and receives consistent messages from the content.”

One of the most interesting influences on the new design was the internet – particularly the way in which people read news stories online. “It’s quite a traditionalist paper,” says Brody, “so we wanted to marry that with modern culture but also with the way people approach news today. So it was web-influenced really; the ‘pointers’ [below] were very much influenced by the web; they give you a quick synopsis of the story.”

Times
A two-point standfirst on features helps to outline the contents of the more detailed stories. Detail from mock-up shown

Summarising a story in a few words will, Hill believes, entice the reader in to read more. “It also allows a skim read of the paper,” adds. “The fact boxes and ‘infobytes’ can be yet another hook or they can give the reader a tangential fact on the story that may not be contained in the main piece. They also break up pages where there is a lot of grey text: essential for a paper that is not yet full colour.”

The new design is also supposed to promote better use of pictures and Brody was keen to play with notions of “scale” in the new look paper: “where a small picture can run alongside a large picture,” he says, “which isn’t what normally happens. What you usually get are stream of pictures all the same size. The eye can hover at a number of different levels so there’s something on every page that will pull you in.”

With the introduction of Times Modern, one of the biggest changes to the paper is, of course, typographical. In fact, The Times typeface has only changed on four other occasions since 1785. Brody believes that with the most recent incarnation of the masthead (prior to this new version), “they’d lost a bit of authority – it was too small and soft. We’ve kind of strengthened the voice. We were influenced by the angular 1966 masthead design and also the Dutch typographer and punch-cutter, Johann Michael Fleischman [1701-1768] whose work had an influence on the Mercury type that we used in the Times2 section before.” Fleischman’s work has also recently been revived in designs by both Matthew Carter and Christian Schwartz.

Times covers
Monday’s edition of The Times, right, complete with new font, masthead and redrawn crest. (Comparative image from NewsDesigner)

Times
Close-up of Luke Prowse’s new masthead in Times Modern

Much of typographic work on the project was undertaken by 23 year-old Luke Prowse who has been at Research Studios for two years. Previously at Jonathan Barnbrook‘s studio, before being introduced to Brody, Prowse is self-taught and has seemingly gone from strength to stregnth in the space of a few years. “Last year,” Brody recalls, “he was looking depressed. ‘I’m 22 and I’ve achieved nothing,’ he said! Now he’s worked on this under our directorship. He worked day and night for months on this: a year from start to finish, to create all the display fonts.”

The new Times Modern typeface aims to encapsulates the paper’s heritage but also adapt to the demands of the new format. Like the paper’s previous typeface, Times Classic, Times Modern has been designed as a bespoke type family: The Times is apparently one of the only newspapers to create and use bespoke fonts. “We dropped Franklin completely; it had been used throughout,” says Brody. “We’ve introduced Gotham, which is from the same house as Mercury, for the section heads, the intro boxes, captions, pull quotes – all with a very Modernist flavour. Any way that we can bring clarirty and elevate the writing in The Times, then we’ve done our job really.”

Design Team:
The Times: Ben Preston, David Driver, Mike Prowse, Chris Davalle, Kathleen Wyatt
Research Studios: Neville Brody, Jon Hill, Luke Prowse, Amrit Virdi

Thanks to Mark Friesen of the excellent NewsDesigner blog for the use of the images of comparative pages.

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