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, (horizontal masthead shown below), with an updated iPad edition appearing next week. More of Matt Willey’s work at A2/SW/HK’s type foundry, A2-Type, is at

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

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