Newspaper typography

Erik Fleischer's picture

I'm curious about the average typographic standards (or lack thereof) of newspapers in different countries.

Below is a scan of a clipping from a regional daily ("Estado de Minas", circulation just over 2 million). The image isn't very good, and even at 150% of the original size it's hard to see details (I tried tweaking contrast etc but that's about the best I could get), but I think there's more than enough there for a first appraisal.

It would be great to see other samples from around the world. Also, feel free to comment on this sample.

Erik Fleischer's picture

Thanks, Paul, but my goal was to start a discussion with people who actually touch their local paper and have an opinion about its typographic shortcomings -- or qualities (as opposed to discussing samples one can find online). What newspaper do you read, if any? Any comments on its typography?

Reed Reibstein's picture

Well, I can comment on my recent redesign of my school's monthly paper. I ended up using Mercury Text Grade 2 for the body text (and Farnham Display for the headlines). Being a novice at news design and having just read Bringhurst, I decided to make the body text 9 pt on 11 pts leading. When I hear about news design nowadays, I often hear of much tighter spacing, usually between .5 pt to 1 pt.

Although my choice of 9 on 11 might have diminished our ability to put enough words on the page, it ultimately ended up to our benefit. The reason is that the generous leading significantly lightens the typographic color of the page, so publishing a page of largely text, without many subheads, graphics, pull quotes, etc. to break up the gray monotony (which is usually condemned as being intimidating) ends up not feeling too oppressive. So ultimately I've been happy with my decision -- I think that it's ultimately made the paper more accessible to flighty student readers.

Don McCahill's picture

Erik

Your sample seems to show an awful lot of hyphens, for what is not an exceptionally narrow column.

Most of the Canadian newspapers I read have gone through redesigns in the past few years, and are fairly good, especially compared to the crud that existed back in the days when I was a reporter (1970s). There has been a general brightening up of the pages with lighter type, larger type, and wider columns in the redesigns. Ragged setting is used more, generally on opinion, rather than news.

Kerning is all by machine, but the machines are getting better. I know most people here would consider it attrocious, but compared to what it was in the past.

Trivia

The best story about newspaper typography came in the early days of computerized typesetting, on a paper using a proprietary system, I think. The editor went ballistic when he discovered that the program had hyphenated the word God!

Erik Fleischer's picture

The editor went ballistic when he discovered that the program had hyphenated the word God!

Oh boy. If this had happened nowadays the newspaper might well have been the victim of some kind of fundamentalist attack... :-)

Hyphenation in English is far more complicated than in Portuguese (a language in which there are fairly simple, universal hyphenation rules), though. But that has nothing to do with your point about excessive hyphenation.

What bothers me most about this specific sample is the complete disregard for the original interletter spaces. Maybe this is more evident in the [unenlarged] original.

kris's picture

VIrtually all papers in New Zealand are total rubbish in terms of design. Banal, vile stuff. I would love to be proven wrong.

—K

Alessandro Segalini's picture

My 5¢ for LIBERTÀ, I managed to restore the grave accent after 56 years of using the apostrophe.

Graham Rendoth's picture

Erik, etc

Your scanned sample is interesting. Much more 'magazine- like' to my Australian eye – tight leading, very condensed, wide column. Even though I dont read Spanish(?), I find it a little difficult for my eyes to just flow through. If I wanted to read 'all' the content I might find it a little difficult, but if I was just 'scanning' the information it would probably be OK, or even very easy.

The development of newspaper typography/layout, is always an intriguing one. As always there are cultura, media and technical considerations.

My observation of newspaper design in Australia and to some extent in Western Europe and the US over the last 20 years is that if proprietors or editorial administration have 'commercial' or 'branding' interests, as well as funds, there will be onging considerations of their publication’s design. There will be thoughts about typographic fashion, concerns for a fresh style, or perhaps fine-tuning of an expected look for a particular publication. Even publications which are intended to appear conservative and so relatively unchanging (eg. the traditional dense look of 'The New York Times', the slightly fresher style of the UKs 'Guardian') have ongoing typographic 'tweaks'.

In Sydney, The broadsheet 'Sydney Morning Herald' has had ongoing makeovers in the past couple of decades – in part, because of the where digital design could allow quicker production by less staff. The first change I really noticed was relatively subtle with introduction of sans-serf headlines and a dense high x-height serif setting of the text. I'm not sure, but I think the designer borrowed some of the look of what was then newly designed Guardian as well as what was happening in some more progressive US newspapers. The new look allowed for more hyphenations (automatic!) to fit text in traditionally small columns (and so less white rivers) and there was a little more white space around images, etc. This is where the 'design' would have been discussed with 'editorial' staff. I think they also introduced a slightly whiter paper to aid in image contrast. Some time around 2000 the look was modified with a new set of similar but different text fonts, a more dramatic titling font, and wider columns – all intended to be more readable for a general audience that were developing better skills in interepreting layouts and interesting looking fonts (largely an influence of our 'magazine' culture I suppose). There have since been some ongoing (degenerative?) changes.

There are a couple of independent Australian design companies that specialise in editorial designs (ie. magazine, newspaper). One is de Luxe and Associates. James de Vries and his team have done some good solid work over the years with mostly Australian and Asian publications. They consider overrall design, including who will be setting the publications and how effectively the proposed design can be maintained, or developed. If anyone is interested their site has some interesting comments within their Editorial > Neswpaper project samples:

A sample of a site comment is:

Project: FPC Couriers
“Mid-2006, we undertook one of our most ambitious projects yet – to redesign an entire suite of local newspapers. As well as the six existing titles, we also had to accommodate a “footprint restructure” and evolution of new titles.
Once the designs were completed and the processes behind them fully realised, they were then implemented across multiple offices, each with their own different set of staff and requirements. Once this was achieved, staff (including editors) were briefed and trained, with early issues monitored to iron out any wrinkles.”

Cheers. Graham

Erik Fleischer's picture

Graham,

Thanks for your truly interesting post. Not surprisingly, it seems to me that Australia is far ahead of Brazil in terms of newspaper typography.

(...) all intended to be more readable for a general audience (...)

Aha! So newspapers down under are actually aware of the importance of readability! I don't think most people in the Brazilian newspaper business have even heard about that...

By the way, my newspaper sample is in Portuguese, Brazil's only official language.

hrant's picture

Brazil does enjoy de Groot's superb Folha though.
How's the custom type action Down Under?

hhp

Erik Fleischer's picture

Yes, Folha de São Paulo is far superior to Estado de Minas (not only design-wise) and is probably the best newspaper in Brazil in terms of both typography and reporting. Still, it is far from perfect. I know newspapers in general have to grapple with space issues, but Folha is often guilty of excessive negative tracking.

I recall reading something you (Hrant) wrote somewhere about a newspaper face that you found too humanistic. Would you care to expand on that a little?

Most Brazilian typographers (an extremely rare species) and pseudo-typographers seem to be ignorant of text faces that are not romantic or romantic-leaning post-moderns (or Times Roman, of course). This affects a lot of books and almost all newspapers printed in Brazil.

While I realize there don't seem to be a whole lot of newspapers out there using radically different typefaces from the ones commonly found in this country, I for one would be glad to see a little more humanism in newspaper and especially book typography in Brazil. But perhaps you have convincing arguments as to why Brazilian newspapers could be going in the right direction.

hrant's picture

Lexicon (which is used in a/some Dutch newspapers) has a lot going for it, but it's too "emotional" for news. You don't want a buxom vixen trying to help you make sense of the world, you want middle-aged man, preferably balding.

hhp

Quincunx's picture

Lexicon is indeed used in a Dutch newspaper (NRC Handelsblad I believe). But also faces of Gerard Unger, like Capitolum News (de Volkskrant).

[edit] sorry about that tag. But on a sidenote, as far as I know everyone can close the tag, by opening your post with the closing tag. :)

Erik Fleischer's picture

Well, Lexicon is a good example. I believe De Does initially designed it for reference texts, a purpose which I think it fulfils brilliantly (especially the version with shorter descenders and ascenders).

Now, why would a serious reference book such as a dictionary look sufficiently "unemotional" in Lexicon but not a newspaper? Is this purely a matter of taste or are there more objective factors at play here? (This is not a rhetorical question, by the way.)

William Berkson's picture

Quincunx, please close your tag and turn off your italics.

I wouldn't call Lexicon too emotional.

Perhaps it may be too black in larger sizes, and that could pose a problem for the larger print within a newspaper. That was my impression in a sample I saw. However, TEFF has recently released a Lexicon Headline, so that problem is probably solved.

A reference work would use type almost exclusively in small sizes, I would guess, and that would make an important difference.

Bram de Does is a great type designer.

Quincunx's picture

Yes, I think De Does designed Lexicon specifically for reference texts. It was first used, I believe, for 'De Van Dale', the most prominent dictionary in The Netherlands.
The Dutch newspaper 'NRC Handelsblad', started using the face as well, as of 2001. The newer Headline variant of Lexicon was designed for this newspaper.

Graham Rendoth's picture

OK Erik, sorry about not picking up the text sample as Portuguese – I was in my scanning mode. My initial 'abstract' reaction was that the font and setting had an Italian, Spanish or French feel.

As far as a day-to-day appreciation of newspapers, I usually take a glance at the design then just move on and read the thing. Following my initial comments on the Sydney Morning Herald, I had a good look at it over the last couple of days and realised that the design had in fact changed over the last year. And to a designer's eye not for the better. There is apparently a new editor with new ideas. Maybe his changes are considered better from a 'branding' or 'reader-appreciation' viewpoint. Heads have now reverted from the sans serif, Interstate, which I had liked, to the serif, Minion, which makes it all very ordinary. Charter has been maintained as the text font, though set without apparent logic as either justified or ragged (depending on who is setting it I think).

I spoke to my friend James de Vries about his own recollection of the design development of the SMH, and as it turns out, it was actually his company that did the redesign in 2000. He is disappointed that his original designs have not been maintained or built on. Following some public debate about the new design in 2000, some adjustments within the first weeks of publication included an increase in the text size from 8.8pt to 9.2pt. His site is www.de-luxe.com.au. He also mentioned a current design project where he has commissioned Christian Schwartz in NY to work on a family of serif and sans serif fonts – modifications of some existing ones I think.

Custom type action in Australia? From my perspective, not much goes on at all. There is always someone fiddling with existing fonts and a couple of collectives that 'pull a few faces', then they just slip away. A few names that come to mind... Australian Type Foundry, Jack Yan, Letterbox / Stephen Banham. Very few (if any) hard driving font designers.

kris's picture

Custom Type down under?

Apart from the few Graham mentions, there is little ol' me. I am actually working on several custom faces at the mo. This one is almost definitely to be used for Victoria University and may even used for a newpaper:

Graham Rendoth's picture

Kris, will be interesting to see the Vic Uni font in a newspaper text setting – should read well, but could have some issue if set tight, or in small columns that newspapers will often have. I like the subtle 'fern leaf' and 'carved' edges of a lot of your fonts. Do you have any thoughts on good and intersting custom font designers in Australia and NZ? Or are you it?

kris's picture

Kris, will be interesting to see the Vic Uni font in a newspaper text setting – should read well, but could have some issue if set tight, or in small columns that newspapers will often have.

I think it will need much more work to work in a newspaper! Do you think it is a bit too tight as it stands? Or was there something else you were aiming at? I am also thinking of having two versions, another with longer extenders for bookish settings.

I like the subtle ‘fern leaf’ and ‘carved’ edges of a lot of your fonts.

Interesting—I am not too sure what you are seeing, but I am not surprised that it is there.

Do you have any thoughts on good and intersting custom font designers in Australia and NZ? Or are you it?

I can't really speak for Aussie. But apart from the ones you mentioned & myself, I honestly can't think of any others who make a crust by designing & publishing type. There are many instances of graphic designers hacking a serif, adding a curve etc, but that doesn't really count! Thanks to the internet I don't feel isolated at all…

Perhaps you know of a few?

Here is another display one, in progress, for the Chatham Islands:

hrant's picture

Kris, great Fleischmann touches (your first sample).
And of course the soft-top "a" is just the way to go. :-)

hhp

Graham Rendoth's picture

Kris' Vic Uni font: No, my thoughts are that the current setting is OK – a good middle weight and if imagined as a lighter weight probably useful for applications like literary magazines, ads, some book settings. To get back to Erik’s interests, my thoughts about newspaper setting are probably as yours are – the mix of the slab and angled or calligraphed serifs look like they will start to clash, and then counter spaces may close in and start to read as strongly as the letterform.

A font for Chatham Islands... Aren't there only about 7 people who live there? Presume this is a for tourism application. Is there is some visual reference to an historical epoch or cultural style (I'm thinking William Morris patterns, Victorian era, the lightness of Fournier)?

kris's picture

Not to derail the conversation too much, but the Chatham Islands typeface is for Tourism/Export purposes. The serifs are based on various dendroglyphs that were carved by the Moriori:


Screenshot from my proposals.

Various other options & styles were presented, but the client preferred the version posted above. I don't think that there are many consistent typographic precedents, so it was more-or-less a blank slate!

poms's picture

Stuttgarter Zeitung using Gulliver from Gerard Unger. Solid newspaper face.

Quincunx's picture

They both look very good.

Bert Vanderveen's picture

Re Lexicon used in NRC·Handelsblad: This paper is more expensive than the other dailies in the Netherlands, using thicker and better newsprint. It's almost as well printed as the dictionary mentioned before.

hrant's picture

> The serifs are based on various dendroglyphs

Sweet idea.

BTW, there are actually a notable precedents for bifurcated serifs.

hhp

Erik Fleischer's picture

This one is almost definitely to be used for Victoria University and may even used for a newspaper (...)

Another buxom vixen, Hrant? ;-)

TBiddy's picture

Gorgrous examples Kris. I gotta disagree Hrant, I'll take the buxom vixen over the middle-aged balding man. No offense to middle-aged balding men. How 'bout we compromise on a buxom bald vixen? :)

Erik Fleischer's picture

Speaking of the Sydney Morning Herald, I guess I can’t really say that Australia’s newspaper typography is superior to Brazil’s (although this has of course been a very crude generalization all along). This is from today’s front page (actual size + 300%):

Kris, if you do license your Victoria University font for newspaper use, make sure to include a clause in your EULA stating that they'll have to pay a fine every time they "rape" your careful fitting.

William Berkson's picture

>careful fitting

That's a nice font, but wow what happened to the letter spacing? For example, the b in 'suburbs' looks like he's afraid of the u in front of him, and clinging to the one at the back.

kris's picture

BTW, there are actually a notable precedents for bifurcated serifs.

I think I know what you are talking about, but I don't think there were any roman-letterform precedents on the Islands.

I’ll take the buxom vixen over the middle-aged balding man.

That is my preference too! However, clients can have wildly differing preferences…

Kris, if you do license your Victoria University font for newspaper use, make sure to include a clause in your EULA stating that they’ll have to pay a fine every time they “rape” your careful fitting.

The typeface will be in very good hands, don't you worry mate!

Speaking of the Sydney Morning Herald…That’s a nice font, but wow what happened to the letter spacing

Man, something has gone terribly wrong there. Is it the letterspacing itself or bad rasterisation? Where did you get that image from, Erik? Is it Charter?

—K

hrant's picture

If you're trying to digest your news while staring with longing at cleavage, I hope you at least refrain from voting. Come to think of it, let's all refrain from voting, since it clearly isn't working.

Erik's sample -being from Newseum I'm guessing- is probably exhibiting problems with the PDF distillation. I hope I'm not being too much of an optimist in thinking that the actual paper doesn't look like... the dentation of an Australian surfer after a passionate encounter with a rocky seashore.

hhp

kris's picture

If you’re trying to digest your news while staring with longing at cleavage,

Mate, we're talking about type, not tits. Thankfully I can make the distinction!

—K

hrant's picture

Ductus is the tits of type.
(Hmmm, would that make a good t-shirt?)

BTW, I think your first sample might just make a really nice news face (if made lighter and looser, and shortened descenders). I'm a huge fan of Schwartz's Houston design, essentially because it's a bit "out there". It shows the way (and I think so would yours).

hhp

Graham Rendoth's picture

Erik’s Sydney Morning Herald text sample is Charter. The crude setting is probably typical for this newspaper – in fact most Australian newspapers. Perhaps that's why the newspaper redesign in 2000 (as mentioned prior) was intended to be set flush left...

Dendroglyphs? I enjoy semiotics, but had to look that one up. So Kris, you were a bit surprised that I was seeing 'fern leaves' and 'carved' elements in some of your fonts, but you're happy to acknowledge the dendos... I think there are some nice subtle 'Pacific' things going on in much of what you're doing.

kris's picture

The crude setting is probably typical for this newspaper – in fact most Australian newspapers

Yuk! Bloody cowboys.

you were a bit surprised that I was seeing ‘fern leaves’ and ‘carved’ elements in some of your fonts, but you’re happy to acknowledge the dendos… I think there are some nice subtle ‘Pacific’ things going on in much of what you’re doing.

I am always surprised at what people see. Chester reckons he can spot my style, but I can't see it. However, I can spot his flavour, but not sure if he can. Of course I acknowedge the Dendro's—they are a direct influence on the serifs!

—K

hrant's picture

> I think there are some nice subtle ‘Pacific’
> things going on in much of what you’re doing.

You should see the poster he did based on papercutting.

hhp

Erik Fleischer's picture

Erik’s sample -being from Newseum I’m guessing- is probably exhibiting problems with the PDF distillation.

Yes, the sample's from Newseum, but in my experience (which is probably much more limited than yours) these distortions tend to happen at low magnifications. 300% ought to be enough to do away with most PDF distortions.

In any event, here's another sample (again at 100% and 300%) which no doubt suffers from the same distortion problems (such as the little warts at the top of the a's at 300%, which disappear at larger magnifications):





The colour is undeniably more even, and not only is some respect shown for proper letterspacing, but the ligatures and beautiful figures approaching three-quarter height (?) hint at superior typography. Is there anything better than The Guardian out there? Samples, anyone?

William Berkson's picture

Erik, your latest sample seems to have some hinting weirdness going on, which I think is normal. I really don't understand the previous sample. Do PDFs ever shove letter spacing around like that? Does even any layout program? That one baffles me.

If you are interested in samples, FontBureau is a leading supplier of fonts to newspapers (including in Latin America) and they have samples of their newspaper fonts on newsprint, which I'm sure they will send you on request.

Also typophiler Nick Shinn has designed a number of newspaper fonts and I'm sure would respond to a request for samples.

Erik Fleischer's picture

Oh, and I'd be glad to let this vixen inform me any time. (Hopefully my wife will never read this.)



Erik Fleischer's picture

I really don’t understand the previous sample. Do PDFs ever shove letter spacing around like that? Does even any layout program?

No, I think it's just plain bad typography, unfortunately.

And thanks for the suggestions, William.

William Berkson's picture

>just plain bad typography

I don't think you get that kind of irregular spacing just by being sloppy. It must be some out of whack justification software or defective version of the font or something. I'd like to know just to avoid it ever happening to me! Any ideas out there?

ChuckGroth's picture

I'd be curious to hear what members think of this newspaper typography...

http://images.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://jeracor.com/bsgfx/pd200411...

Erik Fleischer's picture

The masthead's a thing of beauty...

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