New-look Sunday Times aims to remain 'a powerful thing'

The design brief for the revamped Sunday Times, which hit the newsstands last Sunday, was anything but easy. Editor John Witherow told his design team to create a paper that was ‘completely different but the same”.

In many ways that is what they produced: the paper has a completely new masthead, new body and headline fonts, several new features and, for the first time, full-colour, thanks to News International‘s new £650m printing plants. But the order, structure and feel remains the same for the 186-year-old broadsheet.

Executive editor Tristan Davies, who moved to the paper on 20 February from the editorship of the Independent on Sunday, was given the task of coordinating the redesign and has worked on nothing else since.

Led by Sunday Times art director Gordon Beckett and News International’s art director Al Travino – the young Spanish designer behind thelondonpaper – the six-month project to revamp the nine newsprint sections is now over. The paper’s three magazines remain untouched for the time being, but are next in line to be redesigned.

Davies says there is slightly more colour than in The Times, which launched its own new look last month, but explains that Witherow’s message to the design team was to show some restraint.

‘Full colour on every page is great, but it’s also a challenge because you don’t want to overdo it,’he says. ‘John absolutely wanted us to exploit to the full the use of full colour, making it brighter, fresher and more modern-looking without losing the authority of the paper.”

Davies says they were aware of the danger of making the paper too garish with too much colour, which could make it appear to have gone downmarket. ‘The Times has been successful in using colour while retaining its authority. That’s something we’ve looked at,’he says.

Though on first glance the new design looks strikingly different, the structure of news and other sections remains unaltered, although with a few new features added to the mix.

‘We had to find a design which enhanced what it does really well, which loyal existing readers would like,’says Davies.

New features include Little Britain – readers’ observations and irritations on modern life emailed into the paper – and excerpts from messageboards on the Sunday Times’s website Times Online. Both attempt to reflect the concerns of an online-savvy audience.

The idea was to ‘make a proper acknowledgement about new kinds of readers we need to attract to newspapers, who are getting their news from many, many different sources,’says Davies.

The new masthead, splash and headline typeface is Sunday Times Modern, a new serif font designed by Travino and the first bespoke typeface in the paper’s history.

For the body copy, out goes Arena and in comes Greta, another new font designed last year. The paper’s sans serif font is Flama, also designed last year, and is used for headlines in the sport, business and news review sections.

A traditional broadsheet eight-column grid remains in place, though there are subtle variations throughout the paper’s sections.

Like The Times, each section of the Sunday Times’s front news section has been colour-coded with wide bars at the top of each page. But elsewhere the use of colour is low-key: bylines are now in a deep blue; different subjects such as arts or education are flagged up by yellow kickers below headlines; the leader column is given a faded yellow background and photo bylines have been reshot in black and white, and now appear against a grey background.

With a cover price of £2, The Sunday Times is the most expensive national newspaper, and has a higher volume of pages than any other and so the redesign team set out to help guide readers through the paper’s vast array of columns and features.

‘The Sunday Times is absolutely packed with gems, and one of the problems with a paper of this size is running the risk of burying all your assets,’says Davies. ‘We needed to help the reader navigate through the paper.

‘There’s a lot to shout about in The Sunday Times. Navigation is really important, both as a functional thing, to say this is where everything is, as well as using it to say ‘Look, this is what you get for your £2’.”

With most quality newspapers moving to a tabloid or Berliner size in recent years, only The Sunday Times, Financial Times and the Telegraph titles remain as broadsheets. Davies insists there has been no discussion about moving to a smaller format.

‘I’m sure it must have come up, but to do a nine-section paper in tabloid format – it would be a pretty big beast. We went compact at the Independent on Sunday which was pretty successful, but it’s a much smaller paper,’he says.

‘The broadsheet is a big and beautiful thing. On a weekend when people have got the time and – literally – the space to read a paper, when they’re not stuck on a train or reading in their lunch hour, you can luxuriate in that space and it’s a powerful thing.”

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