Like many educational institutions, The Times Higher Education Supplement was long overdue for a redesign. Enter the legendary David Hillman, formerly of Pentagram, to carry out the first major design change for 36 years. For THES now read THE, presented in three eye-catching highly-condensed and coloured characters on the cover.
At first glance on the newsstand, it appears that something is missing after the definite article, THE, but hopefully this will grow on its academic readers when they realise the subtlety behind it. The title change, however, is secondary to the format change, from old-fashioned tabloid ‘trade newspaper’to quarto-size magazine. Not glossy, but certainly able to hold its own on the shelf with The Economist, New Statesman or The Spectator.
The three colours of the masthead/logo – red, purple and blue – are echoed in the construction of the sections that start with News; Opinion; and Books. In between there are Features that suddenly lose the strong black straplines at the top of the pages and are designed with black type. After Books come Research (blue), People (purple) and then THE Appointments (black).
It is a neat package with few design or typographic shocks – headlines are in Franklin, body text in Sabon. Overall, compared with the old version, the adjectives cool, austere, intellectual come to mind. The former authority of vertical grey newsprint has been supplanted by modern upmarket design.
As the editor, Gerard Kelly, says in the relaunched issue: ‘Magazine readershipâ€¦ is stable or increasing. That is one powerful and obvious reason why we have changed our format from a newspaper to a news magazine.’A further reason, he writes, for changing ‘is unabashedly cosmetic – magazines look more attractive â€¦ they are more manageable, durable and portable.”
On the other hand, it could be argued that while the presence of newspapers declines, the number of and competition for attention among magazines grows.
A new magazine may be lost in a plethora of competing titles on the groaning shelves of WHSmith and John Menzies.
Design changes apart, Kelly is concentrating on reflecting ‘the concerns and interests of the community we serve. So our focus will beâ€¦ the guts of higher education – the news, the analyses and the debates.”
He has a more structured product with which to achieve his aims but despite the nice, clean magazine paper and a modern look, THE looks less busy, and even possibly less dynamic, than the original with its columns of Nibs and bigger pictures (6).
Looking at the old and the new, it is surprising that a redesign took so long to come about. Any reactionary views from its academic readership to its modernity may well be offset by their unwarranted joy that this is a genuine post-Murdoch product, despite the retention of the word ‘Times’in the title.
Michael Crozier, former associate editor (design) of The Independent, is design and editorial director of Crozier Associates