Expert Eye: The new look Independent on Sunday

If Mario Garcia, the ubiquitous American design guru, is the Pizza Express of newspaper design, then the Barcelona-based Cases i Associats is the Carluccio’s, propagating delicious, selfconscious and lovingly detailed work that is a joy to experience.

It is a shame, then, that its latest effort, the new compact Independent on Sunday, is so uneven.

Editor Tristan Davies’ one-section premise is brave, contrarian and laudable.

I only wish that the design choices were as bold as the editorial ones.

In a paper like this, with so many layers pressed together and no physical separation to emphasise difference, the key to success is pacing and differentiation.

The first half of the first section of the paper is like a masterclass in pacing. It is lively, exciting, clean and new.

The briefs across the top in the news section – a trick that Spanish papers have been using for years – are wellproportioned and perfectly dressed.

The magnificently understated infographics put every other national paper to shame – they are some of the best I have seen – and spreads hang together very well.

Unlike the rest of the paper, these sections approach that magical combination of bitty but coherent. They have even somehow managed to corral the worst deficiencies of the tabloid size by heroically conquering the awkward Tshape that occurs when there are two mirroring two-third-page ads on a spread.

The News Week and News Agenda sections are well organised and make efficient use of undersized pictures.

Most importantly, if you can overlook the maddening inclusion of grey underlined ‘hyperlinks’randomly placed in the middle of every story, it all seems utterly approachable and fresh.

Even the ode to Ben Schott called WeeklyPedia has a certain style to it.

But as the paper moves through its litany of sub-divisions, the design standard drops dramatically.

The irony is, in a newspaper that clearly wants to be seen as a magazine, The New Review magazine itself is a disappointment.

The design of the 96-page section lacks the panache and subtlety of the best parts of the first section.

It feels like a bizarre mix of Hello! and one of those trade magazines featured on Have I Got News for You.

The designers are clearly at their best when called upon to cram huge amounts of information into tiny spaces. Given a little breadth, however, the pages become wallflowers, too shy to project any interest or drama.

The longer features, especially the Alex James piece, read well but the detailing is wrong–the orangey red colour is overused and uninspiring, the pull-quotes are 25 per cent too big and the sidebars blend together.

Overall, it is hard not to praise an effort as bold as this, and I have so far only seen one edition – it is bound to be 20 per cent better next time. But it is just as hard to really love a publication not daring enough to take the same chances in design as it does in editorial.

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