'Redesign? More of a tidy up'

The Sunday Times. For all you are. This enigmatic TV-ad tagline trumpets the latest changing of typefaces at Witherow Palace.

Quite what it means you’ll have to ask the ad men, but make no mistake, The Sunday Times is still one of the world’s great newspapers. Nine newsprint sections totalling more than 200 pages, three glossy magazines also weighing in at

200 pages-plus, and all for less than the cost of a skinny latte.

It’s also heartening to see continued investment in the paper product, especially pertinent when you see some of the world’s other great newspapers – Chicago Tribune, LA Times, even Murdoch’s own Wall Street Journal – going through such pain of redundancy and retrenchment.

The latest tidy up – not enough has happened to really call it a redesign – has strengthened what it does best. No outrage at the moving of the crossword here (you never can find the crossword in The Sunday Times anyway), just a stronger branding of the discrete sections.

The section title – Sport, Money and so on – now leaps out in white from a stylish colour, which is then repeated on the folio lines throughout the section. The boldness of the move makes it a success that readers should learn to appreciate.

The TV ad superbly illustrates what the colour coding does, laying the sections out side by side to show how the distinctive colour works. This device neatly tackles the title’s inherent problem that it’s just too, ooh, er, missus – big.

Then there are the giant pages. With 4,312.5sq cm to play with on a broadsheet spread – 40 per cent more than in The Observer – the temptation is just to make everything bigger to compensate. And while some headlines do look too big and windy, the use of pictures (homage to Harold Evans) is still a joy.

Sport probably benefits most from the big, bold approach. Quality pictures are used with verve and courage, making the most of the broad canvas. And then little things matter here too, with readable results, tables and stats panels.

The main section has a big, clear promo panel – Carla, Nelson, Dasha (who?) – and tinkered masthead. Now the famous lion looks a bit more glum with a furrowed brow, while the unicorn looks sneeringly down its horn.

Disappointingly, though, just a bland ‘Your new-look paper’plug and a tiny five-line pointer to some of the inside goodies. A neatly constructed ‘Inside’panel on page 2 does a good job of identifying the colour-coded sections and selling some of the tucked-away goodies. But why not go all the way and take the whole page and do an even better selling job?

Mildly irritating are the half-a-box bylines, with the names looking like they’re trying to escape out of the south-east corner and the sludgy blue/grey house colour of the news section. The comment pages benefit from the colour lift, with the palette of soft shades neatly contrasting with colourised illustrations.

The teasers to other sections are well-crafted, but are just too small to have an impact. Jeremy Clarkson’s head at just 4mm wide is too small even for such a renowned big-head.

It’s difficult not to feel that the newspaper has missed an opportunity to incorporate some of the best offerings from its buoyant online community. A message board is an obvious way to go, but with just five messages hidden away opposite the letters on page 21, it’s too little, too late.

The new ‘bespoke typeface’for the headlines – dubbed Sunday Times Modern – looks clunky and unrefined. The kerning is so generous it invites doodling between the letters, and when you have horribly shaped headlines like ‘Hotshot who can get you into White House’it looks even worse.

Also new are the body copy, a soft and waffly serif font called Greta, and the better sans face, Flama, which has an altogether more modern and continental feel.

The reader responses to the redesign – as published on The Sunday Times’ own website – are typically off the wall. While editor John Witherow and his team agonise over caption styles, tracking and the size of the pull-out quote, the dear old reader has more pressing concerns: ‘Is it just me or have you, indeed, ceased printing times of Sunday church and cathedral services? And if you have I would be glad to hear the reasoning.”

Oh well, another year, another redesign…


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