’It took me five minutes to find the crossword.’ When I met the
Guardian’s deputy editor, Georgina Henry, this Monday, day one of the
redesigned paper, such comments were starting to arrive.
While editors and their designers agonise over the masthead, body type,
headline size, regular readers buzz with seemingly different priorities,
including frustration at finding key features supposedly hidden
But let’s see the wood, not the trees. During the 1990s, failing papers
have over-used design in a panicky, desperate hunt for readers. Remember
the Independent’s 1997 solution to smaller resources - the no-news front
The Guardian’s considered changes are in a different league. It’s a
respectful update, going with the grain of the best traditions of
serious broadsheet journalism. Minor quibbles aside, it chimes with the
zeitgeist, a rediscovery of seriousness and the value of being properly
The past year or so has checked the trend towards converging agendas,
the frothy victory of tabloid values. Look at the way key stories, such
as the death of Ted Hughes or Iris Murdoch were handled by all
broadsheets to see this reaction at work. And the Guardian has
rediscovered, under editor Alan Rusbridger, the firepower of
investigative journalism. It has rocked ministers (Mandelson) won libel
cases (Hamilton, Aitken), and exposed TV fakery (Granada, Channel
I especially welcome the improved finance section, although it now needs
to redirect resources into covering global business stories (it was a
day late on this week’s big shake-up at US computer firm, Compaq).
Perhaps some of the energy frittered on supplements ought to be
redirected into core original coverage?
The key thing about the changes is that they are being adopted by a
strong paper, not a weak one. With sales averaging around 400,000, the
paper is working hard to stay on that plateau, and it is making a
successful pitch to younger, educated readers.
Much is made of the fact that it’s the first redesign for 11 years,
since ex-editor Peter Preston and David Hillman of Pentagram took the
paper into a stripped-down form. The purity of that design was swiftly
dumped as impractical and in its place grew muddle - screaming, ever
larger headlines, ’soft’ page threes, movable weather reports, scrappy
listings, Doonesbury and Steve Bell tucked away.
This redesign addresses all of that. The new body type is clean, and
headlines, reduced in size, also take up less space, with fewer
Overall, the new cooler Guardian invites you to settle down and
This is best demonstrated by the front page, cleared for more words and
a tip-top picture. It’s not conservatism, just good newspaper sense.