07 juni 2012

Size matters

INSPIRED BY THE REDESIGN of the Dubai-based, English-spoken newspaper Gulf News which involves a format shift from broadsheet to berliner, an interesting question was raised the other day on http://newspaperdesign.ning.com.
Which newspaper format is more challenging, asks Sajeev Kumar who is managing the site: Broadsheet or berliner?

Sajeev mailed his question to a number of professionals within our industry, including Mario Garcia who was the design consultant on the Gulf News project. And the answers are no less interesting; here you can read them in their entirety. Lots of inspiring thoughts.
It surprised me, however, to see that all these experts more or less agree that the number of challenges which the page designer has to face does not depend on the format; they are just different challenges, my colleagues seem to think (sorry for the generalization).

ALLOW ME TO DISAGREE. Perhaps wishing to avoid stating the obvious, my colleagues tend to intellectualize on a subject which can also be seen as very simple.
Of course you can argue that a smaller format can be very challenging because you have less space at your disposal, just like it will always be easier to make a big ballroom look impressive than a small one. But if you look at the complexity of the page designer’s task, this is a no-brainer. Having managed the transition of more than twenty newspapers from broadsheet/berliner into tabloid format, I stay convinced that the broadsheet format is the more challenging.

THIS IS PURE MATH. The sheer size of the paper, and the number of columns in particular, provide you with more design options on broadsheet. Which makes the page design more challenging – in the sense that you will have more elements to juggle. The totality gets more complex.

On a typical tabloid or berliner page, with five or six columns, there's a limited number of successful ways for you to place your words and visuals. In several of the tabloid redesigns carried out by our company over the years, we composed libraries of standard page designs for the editors to choose from … thereby saving time for the staff who would, nine times out of ten, come up with similar solutions if starting from scratch.

Working with double-trucks will give you more options, and make the design task more complex; but then again, broadsheet papers have facing pages as well and a good designer would never lay out one page – no matter what size – without taking into consideration the look of its neighbouring page.

THE FACT THAT THE SMALLER FORMAT is less challenging, design-wise, says nothing about the possible effect it can have on readers. Research comparing broadsheet and tabloid suggests that readers are spending more time on the smaller format, relatively speaking, simply because ”a page is a page” and as long as there is something on every spread that will catch the eye, both tabloid and berliner have the potential to make readers feel they get more value for money.

SO COULD THERE BE ANY GOOD REASONS for sticking to broadsheet? Well, size matters, in more than one sense, and size is not merely a matter of functionality.
Size sends signals, as any owner of an SUV can tell you, and in the case of some newspapers – like Die Zeit of Germany, to name an example – the broadsheet format sends signals of seriousness, credibility, and just the right amount of exclusivity.

Broadsheet is also a newspaper signal. You can print long articles, like those of Die Zeit, on smaller pages, but that will force you to distribute your stories on several consecutive spreads – which will make the newspaper appear more like a news magazine. In Germany, the main competitor to Die Zeit is just that: Der Spiegel, a weekly news magazine.
So another reason for choosing the broadsheet format could be, for newspapers with lots of words, if they wish to stay ”newspaperish”.

This is true for one of our own clients, Copenhagen-based Kristeligt Dagblad (the Christian Daily) which has retained the broadsheet format – and managed to increase circulation – while just about every other title on the Danish newspaper market has shrunk. In more than one sense, unfortunately. But that is another story.

PS: If you’d like to know more about how we have worked, since 2004, with developing the visual appearance of Kristeligt Dagblad, please carry on reading here.

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