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News in Type

Last weekend, passing by my local news stand, I was shocked to see something on the cover of the Sunday edition of the Toronto Star (one of Toronto’s major dailies): HUGE TYPE! The Star, which generally has some pretty strong photography, decided to go with a purely typographic ‘illustration’ for their cover story, filling the entire front page with big, insulting, words (in giant curly quotes no less!). I couldn’t resist picking it up!

The story itself was, in my humble opinion, a rather uninteresting account of why the rest of Canada hates Toronto (trust me, we know). A rather weak piece to merit front page coverage given the current situation in the world, but the cover treatment showed a suprising editorial flexibility in what is a pretty strict, rule-driven medium. Both of these factors (the weakness and flexibility) can in part be accounted for by the paper being a weekend edition which is generally supposed to be more ‘fun’, but this type of treatment seems unprecedented, at least since the turn of the century. I could very well be wrong here, and would be curious to see if there are any other contemporary examples out there.

The typography itself is pretty well done, everything seems well kerned and the overall texture of the page holds together. I’m not sure what fonts are used, but they’re consistent with the rest of the paper and probably proprietary to the Star. The bold, sans-serif is interesting, with a tail on the upper case “u”, and playful, slightly rounded terminals. Overall I felt that the composition was effective I suppose, but not exactly memorable. In the end it’s a bunch of words on a page, and try as I might to read deeper into the placement, treatment and contrasts of the words, I didn’t come up with much.

Nonetheless upon first seeing it, I was awestruck. I thought, “this is daring, what ramifications could this have? Is this a signal of a more sophisticated reader? Is it acknowledgment that design can tell a story as well as a photograph or illustration? Will we see this approach extended into truly interesting typographic approaches, using fonts from Emigre and influenced by Russian constructivists? Is this the beginning of a resurgence of concrete poetry, breaking into the mainstream? Could I actually make a career out of this typo-journalism?”

Sadly, more likely than not, this is just a blip in the radar. It screams for attention and does it well in the photographic landscape of newspaper covers. But in a way, I see it more as a cry for attention than anything else. Perhaps I’m being too harsh, this is a daily newspaper, and for the amount of time the designer probably had (especially after a good deal of time spent haggling with the editors I presume), they did a decent job. After all, they made me smile, and that’s something the news does very rarely these days…

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PUBLISHED ON Feb.09.2005 BY Kevin
Mark’s comment is:

The Star introduced a radical redesign of their Sunday edition on Jan. 16. They're calling it a "maga-paper" with the "soul of a magazine, heart of a newspaper." It's a bold experiment that is being watched closely in the industry, especially in the States, where Sunday circulation has been in a disconcerting downward spiral lately.

Not to be so crass as to pimp my own weblog, but you can read (and see) more here and here.

On Feb.09.2005 at 01:00 AM
Michael Lewis’s comment is:

The sans serif face is Whitney, available from Hoefler & Frere-Jones. I can't make out the serif face at the moment, though.

Newsdesigner.com did an exhaustive write up about their redesign last month, here and here. In short, the Star became the first major North American newspaper to have full-color throughout its 72 pages.

On Feb.09.2005 at 01:10 AM
Michael Lewis’s comment is:

Sorry, Mark. Didn't realize we were posting at the same time. I guess great minds think alike? ;-) P.S.: Your site is fantastic! Thank you.

On Feb.09.2005 at 01:12 AM
Mark’s comment is:



Thanks for the kind words!

On Feb.09.2005 at 01:30 AM
Kevin Lo’s comment is:

My apologies for not doing thorough research, I hadn't noticed the redesign until they used this all-type cover, though I don't regularly read the paper.

Great site Mark, thanks for the background info... the whole thing makes a lot more sense now, and is even more intriguing.

On Feb.09.2005 at 03:05 AM
Jonathan Baldwin’s comment is:

The Independent newspaper in the UK has been doing something similar for some time, especially since they moved from broadsheet to tabloid size. The day of the US election, they had a purely typographical cover. Other times they've just has a photo and even a white cover.

On Feb.09.2005 at 08:19 AM
Justin Mayer’s comment is:

I'm just speculating here, but, from my experience, this sort of thing only ever comes about when there is a lack of content. Slow news days, and missing photographs and illustrations are golden opportunities for designers who must regularly compromise layouts to squeeze in one more photo or a few more inches of copy. I'm not sure if this is an acknowledgement that design can tell a story or if it's a frazzled editor's last resort. It is certainly more eye-catching than your average A1.

On Feb.09.2005 at 12:55 PM
Dan Reynolds’s comment is:

Keith Tam has an all-text cover from The Globe and Mail on his website…

On Feb.09.2005 at 03:01 PM
Armin’s comment is:

> this is daring, what ramifications could this have? Is this a signal of a more sophisticated reader?

If you see the newspapers featured in Mark's site, NewsDesigner (which is great by the way), I think you can see an overall astute use of typography. Some are still horsy and rushed but in the past few years typography in newspaper is better. And it is more common among small newspapers or spin-off of bigger newspapers. The Chicago Tribune's RedEye is a great typographic… hmm, looking at the cover they have online now, it seems it has changed quite a bit. Well, when it came out it was a very in-your-face look and it used the versatile Knockout (or Champion, not certain) type family.

And pretty much any free paper in Seattle is well designed.


And, sheesh, all those insults seem very unCanadian.

On Feb.09.2005 at 03:11 PM
jason the lowercase’s comment is:

there was an alsakan newspaper about ten years ago doing some very experimental typography... entire text blocks in the shape of animals or sports icons that were creating full-page image-based compositions. i think it was Anchorage Daily News. i saw it in a print regional design annual. i've never seen anything like it in newspaper design and haven't since. it was all curvy before quark was.

On Feb.09.2005 at 05:05 PM
Stuart McCoy’s comment is:

I read the headline (don't get the Toronto Star here in Boston) and though, boy Canadians sure a bunch of rude, snobbish, arrogant, self-absorbed, pushy, superior, uptight, demanding, pretentious, obnoxious, self-satisfied, wannabe New Yorkers, insular jackasses for painting an entire region with such a broad brush. I'm used to it though, Canada and Europe seem to do the same to us Americans.

Not to mention, that while this may be a nice typography piece, it's hard to follow the headline and read what it's saying. I'm guessing the red type is meant to be read on its own but given the type size an placement of "what canada hates toronto" and "wannabe new yorkers", it seems as if this could be read together.

On Feb.09.2005 at 09:12 PM
Oliver’s comment is:

I'm glad to see typography making its way onto the front pages in a more meaningful way, but I must say that Keith Tam's front page type for the Globe last fall was much more meaningful, and well done:


On Feb.10.2005 at 01:58 PM
Kevin Lo’s comment is:

yeah, without a doubt. Tam's cover rocks, and makes me feel even more uncomfortable falling into the demographic of being a chinese-canadian that can't read chinese!

I wasn't meaning to celebrate this cover with my post. As I mentioned, I thought it really wasn't that sophisticated. I was simply excited by the big type and curious as to what implications it might have on newspaper design.

The only paper I ever worked on was a student one, and it's strange because it had a close feel to the "maga-paper" with expressive, big titles. The main reason for this however, was my inability to fit content. I really have no idea how nespaper designers manage to do it!

On Feb.10.2005 at 02:11 PM
Ben Weeks’s comment is:

What a striking thing to see on your doorstep. Bravo.

Reminds me a bit of the March/April 2002 cover of the also Toronto based, excellent and award winning (yet now defunct) Shift Magazine

Art directed by Antonio Enrice De Luca

On Feb.10.2005 at 02:13 PM
Jason T’s comment is:

While these headline images look bombastic, it's a pleasure to see the medium pushed in this direction. I can't recall the last time I saw agressive typography in stateside papers, unless warranted by something like natural disaster or a presidential election.

European newspapers have proven that typography, page structure, and grid variation can make a paper look current. Most of what's used stateside has been carried over from decade-old templates. Maybe we should resort to more namecalling.

On Feb.11.2005 at 07:18 PM
Nick’s comment is:

It's nice to see some sans serif faces in my local (OK, I'm on sabbatical, but I will return) paper of choice.

When the Star was redesigned recently by Lucie Lacava, it was all fine hairlines and serifs, no sans in the headlines, and the overall effect was anemic, old-fashioned, prissy and "upscale", not what one would expect from one of the very few large, radical, crusading, independent newspapers not part of conservative conglomerates. And very tough for AD Carl Neustadter to get any heft going.

(IMHO, Ms Lacava has done way more original, stronger work, eg the Montreal Gazette.) However, now that John Honderich is ex-publisher, this new "maga" thingy is an opportunity for the AD to get some sans faces going, and sufficient ink on the page.

Having said that, a broadsheet size newsprint "maga paper" is an oxymoron. I haven't seen the whole thing, just this front page on SU, but nonetheless, I feel quite confident in crtiticizing the project. As has been pointed out, it would be difficult to find a more stale item than "hating Toronto" to put in a Canadian "news" paper, so if this is the best the putatively radical Star can do, jazzing a non-story with desparately over-worked typography of its ultra-conservative faces, then the experiment deserves to fail.

And what's that I spy in a sky-box, a sympathy-for-Barbara-Amiel story?! The Star has really lost its way.

On Feb.13.2005 at 01:14 PM
Kevin Lo’s comment is:

So this info might be a bit redundant now, but for those that are interested, here are some responses from the Assistant Art Director at the Toronto Star, Devin Slater, who is responsible for the design of the Sunday Star. I asked them these questions before posting here, and he kindly took the time to reply.

The all type cover caught my eye as a designer, but it must seem like something quite unusual for the average reader. What motivated you to take this solution, and have their been precedents in the Star before?

Not that I know of. The Globe and Mail did an all-type cover�in 2004�during their China Rising series, but�that wasn't the first, either: I was doing all-type�newspaper fronts at the Hamilton Spectator in 2003. Other than that, Aftonbladet, a paper in�Stockholm, uses oversized type all the time. I think it's a great device and newspapers shouldn't be afraid to experiment with it. Our readers really enjoyed the look and we received a lot of great feedback during the following week.

Was the concept a hard sell with the editors/marketers/higher ups?

Sunday�has a different�visual mentality than other newspapers: a cleaner,�more provocative design, similar to a�magazine. The senior editors�here were�very enthusiastic and willing to push the boundaries. Both the Publisher and the Editor-in-Chief saw the design prior to launch and were very excited by it.

After thinking about it for a while, I realise that a typographic solution seems the only logical way to go for the article, was this what motivated the choice, the inability to find another solution?

We had a variety strong of solutions to�represent this story.�A few ideas for photo illustrations, using street signs/�expressway signs floated around�(Welcome to Toronto. Population:�Arrogant) and we used�that treatment for inside art. I think the all-type cover was the strongest solution and I'm happy we went with it.�It looked fantastic in the street boxes and I think the design of that edition really defined what we're trying to accomplish in all aspects of the Sunday paper. Something fresh, something unique with a lot of personality and flair.

As the weekend edition, do you have more leeway to play with the design?

Part of our goal on Sunday is to provide our readers with better design and visuals, but we still need to maintain our integrity. We don't doctor our photographs, airbrush�or�manipulate our images unless it's a photo-illustration, has obviously been altered. Our visuals need to be honest and truthful since we're still reporting on real life - it needs to coincide with the integrity of the reporting. So much�imagery in the world these days has been altered. Photos of models are airbrushed�and even streched and tweaked.�A lot of the beauty out there isn't reality. It's a�real shame.���

What are the typefaces used?

Whitney Bold, Whitney Regular and a TorStar�Display typeface that was custom made for the�daily paper.�I haven't used Whitney much before, and I'm starting to really admire its elegance.

What has the response been from readers?

There's been great response from our readers about that issue and the new Sunday Star in�general�. I received an email from a woman at Sotheby's who said she was going to frame it and hang it in her bathroom! Not sure why she chose the bathroom - Clean design, maybe?

Would you use this approach again?

Definitely.�I think too many newspapers across North America look identical on their front pages.�They�use the same generic headlines, the�same photos and the same visual devices like sellboxes and throws.�Newspapers are losing readership�and circulation is declining. They need to change their philosophies in order to regain�readers' attention.�Smart, edgy front-page design can only help with that.

On Feb.24.2005 at 04:33 PM