presses required to print this format allow for much more creative layouts with color throughout the whole publication. Does the redesign live up to the promise?
The Guardian started in Manchester in 1821 and dominated the national left-wing press in Britain until an upstart rival, the Independent, came to the party in 1986. Like the Independent, the Guardian takes strong political stances, especially during conflicts such as the Spanish Civil War and most recently the war in Iraq.
The British newspaper environment, arguably the healthiest and most diverse in the world, is full of publications with distinct characters and readerships. If newspapers were people at a party, the Times would be handing out hors d'oeuvres and checking the furniture for cigarette burns, while the Sun would be at the center of the room dancing on a table with a lampshade on its head; the Guardian, meanwhile, would be huddled in a darkened corner wearing a Greenpeace T-shirt, and dourly complaining about university politics.
The Guardian is accused of suffering from a "holier than thou" complex; the giveaway is in the name. It's an attitude born of benevolence rather than arrogance, but it's an attitude that comes across loud and clear. Monitoring the Guardian's opinion-making is the equivalent of the sordid fascination that comes with watching a car wreck on the highway. A great example is the paper's campaign to have readers write letters to US voters in Clark County, Ohio, expressing their opinions about the 2004 presidential election. The campaign backfired; angry voters wrote back to those same Guardian correspondents with all sorts of anatomically focused suggestions for what to do with their opinions.
This ill-fated campaign to "enlighten" American voters and dose them with some British middle-class liberalism was both embarrassing and fascinating to watch. What is surprising, however, is that the paper itself seemed surprised at the reaction to its meddling. It didn't predict that the opinions of a foreign country's newspaper readership may not be openly welcomed—a curious lack of judgment for a paper with a respected reputation around the world.
By being absolutely unmoving in its self-assured opinion-making, the newspaper brand retains intensely loyal readers, those who can be sure that the slant on objectivity will correspond to their own views. Regular readers of any newspaper tend to reach for their chosen publication for confirmation of their own opinions. Relying on a brand for validation of personal opinions—isn't that the ultimate in brand loyalty?
Newspapers, perhaps more than any other products, say more about the brand of the person reading them than the products themselves. Mastheads convey a lot of information about the reader. (The implication that readers of the Times or the Financial Times are better informed or more educated than those who read the Sun, for instance.) Like all snobbery, it's a logic based more on prejudice than evidence. This perception however does make for strong cultural alignments. Newspapers then can be broad brushes, useful for painting a demographic. In that respect, it can be argued that with a smaller circulation and narrower editorial bias, Guardian readers are more narrowly defined than readers of the Times. The paper's circulation reflects a particularly unique style of British liberalism; this defined target can then be reached by advertisers.
The Guardian was a broadsheet newspaper until late 2005, when (like the Times and the Independent before it) it moved to a compact size as part of its redesign. For both the Times and the Independent the move to tabloid layout has been very successful in boosting flagging circulations. The Guardian insists however that it is not tabloid format, but rather Berliner format. (What exactly is the difference between tabloid and Berliner? Tabloid measurements run 597mm x 375mm, while Berliner is 470mm x 315mm.)
The rationale behind all three newspapers becoming smaller is that the broadsheet is too large for commuters to read in confined spaces such as the Tube or the toilet. However, since London Underground hasn't reduced the size of its carriages recently, this claim seems a little spurious. Perhaps toilets have become smaller and we weren't paying attention.
The entire newspaper is set in a new font called "Guardian Egyptian." Not quite modern, not quite traditional—it strikes a middle ground between the quaint "Comic Sans" and the uninspiring "Clarendon." The previous graphic incarnation, developed in 1988, was much preferred—it had a certain cutting-edge look and the use of fonts, dividing lines, and pictures made almost any page in the newspaper a well-considered exercise in composition and typography. For the masthead, the italic Garamond font had a human quality and flair, and the extra bold Helvetica was a solid, modern, significant addition. This combination gave the paper and the brand authority, modernity, and a sense of place in the crowded British market.
The Guardian looked like no other newspaper. The traditional serifs and gothic fonts of papers such as the Times and the Telegraph were all remnants of the era of Victorian London, when they began. The Guardian broke this tradition; it made waves in society and gave us beautiful pages to look at. Now, with the uninspiring layouts and dull fonts, the Guardian seems to be saying "I give up, I can't keep up anymore. I need to sit down for a while."
It's a pity, really. The editorial content may not have changed, but the visual treatment of the brand makes it look like a "me too" publication, blending into the crowd like an old balding bloke in a beige cardigan. Perhaps the Guardian's change reflects what happens to us all in time: We tend to get shorter, fatter, and a little more boring.