The Daily Telegraph’s design changes, introduced on the 160th anniversary of its first edition, mark a further step along the road towards the inevitable future for print newspapers: that of luxury, added-value, niche products which sit alongside the digital news channels (where the real action happens).
The overall feel of the new look is understated and minimalist. The focus is on clean pages, unfussy details and simple layouts. The colour palette is muted, typographic contrast is limited. The ambition presumably was restrained, high-end elegance - a sort of Cartier of newspapers - and it is at least partially successful in this respect.
This, along with the increased body text size and leading and accompanying reduction in word count, chimes with the thinking that what’s important in print is the reading experience rather than the delivery of lots of news.
There is certainly nothing here to frighten away any of the remaining numbers of the Telegraph’s conservative and Conservative loyal print readers. There are no striking innovations or bold experiments. It is easy to imagine this morning’s edition being leafed through by the Brigadier and his Good Lady with a vague feeling that something was somehow a little bit different, before they settled down happily to the county cricket scores and the cryptic crossword.
In his page two introduction to the new look, Telegraph editor Chris Evans heralds an increase in the paper’s features, comment and analysis, all of which further underlines the trend of print becoming ever more an accompaniment to digital news services - print is the place where you go for a more reflective, leisurely take on events having been fed breaking news all day on your smartphone. It’s a lean-back luxury experience, and it’s this, presumably, that the Telegraph’s new design is meant to facilitate and accentuate.
It is, however, not 100 per cent successful. Evans claims that the new body text, Austin, will “make reading the paper far more pleasurable”.. Austin, which is also the headline font, is indeed a beautiful typeface (created by the illustrious Paul Barnes originally for Harper’s & Queen) but the Telegraph’s irregular text settings ruin its effect.
At display sizes the heavier and lighter weights of Austin work really well; the middle range weights look flat and old-fashioned.
The use of a 24-column grid for layout allows for wider columns for the big stuff and some narrow measure details but there doesn’t appear to be a consistent solution to making it work around adverts.
In the features pages there are some jarring details which are not in step with the rest of the newspaper - rules and tints and boxes which feel as though they have been imported from another design.
Much fuss is made of the return of the traditional gothic Daily Telegraph masthead which Evans says is to “underline our great heritage as a newspaper”.
Admirable of course, although I rather suspect that very few readers will have noticed when it was ‘de-gothicised’ a few years ago.
What is an unqualified success is the unusual appearance of a Matt cartoon on the Monday front page. Matt Pritchett has been the best pocket cartoonist of any UK newspaper for decades, and he has marked this latest development of the Telegraph in typically brilliant style.
Terry Watson is a founding director of Edinburgh-based media consultancy Palmer Watson