Design Matters: A look at the Globe’s new look

The following column examines and critiques commercial design, as well as provides commentary on current issues and trends in the design industry. Will Novosedlik and Bob Russell are principals of Russell Design in Toronto. The world of the newspaper, said...

The following column examines and critiques commercial design, as well as provides commentary on current issues and trends in the design industry.

Will Novosedlik and Bob Russell are principals of Russell Design in Toronto.

The world of the newspaper, said Czech novelist Karel Capek, is a ‘world like that of the wild beasts, which only exists in the present.’

The more colloquial way of saying this is contained in the old American adage, ‘as stale as yesterday’s newspaper.’

If the world of the North American press is populated by wild beasts, The Globe and Mail must certainly be one of its noblest savages.

Even its mission statement (‘We are not in the business of selling you newspapers; we are in the business of buying your time’) reveals the erudition of its marketing mavens, for it was Marshall McLuhan who once referred to the press as an ‘entertainment service paid for by advertisers who want to buy readers.’

As well-read as they may be, it was probably the fear of growing stale that prompted Globe editors to radically redesign their paper in 1990.

And if the most recent ‘renovations’ are any indication, that fear is still with them five years later.

In a world in which people get most of their information from television, the press is under pressure to keep up.

Many newspapers (USA Today comes to mind) and magazines have attempted to mimic the form of television, providing information to their readers in the printed equivalent of sound bytes, enabling the act of reading to become more like channel-surfing.

The visual result is an even more fragmented version of what McLuhan, in his book The Mechanical Bride, called ‘front-page cubism.’

In response to this trend towards the atomization of information, the Globe has remained steadfastly bookish.

It is ironic that, while using the latest in satellite technology to appear on one million doorsteps across Canada every morning, the Globe is still the slowest and most rewarding read of its competitive set.

The fact is, the Globe has recognized that what makes it a great paper is good writing and a diversity of opinion. What other paper would include views as disparate as those of Rick Salutin and Terence Corcoran, for instance?

But what about the ‘design improvements’ it claims to have made?

The biggest change is that its presses are now capable of putting color anywhere in the paper. Wisely, the editors have chosen to limit color reproduction to advertising and to leave the news pages in black and white.

If there is any sin that has been committed most gravely and repeatedly by other full-color publications, it is that the ads and the editorial are visually indistinguishable. Not so in the Globe.

Interestingly though, a week after the new design has appeared, most ads are still black and white.

Do the advertisers have a psychological need to look the same as the editorial, or is the circulation of one million readers simply too small to support the expense of color?

Another change is the body type, which now uses a font called Clarion, borrowed from The Financial Times of London.

It makes a darker impression and allows more leading, which results in improved legibility. The italic of this font, which is used in the feature subheads, has a clean, unbroken texture which makes for a seamless flow of text.

But there are other changes that result in inconsistency.

One is the way in which some of the turn page mastheads (i.e., ‘National News’ and ‘International News’) break out of the double horizontal rules that run along the top of each page, while others don’t.

There seems to be no reason for this, except on the Middle Kingdom page, where it then proceeds to break with the others by squeezing in a short deck as well.

There is also inconsistency between the primary masthead and the section heads.

The Globe doesn’t seem to recognize that its masthead is its trademark, its ‘brand,’ if you will. The masthead should be treated differently from all other section heads.

Instead, the section heads (The Arts, Sport, Report on Business, Travel) use the same custom typeface that the primary masthead uses. This results in a dilution of the brand identity.

To make matters worse, the overlines are all different.

Over the primary masthead, we read ‘Canada’s National Newspaper.’ Over The Arts and Travel we read ‘The Globe and Mail.’ And over Report on Business we read ‘Canada’s Business Newspaper.’

One welcome development is the appearance of a regular design column in the rob, entitled ‘Re: Design.’

Aside from Adele Freedman’s fine column in the Arts section (Sightlines), design has had to occupy closet space in the disappointing Thursday Fashion section, which has never had the depth it takes to examine design intelligently. The Globe would be much improved if it were dropped.

For all these shortcomings, The Globe and Mail is still the best daily in the city, and possibly the country.

Its ‘unrepentent classicism,’ as Editor-in-Chief William Thorsell calls it, is a welcome respite from the disarray of The Toronto Star and the blitzkrieg tactics of The Toronto Sun.

With a little more fine-tuning, it may never have to worry about going stale.