Straits Times 2012 Redesign: More blue, less fuss

The Straits Times (ST) unveiled a new look last week, the second time it has redesigned within a period of just four years. The 167-year old paper overhauled its look back in 2008, but unlike the previous change where it cited the need to stay attractive as it faced pressure from the Internet, this latest redesign seems to be at the orders of its new editor Warren Fernandez, who took over  from Han Fook Kwang in February. Fernandez gave the in-house design team just six weeks to create a new look that was “more modern and contemporary”.

The result is a much cleaner-looking paper that does away with much of the fussy elements in its previous design such as special motifs for its bylines and coloured dividers. The section headers and liveries have also been reduced significant and simplified, probably to give more space for editorial and advertisements. Overall, the paper has adopted a more muted colour palette. The colour red, especially, has been dropped, and even when retained, is of a darker shade. This is probably to distinguish itself from its rival in the Singapore newspaper market TODAY, whose corporate colour is red. ST will instead be a pre-dominantly “blue” paper.

ST 2012 cover

The 2012 front page.

Another significant change is the paper’s return to a six-column grid like in its 2004 redesign. It’s also a format that its weekend edition The Sunday Times has had, which probably simplifies life for the designers. Also marking a return is a new section “The News in 5 Minutes”. Such an attempt to provide a quick overview of the news came in the form of “In Summary” in the ’80s and “News Flash” in the ’90s.

Perhaps the biggest, but also the least inspiring change, is the paper’s masthead. It’s the third time it has changed its look since 2004, a frequency which some may see as a clear lack of an identity. The latest masthead design uses a typeface that looks like it is harking back to the 1970s when it was typeset in Bodoni. That design stayed for over three decades before this cyclical masthead revamp began.

Masthead (2012)

Masthead (1973)

As a whole, there has been very little change in this redesign. If anything, the redesign seems more like an effort to shore up its brand colour and an opportunity for the new management to reach out to advertisers. After all, that’s what most redesigns are really about, an effort to stay attractive as an advertising platform. It’s why when there was a preview for the latest design, it was the advertising agencies and media professionals who were invited, and it was their positive views that were broadcasted when you read the new look ST the next morning.

For a more detailed examination of ST’s newspaper design since 1959, do check out this article I wrote for The Design Society Journal two years back.

CORRECTION: I had incorrectly said that the current masthead is typeset in Bodoni, so I’ve changed that bit. But I still don’t know what typeface it is.

4 comments

  1. notabilia says:

    I regularly see inconsistent leading and kerning in the ST. It’s my pet peeve. I hope that, in this new design, we’ll soon see such attention to detail.

  2. Yin Shanyang says:

    @notabilia, I think that is a failure on part by systems in place, which I think is hardly solvable in six weeks. Wired magazine took a year odd to set the kerning tables on all their standard typefaces.

    ——–

    I think it’s interesting the time frame given to the team to perform a paper-wide redesign. Six weeks seems awfully short. Make me wonder if it is enough to get to the point of designing the functional elements of the paper effectively. Though that said, it seems that the short time frame allowed the team to focus on reduction and removal.

    With my punditry hat on, I wonder if it is a stopgap measure for a further more comprehensive redesign in the near future.

  3. j u s t i n . z says:

    From my experience working as a part-time paginator (someone who layouts the news pages) in ST during my university days I can tell you they use a proprietary computer program. While there is room for modification of a page design, including its kerning to fit stories, this requires additional work as most design elements are already set in templates. This helps in the daily rush to layout the stories, but it discourages creativity. Moreover, the people who layout your newspapers in ST are usually not design-trained but veteran journalists (and a few part-timers like me). And their primary role is to check the facts of the stories instead of thinking about its design — that’s for the computer to fix.

  4. Yin Shanyang says:

    Thus the reference to Wired’s kerning tables. Because they took the time to kern all letter pairs, and hence after the mammoth investment in time, they never have to kern their standard fonts again.

    I think my stance is that it is a solvable problem, but it takes time to implement.

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