How the FT developed its new look

This week the Financial Times is rolling out a new look for its print edition, which it says has been developed “for the digital age”. It features a redrawn column measure and the new “Financier” typeface, created with Kris Sowersby.

We spoke to FT head of design Kevin Wilson, who led the project, about the development of the new design.

Design Week: What was the brief for the redesign?

Kevin Wilson: The brief was to update and modernise the newspaper – to show a commitment to the print paper, and to define its position in relation to the digital channels. Readers typically consume FT journalism on multiple platforms, and still see value in the printed paper (and we still receive valuable ad revenue from print). It retains its prestige as a physical object – a status symbol and shorthand for quality global journalism – and a daily distillation of our editorial priorities. The editor [Lionel Barber] wanted the newspaper to be more than a snapshot of the website at a particular point in the day: it should be an edited selection of the best the FT has to offer. It should complement FT.com and provide a competitive “finite” read of “what you need to know” each day. We focused our efforts on making the design as clear and well-structured as possible – to differentiate daily news (a still significant element of the mix), from our other strong points: analysis, global coverage and comment. Graphics are a vital part of FT journalism – we wanted to make them sharper, more identifiably ours, wherever they appear (which is increasingly important now that our graphics are shared on social media outside their context on the website or app) and crucially to simplify the transition from web to print.  So we have revisited the style, colours, scale and base formats to facilitate this and we have developed a script to automate much of the conversion process.  

DW: How did you strike a balance between developing the new design and holding on to elements of the previous FT look?

KW: It helped that this was essentially an in-house redesign led by myself and Mark Leeds, freelance design consultant, and design consultant to FT Weekend Magazine. The main elements of the newspaper’s previous look are to do with tone: serious, calm, authoritative and traditional. Our overriding aim was to make the tone of the design appropriate to our journalism and reputation, while making use of the best modern elements of navigation, graphics and type. As the editor – and reader groups – told us, the FT wasn’t broke, so it might have been damaging to signal a wholesale change of approach. Rather, we had to respect the multifaceted nature of FT journalism – from business, to arts, tech and sport. We also had to remember that to many readers, the FT is a professional tool, a complex two-section paper that they approach in different ways. Some start from the back Companies section, and jump to specific points in the run – absorbing news, data and analysis quickly and using the paper as a tool in their professional lives. Others take a more conventional route from the front page, through general news and comment. So any structural changes could not be undertaken for cosmetic reasons. Fortunately, the newspaper’s strengths and personality suit a calm, well-structured elegant framework, and we hope that is what we’ve achieved.

DW: What was the rationale for the new Financier typeface?

KW: The FT is a powerful global brand – the pink broadsheet a much-copied symbol of authoritative financial journalism. But we had never had a custom typeface. The redesign was a great opportunity to put this right – to create a typeface specifically designed to match our personality and heritage and one that would work as well on screen as in print. Kris Sowersby won the commission. Mark and I have admired his typefaces for a long time, and used Tiempos on early dummies. Our brief to Kris was to create an elegant, authoritative serif with the versatility to handle news and features stories (in the arts, science and sport, as well as finance). As a London-based global newspaper we also wanted to call on the paper’s British heritage in the type we used. We experimented with some early directions before Kris suggested exploring something based on Gill’s Solus and Joanna for text and Perpetua for display. It was strong at text sizes on the new six-column grid, and the headline/display type could handle everything from elegant capitals for the titlepiece to strong news headlines. The light and bold weights, beyond the core news weights, were very versatile and showed a lot of potential for features use in FT Weekend, our weekend paper.

DW: And what was the thinking behind the new, wider, column width?

KW: Broadsheet newspapers have traditionally been eight-column in format, in order to accommodate the great variety of ad shapes that had evolved over time. Our advertising department wanted to rationalise these shapes down to a smaller number – essentially half, quarters, full pages and strips. This provided the opportunity to revisit the grid: a six-column grid provides a more comfortable reading experience for our type of journalism as well as creating a cleaner, more ordered page structure. This simplicity (or rather lack of clutter) frees the design up to inject more flavour into different story types.

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Comments
  • Nathan Ryder November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Pretty cool… but,
    is it just me or does the first paragraph in the James Mackintosh article/inset picture read slightly oddly?
    I hope you write your newspaper better than that Mr/Mrs FT 😉

  • Tim Riches November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    THIS IS WHY I LOVE MY JOB!
    Like it or loathe it, you cannot ignore the skill, complexity, and craft that’s gone into this. Too, too often we see creativity rubbished and trivialised with the ‘have computer, ergo I’m a designer’ cancer that’s harming our industry. This is top stuff chaps. Thanks for posting. There’s hope for us yet!

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