What’s Black and White and Redesigned All Over? The Philadelphia Inquirer!

Posted inBranding & Identity Design

In a time when print journalism is withering away and many newspapers have been forced to shut off their presses, it’s a thrill to see one of the oldest newspapers in the country continue to thrive. Founded in 1829, The Philadelphia Inquirer is the third-longest continuously operating daily newspaper in America, and its printed edition is still going strong. In fact, The Inquirer’s physical presence is stronger than ever, thanks to a fresh new redesign courtesy of Pentagram.

Pentagram worked closely with The Inquirer on the paper’s first editorial redesign in nearly 30 years, with Pentagram Partner Luke Hayman at the helm. The finished product is crisp and clear, with page templates easy for both Inquirer readers and staff to navigate. To learn more about this old-school entity’s new look, we asked Hayman about his team’s process below.

What was the brief that The Philadelphia Inquirer came to you with?

From the beginning, they wanted to tackle the print, because the print had been neglected for quite a while. The most recent initiative there over the last few years— for obvious reasons— was to get the digital side of what they were doing up to speed, so a lot of time and effort was spent on quite a nice website. But they realized a couple of things— new leadership came in, led by Lisa Hughes, who was a former publisher of The New Yorker, so she’s really sophisticated in particular about design and typography, and how the visual side of the brand really holds multiple media and multiple platforms together. 

Coming from that background, Lisa saw how disparate the visual parts of The Inquirer were across their new website and their old newspaper, which hadn’t been updated in years. So the brief was to look at the newspaper again and, while we were at it, making sure their core brand assets and visual toolkit were good. 

How did you start tackling this project?

We went straight into the newspaper, which hadn’t been updated for a long time. The complicated thing was, at the same time as doing a complete redesign, they were doing a complete makeover of all of their technology. They were on really old systems, which made it really hard to change anything. They used a lot of legacy processes with people doing things in very backwards ways, so there was a lot of revamping that took a lot of time and energy. 

Lisa understood that a lot of the visual identity of a publication lives in the typography and the typefaces, so that was the starting point. With Henrik Kubel of A2-TYPE in London, we created this lovely suite of display fonts and text fonts. Once we did this— and there was lot of rationale behind all of the fonts that we chose— we went into the archives and history. We had this proposal for the newspaper, but the website was a completely different visual language, so we had to help them a little bit online too. We didn’t redesign the website, but we certainly made some modifications to the navigation, the homepage, and some of the other key pages. Most importantly was making sure the typefaces carried across print and digital. 

I would imagine that the legibility of a physical, printed newspaper is of the utmost importance, especially when considering an older demographic of readers. How did you all handle this accessibility? 

We were really careful about type sizes and X heights and readability and space. Henrik Kubel had done several newspaper fonts before; that’s one of the reasons we worked with him. We had a good awareness of best practices, and being careful about choices. 

Typography is clearly the most important consideration in newspaper design, but what other elements are a critical part of the equation? 

Newspapers get put together in a matter of hours, so the design is very templated; it’s all based on a grid, so creating systems that were graceful and flexible enough to accommodate different kinds of stories and images was super important. We didn’t reinvent the wheel or anything— we were following best practices of newspapers. We built a grid so that they could put stories together very quickly; it’s very modular. It’s more complicated than a lot of newspapers because it’s a broadsheet, so sometimes they’ll have four stories on a page, and that becomes quite a puzzle. Whereas a lot of newspapers have gone down to smaller, tabloid formats, and they essentially get one story per page. 

We did these very basic things that I think will help readers and provide structure to the whole newspaper, like creating these front pages of sections. For Sports, Business, News, Food, Lifestyle, Real Estate, Health, we wanted to make it clear to readers that they were in a new section. So each section had its own color, had its own masthead, and banner at the top of the page so that you clearly saw it was the front of a section, which wasn’t as clear before. 

Considering how drastically the newspaper industry has changed over the last decade or so, with so many publications downsizing or folding altogether, how did it feel to work on this project in particular? 

I have a lot of romantic thoughts around journalism and newspapers and how important they have been. It’s been frightening to see how the financial model of newspapers has been gutted by the digital world, so it was a very important project to us. The Inquirer is really fortunate to have been bought by the Lenfest Institute, which is a foundation that is funded by folks who take journalism and the press very seriously. They’re concerned about these hedge funds and private equity companies buying up lots of newspapers in our country and gutting them. 

I’ve worked on a couple of newspapers before. I learned most of what I know about editorial design from Simon Esterson in England, who is a very well-known editorial designer in Europe. I just love newspapers for the medium, for the scale, for the feel and the smell of them, and the way stories work together, and the texture and the complexities of typography, and the hierarchy of storytelling in this medium, which is very different from digital. So it’s that sort of passion for the craft, and the scale, and physicality of it, and the importance of what newspapers do, or did, or should do. 

What aspect of this project are you proudest of?  

Being able to commission a complete suite of fonts that come from the archives, diving into the history of one of the oldest newspapers in the country, and bringing them up to date. Having that be the foundation for the visual language was a real win. There are plenty of fonts that you can buy that are a lot cheaper than commissioning a new one, but they saw the value in that and supported it, so I think that was an extra special cherry on top to be able to do that.

Partner: Luke Hayman

Project team: Shigeto Akiyama, Laura McNeill, Avery George

Collaborators: Lisa Hughes, Publisher and CEO; Gabriel Escobar, Editor; Elizabeth Samet, Creative Director; Suzette Moyer, Design Director; Henrik Kubel / A2-TYPE, custom typeface design;
Charles Nix, additional typographic research