Why newspapers refresh their look

Why does a newspaper redesign its format? How does the change serve the reader? The Straits Times has refreshed its appearance several times over the past 170 years. The last one, a year ago, was a massive exercise that involved giving its print edition a fresh look as well as revamping its multimedia platforms. In the first of two features, the journalists involved in the operation offer insights into the thinking that went into the multi-platform redesign.

Reader looking at the revamped version of The Straits Times on July 1, 2015, which includes a brand-new layout, typeface and expanded content. PHOTO: ST FILE

It is not unusual for a product to be revamped from time to time. Ever noticed how the shampoo you've been using suddenly looks different on the shop shelves one day? Or how the packaging of a brand of bread you like has changed?

There are many reasons companies renew the look of their products periodically.

For The Straits Times, the redesign that came into effect in July last year was driven by one key consideration - to serve readers better.

The reading habits of our readers had changed over time, so had the profile of our readers. Based on our perception of these changes, we tried to update our products so that we would remain relevant.

The redesign was thus a crucial project for us. Plans for the project were conceived as early as in 2012, when we were still working on the previous revamp of the paper.

At that time, ST editor Warren Fernandez suggested a major redesign to coincide with the paper's 170th anniversary last year.

We started the ball rolling in 2013 by inviting news designers worldwide to submit proposals for redesigning ST and its digital products.

The search led us to Ms Lucie Lacava, founder and president of Montreal-based Lacava Design.

Ms Lacava is a multiple winner of global news design awards and a well-respected name in news design.

Our brief to her went something like this: Print is still the "face" of The Straits Times, a brand that is one of the most recognisable and valuable in Singapore.

The Straits Times is also one of the top English-language newspapers in Asia, and its coverage of Asia is second to none. The paper takes an open world view; in fact, few newspapers in the world devote as much space to world news as it does.

The editors were well aware of the declining print readership in many countries, but believed in the importance of print, even as the paper was transitioning to a multiple-platform newsroom and exploring other growth strategies.

ST hoped the redesign would give the paper a lift to the next level of journalism - news delivery on multiple platforms.

That is why the revamp encompassed not just print, but also its website and digital platforms.

And the look and feel of ST had to be consistent across platforms.

Specifically, these were the design objectives which we spelt out for the new product:

• A modern, instinctively designed feel to the paper

•A design that captures the richness of the newspaper's history and its aspirations going forward

•Classy, unique, authoritative - reflecting the Straits Times brand

•Beautiful typography

•Good display of high-quality photography and illustrations.

•Room for creative storytelling forms

•Multiple entry points to attract readers

•Short and long story formats

•Great navigation and signage throughout the paper

•Design threads that run across the different platforms: print, Web, mobile and tablet

Some 12 months on, reader reactions to the redesigned ST remain positive. Many readers like the more modern look.

There was some feedback that the size of the text font looked smaller when, in fact, we had increased the size. It is an area which we will continue to look at.

We are also pleased with the peer recognition which we have received for the new-look ST. We have won several international awards since the redesign. (See report below.)

But the work is not done. We will continue to tweak the paper as well as our website and app to give our readers a better experience.

Enjoy reading.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 11, 2016, with the headline Why newspapers refresh their look. Subscribe