The beginning, not the end, in Los Angeles

Michael Whitley, assistant managing editor for design and graphics, answers a few questions about the latest design evolutions at the Los Angeles Times — which were introduced today. In recent years, the Times has been a top winner at SND’s Annual Best of Newspaper Design Competition (see coverage from 2007 and 2008). Tribune’s innovation officer, Lee Abrams (who spoke at SND Vegas) previewed the redesign in a memo posted at LA Observed.

Available below: Prototypes plus a video from Michael where he outlines some of the changes for readers.

What was the genesis of this redesign? What did you set out to accomplish and did the mission change along the way?

Michael: When it was announced that all the Tribune papers would redesign this year, we saw it as an opportunity to fix some things that just weren’t working. Our mission remained pretty steady — make a good paper better. It was a chance for us to update and improve things in the paper, but we also had to make sure to keep some of the basic DNA of the Times.

As the last major Tribune paper to redesign, did the efforts in Chicago, Hartford, South Florida, Baltimore, Orlando, and other cities shape your strategy?

Part of the genius of this process is there was no cookie cutter design we all had to fit into. Lee (Abrams) said from the beginning he trusted us to do what we thought was right. I think all of the Tribune papers did what they believed was right for their readers and their organization. So we certainly were aware of the work of our colleagues at the other Tribune papers. And we looked for good ideas we could steal for sure. But ultimately our strategy was to do what was right for the L.A. Times.

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A lot of the Times’ DNA is still present, but refined. What aspects of the paper’s design tradition are worth preserving?

I think our recent history is about being a great product to read, with stories told in a lot of smart ways. We wanted to reflect our long history but in a modern way. So keeping stories organized and making the typography simple and elegant was crucial. We also use photography and illustration unlike any paper I am aware of and that is something we plan to continue. And I think we are bold but sophisticated with the best of what we do — breaking news, major projects, sports specials, the Oscars — and we hope to continue the tradition we have built in those areas.

We asked some great people from outside the Times to help us update some traditional items in our paper. Jim Parkinson, who I have always admired, redrew our nameplate. Randy Glass is one of the best stipple artists in the world and an L.A. Times reader. He did drawings of our columnists. It is definitely a new take on an old school newspaper. Our hope was to create a modern paper that still feels like a 126-year-old brand and has that trust behind it. I think we’ve done that.

Any fears that this evolution isn’t bold enough?

Not really. We’ve changed the paper a lot in the last six or seven years and will continue to change it. We were lucky to have a great foundation to work from — the design styles Joseph Hutchinson developed for the paper during his time here. In that moment those ideas were pretty radical for an old school newspaper like The Times. This is just the next in an ongoing evolution that started in 2001. We’ll keep pushing the paper forward. This is really the beginning, not the end.

And there are some bold an unique things about the new design. Probably the boldest thing about it is that the Sunday styles are a bit different than the daily. We all know the Sunday paper is edited differently and that we treat it like a different product than the rest of the week. So we decided to make it different. And our color palette is all new. It may sound crazy, but for us Sunday section reverse color flags are pretty bold. I think boldness can be a matter of perspective, and this is a pretty bold leap forward for the Times.

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Sunday section fronts, before and after

Tell us about the new typography.

It’s really simplified. We’ve taken most of the italic out of the paper for starters (our top reader complaint was about italic captions). We also worked with the Font Bureau (hard to go wrong there) to develop some new weights of LA Headline including a beautifully done compressed weight. It’s all pretty traditional: very elegant, very legible. I think we’ve developed a pallet that is unique but feels familiar to readers. It doesn’t feel rooted in any particular moment. It’s more of a timeless collection of beautiful, legible fonts.

Will the redesign accompany any major changes in content or structuring of the paper?

I think there are some content and organizational changes that will follow soon. Again, this is really the beginning, not the end. We will have to continue to find our way in a very different newspaper world. If we want to keep being relevant for readers, that process will never end.


Los Angeles Times Redesign on Vimeo.