Behind the World’s Best Designed: Politiken

“The printed version of this page must win an award!” Such a statement was unheard of in a creative process in the Politiken newsroom ten years ago. Today that statement would be accepted by all but a few editors who would laugh resignedly and mention that the content after all is most important. In other words, there’s a widespread awareness in the newsroom that quality in presentation is equal with editorial quality. People are proud of winning the Worlds Best Design Newspaper Award in 2012 and the European Newspaper of the Year Award in 2011.

The first of December 2011 we introduced a redesign. The editors in chief (three of them at Politiken) and I decided to celebrate that with a daring poster front page. We discussed how the front page should address the new qualities like “an improved navigation” while at the same time deal with controversial stuff like a new position of the television programme and a simplified weather map. The staff cartoonist Philip Ytournel was chosen for this fine front page job two weeks in advance. He listened to the clever heads in the leader group. He left the meeting and turned to a group he feels more comfortable with. That’s a group of young newspaper anarchists that he formed across the newsroom. Their brainstorm resulted in a front page poster proposal that with humor, self-irony and detailed misinformation emphasized and played with the Politiken identity and progress. The leader group was stunned — not to say slightly shocked — by this proposal. But after several refinement and negotiation meetings it was finally chosen. And the page has already taken more awards.

On daily basis we aspire to present a quality morning paper that lives up to the reader’s basic expectations on readability, great photography and illustrations. But we’re always ready to take a risk to create a surprise.

Editors, writers, photographers, infographic artist and least but not last the page designers all contribute with ideas and input on a daily basis. And they pay attention to the fact that this page might become a winner. The leaders of the editorial groups bring forward the ideas at fixed meetings. We leave room for both planned ideas as described above and ideas that evolve close to deadline.

The design of Politiken is big and bold. The typographic palette is Capitolium by Gerard Unger, Flama by Mario Feliciano and Politiken Egyptienne (refined by the London based company HouseStyle). The overall colors are red, black and white. These are the main tools at hand when the 12 page designers — four are trainees — approach the broadsheet canvas of Politikens main sections. And the tabloid canvas of the special sections. The result will be pages that celebrate simplicity, cleanliness and kicking communication. To quote Charlie Chaplin: “Simplicity is not a simple thing”. But if your staff strives after simplicity it often ends up in sophisticated results.

The soul of Politiken influences the design. Politiken is a strong NEWS paper. And Politiken is a strong VIEWS paper. The energy created by this mix of content fuels the visual choices. On the news pages the 10 staff photographers really make a difference. And on the views pages Politiken’s six cartoonists really make a difference. But sometimes it makes an even bigger difference to obstruct this natural visual strategy by for instance using a cartoon on the news pages.

Since 2006 Politiken has experimented with extended use of template pages. There’s good and evil to such a program. But for sure you can benefit from the planning embedded in template pages. An example is the simple choice of running a broadsheet cover photo on the front page of the B-section every Sunday. Staff photographer Martin Lehmann knew his canvas before shooting actor Nikolaj Lie Kass in a close-up. Editor Kasper Steenbach and page designer Tomas Østergren briefed the photographer before doing the fine job.

A more complex example of template pages is our opinion spread. It look’s like that every day. And it looks good.

A main key to maintenance of creativity is rethinking and redesigning. When we win prizes for a design we’re already on the move somewhere else. Design is process and redesigning your paper and other platforms should be ongoing. This also constantly stimulates the brand and the branding.

We like to work with consultants. The international design consultant company Palmer Watson has been rewarding to know and cooperate with.

Politiken stabilized readership/circulation over the last 7 years. I believe the rethinking and redesign is why Politiken is doing fine.

Least but not last I believe in the following: “There will always be news. There will always be design. News design face a great future. Amen.”

Søren Nyeland is design editor at Politiken in Copenhagen, Denmark.