Q&A with Russel Herneman, Art Director of The Sunday Times

Earlier this year, The Sunday Times, a weekly British national newspaper, was named one of SND’s World’s Best-Designed™ Newspapers. The paper’s design team, known for their bold typography and innovative illustrations, is led by art director Russel Herneman. We sat down with Russel, who has served as art director for the past five years, to chat about what impact the award has had on their newsroom, where his designers get inspiration from and the future of design at The Sunday Times.

How did you first get into design?

As a child a drew endless cut-away diagrams of world war two aircraft. At 14 my dream job was to be a conceptual artist for Industrial Light and Magic. I studied design at British design college called the Kent Institute of Art and Design (now University for the Creative Arts). One of my student projects was to redesign The Independent newspaper from a broadsheet to a tabloid. My work was terrible but at my final show the then art director at The Sunday Times, Gordon Beckett, looked on my dismal effort sympathetically and offered me some temporary work. I’ve been there ever since!

The Sunday Times was named one of SND’s World’s Best-Designed Newspapers™ earlier this year. How excited were you all when you found out you had won that award?

We were all rather stunned. The Sunday Times had never entered the SND awards before 2016; our first prize was won the following year and we nabbed a few more the next. For what turned out to be our winning entry we, as usual, carefully curated our pages, but when it came to the mandatory Best Designed in the World entry I said to colleague ‘grab the first three complete copies your get your hands on – we haven’t got a hope.’  

On the night of the presentation, owing to the time difference I knew we had won long before the team. They woke up back in the UK to a picture of me blearily gripping the trophy, posted on our dedicated SND Slack channel, ironically labelled ‘It’s Coming Home’ (in reference to the England football team’s perpetual failure to win the World Cup)

What impact has winning that award had on your newsroom?

It raises the profile of the designers. There is an ongoing argument in our newsroom (and I’m sure in newsrooms the world over) between journalists and designers about how pages should look. Winning this award adds weight to opinions of the design staff.

What do you think makes The Sunday Times stick out as extraordinary in the world of news design?

Our use of punchy poster-style presentations, combined with the typographic elegance of our recent redesign, led by Simon Esterson and Mark Porter. The Sunday Times is a big, multi-section paper. It features many analytical pieces, complex book extracts, trenchant commentary and muscular investigative journalism. For us designers it is an exciting challenge to display these not-obviously-visual stories in a way that it both vibrant and informative.

Where do you and your team get inspiration for your designs?

Everywhere. I think good editorial designers need to have a broad cultural background. Books, movies, theatre. Art history is a ripe source of inspiration, along with (to give a few random examples) the title sequences of Saul Bass, the Russian constructivists and the florid lettering of fairgrounds. Also, we’ve got plenty of back issues of the SND book to rifle through.

Is there a particular page or spread that your team has done in the last year that really sticks out to you as one of your favorites?

Our double-page Notre Dame graphic. The cathedral tragically burned down on early in the week so we were able to put a dedicated team on it for several days. The result, I think, did justice to that appalling event. Also, the spread on the rise of populism in the west (by Harry Hepburn) is a good example of the punchy style we like to present serious, analytical pieces.

What hopes do you have for the future of the design team at The Sunday Times?

The challenge for us is digital. How to replace the dynamism of a yard-wide double-page spread on a phone screen three inches wide? Animation and interactivity are our future and we a tipping much effort into raising our technical game (I spent the hottest days of the summer, holed up in a room in with no air-conditioning in central London being taught Adobe After Effects. I was – judging by the number of times I had to be reminded not to lean on the CAPS LOCK – comfortably the dimmest person on the course. Fortunately for The Sunday Times, my team are rather more polished performers than me)

SND has edited statements for clarity.

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