By Evelyn Dunstan
People say that you can’t judge a book by its cover but the reverse is true for newspapers. Many individuals decide whether or not to buy a paper based upon how striking the front page is. Sometimes this is due to the headline or the story that is featured on it but could it be that the typography also plays a role in causing readers to purchase newspapers? According to a report published by the University of Exeter, it is essential for a paper to possess a visual appearance that makes it instantly recognisable in order to differentiate it from the competition. The typography that a paper uses can help to define its brand and draw in casual or ‘floating readers. The home delivery of papers has been declining for some time now so these readers represent an important demographic.
Changes Over Time
Research conducted by research associate professor at the Institute of Communications Research at Illinois University John Nerone and associative professor of graphic arts at Syracuse University’s School of Public Communications Kevin Barnhurst suggests that there were two distinct typographical styles in Victorian newspapers; one that was loud and emphatic and the other, referred to as the ‘Times’ style after the Times of London, that was low-key and conservative. This is still essentially the case today. Barnhurst and Nerone state that nowadays tabloids favour the ‘loud’ style and broadsheets favour the Times style. This reflects the readership of these papers, as people who opt for tabloids generally tend to want a less serious read than those who opt for broadsheets.
According to newspaper design expert Allen Hutt, the typography in newspapers reflects the national characteristics of the countries in which they are published. He says that French papers tend to be exuberant and elegant with regards to their use of different fonts and German newspaper typography is mechanical, orderly and stiffer. The typography in Scandinavian and Swiss newspapers has a clean, ‘architectural’ feel to it and emphasizes clarity. Hutt says that typography should be targeted towards the needs of the audience’s nationality-based traits.
In the English newspaper market, papers that opt for the ‘loud’ style seem to do better. In America, the Times style appears to be popular, with the Arizona Daily Star being praised for its ‘elegant, classic typography’ and the Sioux City Journal being complimented for its ‘simple, sleek fonts’ at the Suburban Newspaper of America awards. However the owner both papers, has incurred debt and has taken out substantial loans as a result so it is unclear whether the praise that papers with this style receive translates into profit. Perhaps the money owed by the company is indicative of the fact that this look is capable of generating critical acclaim but not necessarily capable of generating sales of papers.
A study cited by the Daily Mail indicates that fonts can actually affect people’s opinions. Certain fonts are more likely to evoke knee-jerk reactions on topics than others, which means that newspapers that wish to present sensationalist articles can use these fonts to evoke the reactions that they are looking for. Similarly, newspapers that do not wish to bias the opinion of their readers can opt for fonts that avoid doing this. Typography can affect the way that people think and is therefore a valuable tool for papers wishing to put across a particular message or papers that have an agenda to push.
Design and publishing expert Mark Boulton suggests that the typography used in newspaper mastheads represents the stance of the paper and advertises it to readers who possess the same ideology. He provides the example of The Guardian. The original 1980s Guardian masthead featured Garamond mixed with an emotionless, hard Helvetica in order to let potential readers know that it had traditional broadsheet values with a left wing slant. Essentially, the masthead of a paper is its way of letting buyers know what they are in for and needs to be tailored towards the main demographic that purchases the newspaper.
The writing in a newspaper is unquestionably its most important feature. Therefore time needs to be spent ensuring that it is aimed at the target audience in order to maximise sales. Typography can be used to represent political ideologies, emphasize the level of seriousness of a paper and mirror the characteristics of the people in the country in which it is sold. It can even affect people’s opinions on the topics that are included in articles, which means that it is an invaluable tool that cannot be ignored.