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Guardian Newspaper Change of House Style

The Guardian Newspaper Change of House Style, September 2005
This is part of my pages on Typeface or Font Readability.
On Monday 12th September 2005, the Guardian newspaper (UK national daily) changed to a new size and typeface. Kindly, on the preceding Saturday, they included a supplement in the newspaper which gave a rationale for this, which appears to be no longer on their website, though there was, the last time I looked, something about the typeface they chose, at,,1566047,00.html (I hope it’s still there.)
I’ll comment here only on the typeface and layout, based upon what they said in their supplement. They also changed the page size at the same time.
The previous design change
The Guardian previously changed its house style in 1988. At that time they settled upon using Helvetica bold for the headlines and a serif font named News Miller for the body text. At the time this was considered quite revolutionary and it apparently generated nearly a thousand letters of complaint in the first five days of its usage. It is now, as the Guardian puts it, ‘oft-imitated’. Nothing wrong with it, but after nearly twenty years it begins to look tired, and a change can give a bright modern image.
The Latest Design
So they’ve changed their typeface to a newly-designed one that is of the family known as Egyptian, a slab serif font, and they’re using this in various weights for nearly everything, including body text and headlines.
Slab-serif fonts aren’t of themselves at all new, it’s more the change to something no one else is doing, that gives the fresh new look. That and the decision to go for a light, open version of the typeface for headings.
The size of the body text is 8 point on 9.5 point leading (leading is the distance between the lines), this being decided upon after an amount of real-life simulated trialling, in particular they seem to have been looking for readability on crowded underground trains.
The size chosen, in the selected typeface, is said to ‘soak up text’, by which they presumably mean that you get a lot of words in the space and the words stay eminently readable; a bigger type size would make the paper unwieldy and the articles spread over too many pages.
8 point on 9.5 appears to provide the optimum readability. (Notice, too, that the red-top tabloids tend to use about this size for body text.)
Right-jusified or Ragged-right?
The Guardian’s write-up didn’t mention text justification, though it did say the layout has changed from eight columns per page to five, albeit on a narrower page width, but still giving wider columns.
With wider columns, you have less need to right justify the text, and by not right justifying the text you shouldn’t need to hyphenate words across lines.
Hyphenation of words across lines interferes with readability, at least it does for me, and surely at the very least it can’t help with it.
In the new-style Guardian they seem to have not defined a house style for this, sometimes there’s justification and sometimes there’s ragged-right. Maybe this has been left to the individual typesetter, or are they trying both ways and hoping for reader feedback?
What they still do though, to my irritation, is continue to hyphenate words even when there’s ragged-right text. Why do this?
The UK weekly magazine, The Economist, is even worse at this. The typesetters hyphenate words across lines on half-page ragged-right columns.
But by contrast, The Financial Times is a joy to read in this respect. I think they’re the only UK newspaper to avoid unnecessary hyphenation.
Next page in this set: Save the Planet, Font-wise .


Doreen M S Nightingale said...

Why not use capital letters when they are essential, e.g a prestidgious building in a town like mine, Craven Arms "Community Centre"? You wouldn't put 'houses of parliament' would you? I asked for this and have now lost my job as a correspondent for a local newspaper.

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