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The typographic Times
Ally Palmer


[February 2006]
“Typography is a key aspect of the design for us.
It is the main way that you can express the tone
of a newspaper and the main way you can help
make it distinctive.”

Ally Palmer

Palmer Watson

Can you introduce the Palmer Watson company and its designers?

Ally Palmer and Terry Watson first worked together on The Scotsman newspaper, when it was recognized as the single best-designed newspaper in the world by the international Society for News Design in 1997. They each have more than 20 years experience of working in newspapers, earning many national and international prizes along the way. They worked as design consultants throughout Europe, South America and Africa and formed Palmer Watson in the spring of 2004, when they were joined by a former design colleague Gavin Munro. Three of their newspaper designs, The Scotsman, The European and The Herald (Glasgow) have been awarded the titles of World’s Best Designed Newspapers by the Society of News Design.

What are the main elements to consider when designing a newspaper ?

This can be difficult to define as it depends on a lot of things: if the
newspaper is a new title, or a format conversion or simply in need of
modernisation. But we will always start a project by discussing the content,
the marketplace and the competition so that we can get a feeling for its
recent history as well as the direction the newspaper wants to go. Then it
is a case of looking at story structures and the various text elements that
go together to help present a story better. The grid is also a very
important aspect as it has big influence on the design but often this will
be dictated by advertising. In the case of Le Monde we eventually had a
combination of five and six columns that allowed for the right pace for the
news pages while being able to accomodate advertising.

What is the place of typography among all these elements ?

Typography is a key aspect of the design for us. It is the main way that you can express the tone of a newspaper and the main way you can help make it distinctive.

What are the criteria considered in your typefaces selection ?

Legibility is the most obvious thing we are looking for both for text and display. A
newspaper font must be functional but distinctive, though not to the extent
that it gets in the way of the presentation. It must also be one that you
don’t tire of quickly so it is quite a hard balance to get. Another
important criteria when choosing a typeface is the size of the family. It
must be big enough to allow for the various sizes and styles that a design
may demand.

Why do you choose different typefaces for different newspapers? (We can
think that if a typeface is adapted for newspaper printing, it works well
for everybody) ?

Different typefaces have different personalities in the same way that
newspapers have different personalities so it is important to reflect that
in the choice. Having said that I’ve seen the same typfaces used in
different newspaper environments that somehow manage to convey very
different moods. So it is all about how a typeface is actually used.

Which typefaces have you chosen for your last projects ?

In our most recent projects we have used Whitney (Hoefler & Frere-Jones) for
Algemeen Dagblad in Holland, Gotham (Hoefler & Frere-Jones) at The Edinburgh
Evening News
and a mix of Champion and Knockout (again Hoefler &
Frere-Jones!) at Ekstra Bladet in Denmark. We also worked on a tabloid
conversion of The Scotsman, a paper where we originally worked on staff, and
chose not to change the type which was Coranto (Gerard Unger). We also used
Whitney for a tabloid conversion at Hufvudstadsbladet.

What were the specificities of your work for Le Monde newspaper ?

In the case of type we were asked to increase the text size or at least make it more legible. It felt strange to remove Le Monde Journal as it had obviously been designed specifically for the newspaper but once we started working with Matthew Carter’s headline face it didn’t feel right. With the Le Monde logo it was never suggested that we would change, in fact we tried to use it more in the paper by adding it to the page folio. In terms of page layout and design the brief was to create a stronger hierarchy or the stories and headlines and allow for a better use of supplementary information. The biggest structural change was to introduce three more obvious sections and this required a different feel for each of the sections. The front page was probably the biggest challenge as they really wanted to create a different look while retaining the feeling that it was still Le Monde. They were also very keen to make more use of photographs which was a big cultural change for the paper.

All the typefaces used for Le Monde (Rocky, Fenway) are designed by
Mathew Carter. Can you tell us more about this choice ?

All the serif faces are from Matthew Carter with a new and expanded version of Rocky for headlines and Fenway for text, but we also used Benton Sans by
Cyrus Highsmith at the Font Bureau. We have used a lot of Matthew’s type over the years and it somehow felt right for Le Monde. His type is elegant
but still very functional and Œnewsy. Fenway felt like a perfect companion for Rocky. We needed an extensive sans family and Benton Sans was our choice. It is very functional and works very well at small sizes but we also
used an extra light version for display in one of the sections.