The Guardian 'new look': party like it's 1999

How not to love the late 90’s? We were offered The Matrix, the birth of Google, the comeliness of Tender, that crazy Champions League final match… Those were insane and adorable times for everyone (I mean, except for Greece, but they had no idea back then). Yet there was a handful of people who loved the end of the 1990’s more than you, me and the Manchester United fans, combined. Those who sold overpriced remedy for the most overhyped problem of our recent history. And those who convinced newspapers that the best approach to go up against the rise of that thing called “the internet” would be… redesigning their printed product. (Btw, for a business that primarily deals with facts and verification, newspapers are alarmingly easy to deceive).

Too bad there is no historical record to properly spotlight this bluster. Perspicuously, those who paid for the service will never advertise the amount of money they spent on a media that would end up perishing 10 years later. And those who got the money, I’m pretty sure, are doing something entirely different today.

But not all of them, it seems.

Last week, on January 15, 2018 (again, two-thousand-eighteen), the British paper The Guardian revealed its “new look” to the world. Editor-in-chief Katharine Viner’s words, not mine. Here are my words on what “new look” really means: last year, The Guardian made a £38 million loss, so it decided to cut costs by reformatting the product from Berliner (a mid-term between a broadsheet and a tabloid) to an actual tabloid. In order to relieve the pain of confessing “honey, I shrunk the paper”, they redesign it with different fonts and colors.

I don’t keep track of The Guardian’s interventions as Katharine Viner musts do (or as her competitors certainly do), but the biggest overhauls the company announced during the past two years were: 1) coming up with a subscription model but avoiding the term “subscription” [a.k.a. ask readers for donations], 2) changing colors and fonts.

Undeniably, I must have missed something. So I went back to the letter Katharine Viner addressed to the commonalty last Monday, the first day of the rest of their tabloid life.

We decided then that we also wanted to redesign the Guardian for our global readership online — to create a beautiful new design that works for readers across mobile, apps and desktop.

Only, she is mercilessly wrong. In fact, “…across mobile, apps and desktop” is their core problem. These are different platforms, they have different functionalities, and they should be used to deliver different content. But Viner doesn’t have to trust me (nobody does, actually), she could ask… well, her own employees. A couple of years ago The Guardian set up a channel called “Mobile Innovation Lab”, and those guys have developed some good insights. Here’s the link, just in case.

We’re using a range of energetic colours, and the much-loved Guardian visual wit and style remain at the heart of the look. (…) Guardian journalism itself will remain what it has always been: thoughtful, progressive, fiercely independent and challenging; and also witty, stylish and fun.

What you’re looking at is a carefully curated list of adjectives, and too many “remains” in the same sentence, which may unwittingly give away the truth. That is to say: except for the tabloid format, pretty much everything just “remains”.

And last, but definitely — definitely — not least, the whole justification letter ends like this:

Let us know what you think. You can share any feedback or queries about the new design by emailing us.

Email. In 2018.

As you may have noticed, Viner’s letter has not helped. But it reminded me of the first words of her own speech at University of Melbourne, in 2013: “I was recently conducting a job interview for a Guardian role, and I asked the interviewee, who had worked only in print journalism, how he thought he’d cope working in digital news. In reply he said, ‘Well, I’ve got a computer. I’ve been using computers for years.’ His answer was funny, but also revealing: clearly he believed that digital is just a technological development; just a new kind of word processing”.

Well, Viner, who can blame him? Clearly this is a common mistake.

Two decades of hardcore journalism in a past life; now Digital Media PhD candidate @ University of Porto, coffee taster and vinyl aficionado