TAKEAWAY: The Netherlands’ second largest circulation daily, AD, based in Rotterdam, goes for a three tempo content organization, new fonts, color palette and a look that enhances its popular newspaper look, while allowing for some elements of the classic as well.
The powerful look of Dutch newspapers
The three tempo newspaper: News, Show & Culture, Sports
When Christian Van Thillo, CEO of Belgium’s Pers Groepe, called me in the fall of 2010 his phone briefing was direct and to the point: Mario, our group now has purchased the Netherland’s AD newspaper, and, although it is successful as it is, I feel that it needs some retooling, nothing too major as readers like it the way it is, but we feel that it could be spruced up a bit, without taking away its personality. By the way, when it comes to Dutch newspapers, “personality” is best when bold, robust, with bigger is better for headlines and photos.
And so, when Christian Fortanet, art director for Garcia Media, and I, landed in Rotterdam, the second-largest city in the Netherlands and the largest port in Europe, we came prepared for a redesign light. Two hours into that first workshop with the management team, including Van Thillo, we knew that this would be a total rethinking for the 65-year-old daily that was born a year after World War II.
You see, AD is a popular newspaper, one of those with lots of personality: big headlines, the many colors together on the same page, the stories on page one that we associate with the downmarket tabs. But it also carries content that would place it in the category of the regular family daily newspaper, not necessarily one catering to the traditional downmarket audience.
The AD’s main competitor is that over the top broadsheet called De Telegraaf-—a daily assortment of giant headlines, the most non modular page structures next to Germany’s Bild, and an assortment of photo silhouettes, underlined headlines and the 76 trombones. While the AD counts with 1.5 million daily readers, the Telegraaf has two million. So, it is a sort of neck to neck competition between the two dailies.
Front page before and after the change that premiered June 3
The redesign/rethinking of the AD provided us with an opportunity to tweak the existing logo a bit. Our art director Christian Fortanet was in charge of this part of the process. The new logo is a “soft” change that creates a more rectangular look, and provides us with a branding element that is user to use across multi platforms.
So how could we take the AD to the next level, in the face of this competition. I must mention that AD is very locally driven, with 19 daily regional editions for various cities across the Netherlands. For each, the name of the newspaper changes according to city, as in AD Algemeen Dagblad, AD Rotterdams Dagblad, AD Haagsche Courant, AD Utrechts Nieuwsblad, AD Groene Hart, AD Amersfoortse Courant, AD Dordtenaar..
“It is local content that separates us, nobody covers the nitty gritty of each location the way the AD does,” said Christiaan Ruesink, editor in chief. “Whatever we do to the AD, we must retain this level of localness which is the reason so many of our readers come to us each morning.”
In addition, I soon realized that the AD spread its wonderful content all over the place and was not easy to navigate. Many of the good stories could possibly get lost.
That is why we studied the content flow of the AD and came up with the idea of the three tempos, three sort of mini newspapers inside the one daily: News, Show & Culture, Sports.
This organization facilitated content distribution, allowed for better Page One navigation, and, in terms of design, gave us clear directives for how to approach everything from type to color and story structures.
Logo before and after
The typographic scheme of the AD consists of four fonts: Forza, Tungsten, Farnham and Flama.
In the original prototype, we had made greater use of Forza, but the editors felt it could not fulfill all of their needs, special for feature material, so we substituted the Forza for Flame in headlines, but retained the Forza for body text and for type inside of boxes.
Tungsten, a condensed sans serif, is used for headlines, too, and the entire sports section utilizes this font exclusively.
Once the idea of the tempos was accepted, then the next task was to assign a specific color to each section: News uses red; Show & Culture use purple; Sports uses orangeThis facilitates access to each of the sections, starting on Page One of the newspaper.
Typical of other Dutch newspapers, the AD’s weekend edition is jam packed with supplements, special sections, longer features. We decided to create some special story structuring for this edition, some of which we show here.
One of the steps we took was to analyze the type of columns that appear in the Weekend edition of the AD, and then create visual styles for each of them.
Here is a newspaper that publishes columns that are traditional single topic narratives, but also columns known for their service and the number of tips they offer; other columns are purely short takes on a variety of topics, but not necessarily service oriented. However, in the old AD, these columns all looked the same.
We show you how we differentiated the styles according to personal columns, narratives, service, tips, etc.
According to editor in chief, Christiaan Ruesink , the results have been mostly positive since the June 3 launch of the new look:
What we’ve hoped for, became real. We hoped that with a soft launch of the new logo and layout and an explanation from me why the changes are made, the reactions would me minimal. A few letters came the day after. Most of them from designers complaining about the new font (Tungsten), but also from many readers who are saying: this is a new newspaper, but it’s still my newspaper. It’s the old AD in a new jacket. Compliments for that.I spoke to advertisers and professional journalists and they all said it’s much better. It makes the newspaper more classy, but it’s still a popular newspaper. Especially the new Weekend-section (in light-blue) compliments for that, too.
And, in the view of AD’s general manager, Eric-Paul Dijkhuizen:
It all worked out beyond my expectation. You know I am not born with ink on my hands, but I have ever since my many Disney years developed a very good understanding of branding and creating quality experiences. You have helped us to bring out the quality the AD was hiding for too long. The stories were good, the news was well covered, our journalists were on the ball and they still are. But since June 3th their stories are presented in a tempo and style that goes with the quality they deserve. And our readers are noticing that as well as our business partners do.
In terms of specific reader reaction, Eric-Paul mentions this one special note from a long-time reader of the AD:
One of the most moving letters we received was from a subscriber to the AD that is already for 52 years a member of the AD ( that’s how subscribers to our AD call themselves, members). He wrote : “ I am not a great believer in change and I read your paper for 52 years now. But the changes you have made, I like very much. Your paper enriched my live for many years and it still does”.
Balance,more class, improved readability are among the words I pick up when people comment on the new layout.
The weekend section of June 4 th was the best ever produced by the AD.
Christian Fortanet and I worked closely with the AD’s art director, Jeroen De Haas, during the process which lasted six months. For those who would like to see daily pages of the AD, it is possible to download the AD app through the iTunes store, free of charge.