Globe, Globe, Globe

Several weeks ago, Paul Wells noted on his popular blog “Inkless Wells” that the Globe and Mail was planning a massive design overhaul – a fact later confirmed by a dear friend of mine who toils as a copy editor for the aforementioned Globe. I was excited and somewhat wary – during my time as editor of Carleton’s beloved student rag I oversaw a not-so-massive design overhaul so I certainly understand the necessity of change but I’m also somewhat of a stickler for what I’m used to. Even the Globe’s website redesign of (about) a year ago threw me for a loop in terms of finding what I needed, what would a rejig of the printed page do to me?

As many readers of this lowly blog know, the Globe revealed the fruits of its labour this week (here‘s a link to the front page supplied by, though it appears they haven’t reset their image size to reflect the narrower pages, cause wow is that stretched).

My first reaction was an overwhelming “ooh, pretty.” But there was something about it that nagged at me. It wasn’t until I read Mr. Wells’ reaction, though, that I was able to put my finger on what it was.

The new-look Globe is just sort of hard to read.

I personally find the narrower columns and left justification the most distracting.  According to yesterday’s breakdown of the new changes (which I can’t find online yet, but will link to if I do), the upside of the left justification was to reduce the need for hyphenated line breaks but I still see a tonne of them and now they seem to occur at random (whereas when it was fully justified, you could usually see why a line had to break for space issues).

I’m also not a big fan of the vertical lines between each and every column. Sure, use them to separate stories but having them splitting columns within a story is distracting and only serves to underline the sloppy feel of the left justification, in my opinion.

“Gee Joe, I thought you said it was at least pretty.”

Yes, I did, and I stand by that.  The new fonts are quite striking and I like the consistent use of the bold red colour as an accent on every section’s front page. But looking pretty is sort of useless if the product is unreadable.

I don’t know, maybe a lot of this is sour grapes because I was used to being able to find everything I was looking for in the old paper. I’m sure I’ll get used to it and soon the impact of these changes will be forgotten. But it seems to me a newspaper should strive for a more positive reaction than “I’m sure I’ll get used to it.”


  1. But it seems to me a newspaper should strive for a more positive reaction than “I’m sure I’ll get used to it.”

    There’s really no other way to do newspaper design, Joe. Most of people’s newspaper-reading habits are unconscious, so if we want to change the way they read a paper there’s little we can do to prepare people for it; you just have to throw the new design out there, be consistent and clear and eventually it becomes second nature.

    I love the new design but it’s far from second nature to me, either as a reader or as an editor. The display type is a lot easier to read and to navigate — note the profusion of horizontal black and grey lines that tie together stories and larger packages — but the body type, notwithstanding the fact that it’s the same size, just feels smaller because the columns are narrower. (That’s another reason why they’re left-justified; it doesn’t “reduce” the need for hyphenated breaks, it just mitigates against the number of breaks we created by shrinking the columns.)

    The vertical rules are necessary because now that the text is left-justified, there’s a ragged right edge to every column, and we need the rules to contain them. Think of it as trimming the hedges. No one wants a row of cedars with a random, irregular edge.

    My favourite part of the new design is that the headlines are smaller and don’t have to go all the way across the story. Speaking as a headline writer, that’s pretty awesome. You can write the best headline without having to pad it for length because it’s too small or cut it drastically because it’s too big.

  2. Your points about needing to allow for time for readers to adapt is right on, Evan, I get that. I’m just not convinced the Globe has helped its readers with this design – not yet anyway.

    I too love the black and grey lines to tie things together, and I much prefer the headline style now.

    But the column thing really gets me. I understand that the vertical rules are necessary because of the left justification – but in my mind that simply adds to the reason that the left justification is a bad idea. If the current columns are too narrow for fully justified text, then I would go with wider columns.

    Left justified columns look sloppy (the irregular-edged hedges metaphor you employed is spot on). But I don’t think adding to the clutter was a good solution.

    Anyway, it’s an almost-entirely subjective debate (which is why it’s so much fun!) and your feedback is most welcome.


  3. Fair point, Joe. I think the reason we went with the narrower columns is because we’re really attached to six-column layout. It has more symmetry and balance. If we were willing to use bastard measure or go five columns, maybe things would have been different, but then The Globe would be even less Globe-like.

    I should also point out that the new design helps solve an old problem near and dear to your heart: how to differentiate analysis and columns from hard news. Under the old design, the telltale marks of a column (semibold type, regular use of the mug shots, etc.) were withering away for reasons of space and consistency, until a column was basically a feature with a funny byline and left-justified text. Now every story has helpful labels that can say things like “analysis” and “comment,” and columnists get their own kind of label shape to identify themselves. Do keep an eye out for stuff like that; I’m hopeful you and our readers can keep us honest.

  4. Joe’s father and I actually had a discussion about justification once (yep, I’m marrying into the right family). Though I find it necessary to fully justify everything I do for school because otherwise it just looks sloppy to me, Tom said that the differences justifications causes in the kerning (space between the letters, though I’m sure Evan knows that) made it very difficult for him to read – my guess is that this difference is caused by the fact that I’m used to reading on computer screens while Tom spent a lot more time reading printed pages in his life time.

    And yeah, nobody likes a bastard measure.

  5. i moved from a six-column paper to a five-column one, and now i regret all the bad things i said about working over six. it’s a zillion times more flexible than five, and even when ads are sold over 10 columns, it still makes for fewer bastard measures. go six!

    am having a hard time adjusting to all ragged left type at the globe. mostly because it’s been drummed into me that ragged left signified columns and opinion pieces and justified type = news. and i fixing the kerning isn’t THAT hard.
    but i mentioned this to a couple of reporters i know and they looked baffled, because they never ever thought about justification. from this i learned that a> reporters aren’t that bright; b> perhaps not that many people notice justification; c> apparently, people READ the story to figure out whether it’s news or opinions; and d> if mvd says i look nice, it means very little, because clearly he’s not very perceptive.
    so yeah. i’ve give the new globe a while to grow on me, but if it doesn’t work, i’m going to ask them for a job and try to change the system from the inside out.

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