Best Of Times, Worst Of Times / 16 октября 2007 г.

Earle Gill tells how Canada’s National Newspaper battled to get a readable text face (and lost).

Copyright © News Design Associates Inc.

A couple of years ago, two of our usually alert readers noticed that The Globe and Mail had changed its body type — the stuff you’re reading now — from one typeface to another.

It’s highly probable that more readers noticed but couldn’t be bothered to let us know they had uncovered our little secret (and who can blame them). Well, we did it again. Last November, the Globe reversed itself and went back to the typeface it introduced with its redesign in June 1990. That typeface is Times New Roman. In 1990, it replaced a face called Imperial that had been used for decades before the redesign. At this point, Globe readers may have been tempted to shake their heads and speculate about the collective sanity of those in charge of such things. Rest assured, there is a rational explanation.

First, go back to Imperial, the typeface that was ditched in 1990. In the process that culminated in the redesign, it became obvious that Imperial didn’t work with the headline style that was being adopted. It was too heavy and printed too black. Headlines are the only element on a page that should be black because their job is to catch the reader’s eye. Imperial was offering too much competition.

So the job of telling our stories fell to Times New Roman, a face originally designed for The Times of London in 1932. It is less robust but more elegant than Imperial. It also provided the heightened contrast between text and headline that the redesign called for.

Unfortunately, when the new-look Globe went into full production, it became obvious that the 30-year-old presses, which produce the paper for most Ontario readers, weren’t capable of producing the fine lines that make Times so distinctive. (By contrast, the more modern presses that print the paper in other parts of the country had no problem with it.) Since producing two sets of pages for the two types of press was out of the question, it was decided in January 1992 to change the typeface once again, this time to one called Calisto, which is very much like Times, but whose line weight is more uniform. Calisto was a compromise, but it worked well — for a time.

Since then, however, the Globe’s production department was able to improve the quality of the presses through the installation of new equipment. The improvement was so good that Calisto started to look too heavy. It made sense to go back to Times, so we did.

Then, in February, editor-in-chief William Thorsell, fresh from a tour of the European colonies, allowed that the Globe’s typeface didn’t compare well against some of the papers he and Globe president Bill Greenhalgh had just seen. They admired the look of The Financial Times of London. A major component of the FT’s look is the typeface chosen for its body type — Clarion, whose advantage over Times is that is has a bigger x-height, which means that 8-point Clarion is just as legible as 10-point Times and takes less space.

So we decided to run some tests on one of our best-read pages — Facts & Arguments, which appears five days a week on the back of the front section. We tried different permutations of Clarion on the page, varying the point size, leading and tracking (and while we were at it we tinkered with Times as well).

We asked people in the newsroom how they liked it. As usual, some loved it; others hated it. And our readers got in on the act too. They took advantage of our national 800 number to put in their two cents’ worth. The best one said, “I don’t know what you’re doing with that page .but I want you to stop.” And stop we finally did.

We decided that we wouldn’t want to put our readers through too many shocks this year. We already know that we’ll likely be changing faces later this year when we go full-color offset. So we’ll wait until then.

When he wrote this, Earle Gill is executive editor of The Globe and Mail in Toronto. He is now the paper’s newsroom business manager.

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