16 Min Read
The New Vision
It has been three months since the business daily, Mint launched its new design and format for its newspaper. The redesign and rebranding was undertaken by Dr. Mario Garcia and his team at Garcia Media, along with the in-house design team at Mint led by Abel Robinson. Both of whom were involved in designing the paper when it was first launched in 2007.
While I do question a bunch of their decisions, this appears to be a calculated move made not just from a design point of view but also from a strategic and business point. Mint has repositioned itself to become be far more relevant for its current and future audience. They want to be the newspaper for the digital age. A lot of newspapers around the world have reworked their content structure and format for similar reasons. This has a lot to do with how people have begun to access content on a screen. As someone who reads Mint as well uses internet abundantly for gathering information, I have to agree that some of these changes were much needed.
Mint identifies a large section of its readers to fall under the well-informed middle-income to affluent urban milieu. They want an easy-to-read financial daily that also has thought-provoking pieces on economy, politics, culture and lifestyle. They are also reading tons of content online; therefore their nature of accessing and absorbing information is shaped many a times by how content is laid out on the web or a mobile platform. In an attempt to make the paper’s printed version relevant for this group of readers, Mint has adopted some features from the digital media.
While I do agree that this has helped in pushing for better design, content structure and typography, I am yet to see what makes them digitally superior to other news dailies in India. Also, it must be kept in mind that most of the time, the medium also dictates how the content is presented. A lot of attributes can be adopted but ultimately it is a printed newspaper.
One of the key new features of this new digital initiative is a small column break with a Mint logo medallion that has a news article title and a Bitly link below it. It is referred to as an Online Pointer and it flags readers’ attention to an additional online news article. While reading from the printed paper, the reader will have to key in this address on their browser to access this article. For the urban Indians who are quickly getting accustomed to digital products and services that makes modern life convenient, I wonder if this is an effective solution.
When the entire paper is converted into an e-paper, these web-links become active. They take you to an article that supports or is related to the article next to it. But here is something that is rather unclear, how often would someone read from an e-paper, when it is far easier to access information on a website? In an attempt to find an answer, I tried using Mint’s e-paper. The interface is clunky and it feels dated. It was almost as if I went back in time to a digital version of an old library archive where you shuffle through index card catalogs to locate the right shelf with the corresponding serial number to pull out the book that you were looking for.
On the desktop version, the e-paper has multiple drop downs, buttons and links to click. News articles open on a pop-up window when you click on them. There is an option to listen to the audio version of every article, which is also a rudimentary version of an audio assistant. It would have served well as a decent archiving tool that gives access to old articles and news stories but it just stores about 90 days of data. As a current-day online platform, it certainly begs for improvement. Although, it is unlikely that it would replace the printed newspaper in the near future. The mobile site version of this e-paper also uses a dated UI/UX system but it is a little less cluttered when compared to the desktop version.
Almost all newspapers with an e-paper edition have the same issue, as they use the same platform to upload their content. Mint could have stepped up and carved a unique space for themselves had they improved upon this existing system for an e-paper. In doing so, they could have served their ambition of being the paper for a digitally-forward India.
Unlike many western countries where people have begun to exclusively use smarter platforms for news, Indians still largely depend on printed newspapers. If an Indian newspaper wants to be digitally forward, it has to develop content that are mobile or web platform specific as well as content that can create a bridge between what is on print and what can exist on digital. Cross platform experience is what newspapers should aim for if they want to keep print alive and at the same time cater to an audience that is slowly shifting to online media for their getting the latest news. Digital media certainly has some advantages over print. Content can be accessed and engaged with in real time. It can be customised, feedback can be received and responses can be sent instantaneously. Many reader groups can form forums and sub-groups. An online platform can allow for interaction between readers as well as between readers and news reporters, writers or citizen journalists. Content need not restrict itself to being static. The newspaper can add video and audio clips. This would also mean that the newspaper will have to hire people with a different sets of skills, previously not present in a print-based environment.
According to an article published on the Harvard Political Review, newspapers have attempted to change in recent times, as they have noticed that the attention span of their readers was becoming slimmer. These readers were slowly getting accustomed to the the shorter content structure found online. In addition to this, there is a global concern regarding newspapers’ inability to attract younger readers, or more importantly, a pool of readers who could help sustain their business for the future. Therefore, there was a rising need to make content equally engaging for this younger audience. But this was not just a content-related problem. Both The Guardian and the Independent, felt that the size of the papers needed to change to make it easier for people to take newspapers with them. Therefore in 2003, The Independent and later in 2006, The Guardian, moved to a Tabloid and Berliner format because they felt that these sizes were a convenient format for modern life.
Whereas, Mint has taken a step back and has gone from Berliner to Broadsheet. Garcia Media in their blog explains that the Indian audience is more attuned to reading serious news from a longer format newspaper. But while trying to attract the digitally savvy urban crowd who regularly uses Kindle and other smart devices, a smaller paper format would have seemed more appropriate. Also, Berliner uses less paper, therefore less impact on the environment. The Guardian cites multiple reasons for shifting to a smaller format including convenience, easy navigation, broadsheet values and differentiation. Mint’s new format has easily let go of two of these.
When it comes to differentiation, financial and business dailies are famous for using salmon pink newsprint sheets. This was a practise that The Financial Times had introduced in England in 1893. It made these newspapers stand out on newsstands. In India, The Economic Times, Business Standard and The Financial Express are all printed on a salmon pink newsprint paper. But on the other hand, Mint’s deliberate choice of the standard newsprint paper and the smaller size has helped differentiate it from these newspapers and allowed for it to cover more than just financial and business news.
This time around, Mint continues to use the same paper tone. But the older substrate has been replaced with a better quality one. The first sheet used for the front and back cover is now a thicker newsprint that is less grey compared to its older counterpart, making the colours vivid and print sharper. As with most newspapers, as you go further into the paper, the substrate changes to a lesser quality, thin and grey newsprint. Yet, on the whole, the quality of the newsprint used in this version appears to be much better than what was used for printing Mint earlier. However, there is a sudden shift to a grey as you move from the cover sheet to the first sheet on the inside, which looks rather abrupt.
The page count remains at 24 which was the same when the format was smaller, but the price has gone up by 50%, perhaps to accommodate these changes. The size change would have also been implemented to generate revenue by selling space for advertisements. According to Len Kubas who is an expert in pricing strategies, said in the context of American newspapers that, there is an innate fear in shifting from a broader format to a compact format. Advertising in newspaper is sold on the basis of space and not based on impact. Prior to the launch of the new format, Mint was finding it difficult to attract the growing advertiser base. So there was speculation within the Hindustan Times Group of a possible format change to counter this issue.
Such a business strategy cannot simply be implemented, it would require some justification and a communication of the same to its regular readers. Also, in order to attract more advertisers, it would need to find a clever way to rope in more readers. This process would have begun by identifying a key brand value that Mint can embrace and one that would be attractive to its current and future reader group. In this case, Mint has chosen to adopt digital media values as its new direction. This decision led Mint to commission the redesign of its newspaper, a task that has culminated with the brand creating advertisements to communicate all the new changes and the new goals of the newspaper. In most cases like these, brands tend to create catchy taglines that reiterates its new vision. Unfortunately, the tagline of the new and improved version of Mint is reminiscent of a certain underwear brand. The new line, “The Most Awesome Daily There is: Mint or Nothing”, felt like a lazy attempt to sound impressive. It’s hollow, does not work with the intelligent audience that it wants to connect with and certainly does not do justice to its new digital aspiration.
Having pointed this out, it is highly unlikely that any of us are familiar with taglines of other newspapers or are bothered by their existence. But when Mint has attempted to redefine itself and all its communication is plastered with this new tagline, it is hard not to question the rationale behind it. The rest of the content in these ads are informative. It focuses on all the important changes that the newspaper has made. Interestingly, all communication layouts have a header device with an image of a rolled-up Mint newspaper. The new masthead stands out quite well when rolled. Although in reality, in India, newspapers are folded and left on our doorsteps. Luckily for Mint, the four-column grid of the masthead, ensures that the logo that occupies two of those columns stand out when folded. It is not sure whether this was conscious design intervention but it has worked in favour of Mint.
A change in the style guide
The new design for Mint has retained some recognisable bits from the older version and has mixed that up with a whole lot of functional as well as stylistic changes.
Over the years the orange band has become a recognisable entity of Mint’s visual language. It’s good to see that this orange is still the brand’s main colour. Changing it would have resulted in spending more on advertising and creating another set of communication exercises to help people make a connect between the new Mint and its new colour. Interestingly, it is a differentiating brand colour within the Indian financial media segment. But apart from that, a lot of Mint’s visual language has changed. Everything from the masthead, typography to grids and infographic style has been changed.
There is something very satisfying about the typefaces that were chosen as a part of this redesign. These two new typefaces are Austin and Sanomat Sans. They create a pleasing combination as they complement each other effortlessly. Austin is an elegant serif typeface by Paul Barnes of Commercial Type. It is slightly condensed but has these beautiful, calligraphic thick and thin lines that form each character. Sanomat Sans, on the other hand, is a geometric sans serif typeface. It is from the same foundry as Austin and it was designed by Miguel Reyes, Christian Schwartz and Vincent Chan. There is very low contrast among the geometric lines that form each character. But at the same time, it is not a bland sans serif typeface. It has characteristically large apertures and angled terminals.
Since both Austin and Sanomat Sans have a wide range of weights, a combination of the two can create various styles for various sections of the newspaper or news article. Thereby, giving every information its due importance and identity. The type styles along with the new grid system is able to break down content for easy and quick reading, much like how it is done on online blogs. The only thing missing would be a mention of the time taken to read each article. On the whole, it has helped elevate the aesthetic quotient of the paper.
If you look at the typographic form of the earlier logo, it was rather weak. The branding exercise has helped create a formidable looking slab-serif logotype. The letters are from the typeface Algebra. Unlike the previous logotype, this is hard to miss. But the letter spacing and the use of shadow on the type, doesn’t help the forms m, i and n. The block-like serifs of the these letters tend to get too close to the each other. The coin from the previous logo has also been retained, it holds fort as the tittle of the i. Although the contrast between the coin and the orange background has improved with the new version, it still looks like it is blending in with the orange behind. The logo looks far better on the Live Mint website against a white background and without the harsh shadow.
In addition to the new logo, all the section headers, column logos and even the Mint Lounge logo have been refreshed to ensure that they are an integral part of this new visual language. They are all simple type-led identities. Some have dividers or lines to support them.
The new Mint masthead is more impactful with its new and imposing slab-serif logotype and with the presence two photographs from two key news stories of the day. The date finally gets a lot more prominence than it did the last time around. The identifiable Mint Orange continues to be the background for the logo. On the whole, while it retains brand recognition and has become purposefully loud, minor features like the shadow underneath the logo and the double line device below the masthead does not add much value to the design. The main website address and the social media page addresses are no longer a part of the new masthead. Social media links were initially present under the logotype when the new design was launched. But it made the masthead look cluttered and was taking up too much space. It was a good decision to remove these as it is not hard to find and follow Mint on social media.
Unlike other newspapers, this masthead is not unique to the front page. It is also present on the back page of the newspaper along with two other key news headlines of the day. According to Garcia Media, this unusual intervention was the result of a study that concluded that most people read the back page of a newspaper before they proceeded to the second page of a newspaper.
The new masthead of Mint Lounge, the Saturday edition of the Mint, has also gotten a lift with this redesign. The type for Lounge is from the letterforms of Sanomat Sans. In addition to the orange, the masthead now has a large strip of purple. This has helped in creating a distinct identity for Mint Lounge with colour and type as differentiators. Mint’s primary masthead repeating on the back looks rather awkward against the new masthead of Mint Lounge.
But on the whole, the new design has helped accentuate the magazine-like style of Mint Lounge. Its front page is far more visual and less text-heavy compared to the earlier version. The cover article occupies almost two-thirds of the space on the front. On the inside, much of the credit goes to its bold typographic style and the new colour palette that makes every article, section and call-out complement each other with the styles prescribed for each. This new look ties in well with the kind of content that Mint Lounge prints and the kind of audience that it caters to. During the week, the design style and colours match with the serious business news that Mint covers. On the weekend with Mint Lounge, it takes on a far more relaxed visual tone to lay out articles on culture, politics, technology and lifestyle.
In both the main newspaper as well in its weekend edition, the columns have become thinner and are now separated by thin black lines. From a functional point, it makes for easy reading and from an editorial point, it makes it easy to add more content. Some dividers take on a revived art deco form, they are commonly seen bracketing author names in columns. But below the masthead and the section headers these look a bit contrived.
This new version also makes use of large empty spaces to separate out content. It is important to bring this up, as most newspapers tend to fill up every space available. In print media, every square-inch has a price attached to it. It certainly shows the value that Mint has for good design. Large counter space is again a visual tool that helps with quick reading and quick access of information.
Another features that is working in favour of the redesign is Mint’s new system for information graphics. It uses typography for creating hierarchy in the content and flat colours to create simple flat graphics. The new palette of colours give each infographic piece a unique look while unifying them under one colour system. However, it doesn’t look unique to Mint as a brand. It is well-designed and makes information accessible.
In conclusion, this was an attempt at learning more about newspaper design and about Mint’s redesign. The paper produces a great mix of serious news articles and well thought-out opinion pieces from industry experts and analysts. This redesign was undertaken to give its content the visual quality that it deserved. To a great extend, Mint has achieved this. But we are slowly moving to a world where most people with smart devices depend on online media for their daily news. Therefore, Mint has to stay digitally relevant in order to keep up with its readers’ lifestyle choices. As a print media, it is not an easy to task to take on this new positioning. A lot of newspapers have redesigned their paper to make it look good visually. They have changed their paper substrate and the quality of printing. But no paper in India has done a complete overhaul as Mint has in the recent history. It is nothing short of challenging the times. Literally!
PS: Dear Mint, could you please go back to Berliner though?
Here are some additional links, if newspaper design interests you:
Newspaper Death Watch (Yep! This exists too.)