The MittMedia project: Shaping tomorrow’s news media

by Ole Munk; published 8 May 2013, updated 23 October 2013
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Ribergaard & Munk are currently working with the Swedish MittMedia corporation in order to help defining a new visual concept for all MittMedia publications. MittMedia is the publisher of 20+ newspapers, 10 websites, and three radio channels.

After eight months of preparation, the first visible results of this project could be seen 8 May 2013 when the two main papers of the pop. 97,000 city of Sundsvall, Dagbladet and Sundsvalls Tidning, were launched with new looks.

Next (29 May 2013) were the five papers of Dalarnas Tidningar, together with Dala-Demokraten which only recently joined the MittMedia group, and the last relaunch before summer break were the two papers in Aangermanland: Örnsköldsviks Allehanda and Tidningen Aangermanland, the newspaper with two opposing editorial articles (and just to make things easier, the piece on the left page is right-wing and the one to the right has a social democratic viewpoint).

Fall season started 4 September 2013 when the four dailies of Hälsingetidningar launched, followed by Östersunds-Posten and Länstidningen of Östersund 18 September, and stage 1 of this ambitious change project was completed 4 October 2013 when new versions of Arbetarbladet and Gefle Dagblad, both published in Gävle (pop. 71,000), hit the streets.

The fact that eighteen newspapers now share the same design platform will strongly rationalize production and allow MittMedia to devote more resources to a digital future – the shaping of which is next on our agenda, as we are now working with MittMedia’s Fredrik Sundström and Malmö-based usability experts inUse on a complete makeover for MittMedia publications on mobile, tablet, and desktop.

The process
Starting September 2012, five design workshops have been arranged by Ribergaard & Munk with participants from all editorial departments within MittMedia.

Together with project manager Daniel Bertils, this group of ”design anchor persons” has taken part of developing the new visual concept. In combination with a new common production platform, the visual concept facilitates increased sharing of editorial content while maintaining clear visual differences between the publications, some of which compete for the same market.

All MittMedia papers now share the same basic grid structure with clear guidelines for which areas of a page can be individualized and which are shareable.
However, not even the shareable areas look the same, as the page headers, use of colour, macro typography, and graphic elements vary from title to title.

As these examples show, some of the papers did in fact look more alike each other before the redesign (left) than after (right):

Unique typography
Type is a substantial component of this complex design system and we have been fortunate to be able to draw on the expertise of two top-notch type designers, Christian Schwartz and Paul Barnes.
Exclusively for MittMedia, their New York-based company Commercial developed two custom typeface families with unique features.

Duplex Sans and Duplex Serif look totally different, yet their characters share identical widths – which means that one style can replace the other, completely changing the look of a page without any kind of editing.

Christian Schwartz tells us how much he and his colleagues enjoyed the assignment:
”We’re the sort of type designers who work best when there’s an interesting set of limitations on the project, forcing us to come up with clever solutions. We’ve worked on a lot of newspaper typefaces over the past decade, each with their own particular constraints, but the Duplex project is one of the most interesting challenges we’ve come across. Getting the duplexing to work without looking like something is ”off” has taken nearly every visual trick we know”.

A hard-working in-house ”template group” transformed the guidelines defined by Ribergaard & Munk into a complex system of page and story templates, to be used in a brand new version of the NewsPilot cross-media publishing system.

If you take a closer look at the new Dagbladet and Sundsvalls Tidning, you may wonder why the typographical differences between the two seem rather subtle, given the fact that so much resources were put into developing two contrasting typeface families?
The explanation has to do with pragmatism.
Sundsvalls Tidning underwent a successful redesign in the autumn of 2012, right before this project began, and to avoid confusion and annoyance among ST readers, we decided not to force too dramatic changes onto the new ST design. However, as the ST typography is bold and strong, and as the new Dagbladet was conceived to look more tabloidish than its competitor, our typographic ”span of variety” became quite limited.
We have tried to achieve contrast mainly through the visuals/words balance as well as the use of colour and navigation elements.
Contrast in typography becomes much more distinct if you compare Arbetarbladet with Gefle Dagblad, or Östersunds-Posten with Länstidningen.

The nameplates of Dagbladet og Sundsvalls Tidning were redesigned by Ole Munk (Dagbladet’s logotype has been completely changed whereas, in the case of ST, the term ”adjusted” might be more correct).

Read more
The summer 2013 issue of SNDS Magazine contains a four-page article by Ole Munk about this ambitious project. A pdf version can be downloaded here.
And for those of you who read Swedish, here’s a comprehensive report on the MittMedia project from Medievärlden, including an interview with Ole Munk, and a commentary by Swedish media expert Robert Rosén.