Hallpressen: Streamlining newspaper design without abandoning variety

by Ole Munk; published 11 May 2012
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ANYONE REMEMBER THE AUTUMN OF 2008? The financial crisis gravely affected the media business, as well as most other businesses. One of its consequences was a dramatic decrease in advertising and publishers appeared to be in a general state of shock. Our company felt the change in the simple sense that our phones more or less stopped ringing. The type of work we do is typically related to our clients’ development budgets and very few clients felt like developing anything at all in such a situation. Survival had to have top priority.

It therefore mattered little to us that the level of ambition was quite low when Johan Hedberg, editor-in-chief at the Swedish local daily Smaalands-Tidningen, contacted us in October 2008 to ask if there might be a chance that Ribergaard & Munk would help improve his paper’s rather outdated visual appearance. We were happy just to get the chance to do some work.

Fate had it that only one month later, the Hallpressen media corporation – publisher of Smaalands-Tidningen and eight other local dailies – lost its influential and controversial former CEO, Stig Fredriksson. Even though he had by then already entrusted the formal management of the corporation to his daughter, Lovisa Hamrin, it will hardly be wrong to say that Fredriksson’s passing away, however sad it was, opened a window of opportunity for change within an organization which had built a reputation for being stubbornly conservative.

On the other hand, it also meant that our redesign project at Smaalands-Tidningen got quite a stumbling start, as a number of managing positions were soon to switch owners.
Almost a year later, after Lovisa Hamrin had hired AnnaKarin Lith as her organizational consultant, things started rolling at a faster pace, and a redesigned Smaalands-Tidningen saw the light of day on 17 March 2010. You can read more about the Smaalands-Tidningen redesign here.

We had worked with AnnaKarin Lith before, creating a common design basis for Hallandsposten and Hallands Nyheter, and it soon became clear that her ambition was to introduce something similar at Hallpressen.
However, typically to an organization where little has happened for quite some time, new ideas and initiatives were now plentiful within Hallpressen, and as the following year became a very busy one with a number of launches and redesigns, we had to work on the overall concept while finishing off individual projects. To some extent, we ”made the path by walking”, as Antonio Machado once put it in a poem.

Now looking back at a breathtaking, but also incredibly fascinating and fun working process, we feel grateful to our experience from some 70+ newspaper launches and relaunches over the years as we can see how this helped us make some very ”robust” choices at the start. Choices which have enabled us to improvise along the way without being forced to deviate from the basic grid and typographical toolbox for which we had already settled.

To say that Hallpressen was an interesting client to work with during the years 2010 and 2011 would be an understatement. New titles were launched, like the freesheets Värnamo Nyheter Mitt i Veckan and Skövde Nyheter – the latter on both print and web, an example of how to establish and maintain a visual identity on multiple platforms – as well as the monthly website-turned-into-print-magazine JnyttXtra.

And existing papers were relaunched, such as Värnamo Nyheter with its all-advertising frontpage, and the ”jewel in the Hallpressen crown”, 146-year-old Jönköpings-Posten.

While our assignment was to establish a common design platform for all these titles, in order to streamline the production flow and facilitate the sharing of content, another prerequisite was that each publication must retain – or be provided with – its own distinctive visual identity.
Every newspaper got a new nameplate. Some of these new logotypes were redesigns of older ones, with differing degrees of radicality – but whenever we realized that looking for typographical quality in an old logotype was a search in vain, we would create a new one, finding inspiration in the two typeface families which formed our typographical toolbox: Greta, designed by Peter Biľak, and Flama, designed by Mario Feliciano.

The use of colour and the treatment of graphic details, like page headers, are other fields where we have been exploring the possibilities of variation within the given scheme.

The tabloid format, ubiquitous elsewhere on the Scandinavian newspaper map, used to been an exception within Hallpressen. The new freesheets are, however, tabloids all of them, just like the local daily Smaalänningen which we redesigned in the autumn of 2011.

Our latest Hallpressen project was the May 2012 relaunch of the three VGT papers (Västgöta-Tidningar, an independent group within the corporation) in tabloid format. The shrinked format may be a forewarning of even more change to come within an organization that used to be a conservative player on the Swedish media arena, and which is the only remaining publisher of broadsheet papers in the country.

On the next page, we have made a selection of news flashes on some of the individual launches and relaunches mentioned above.