Newspaper redesign tips: Converting broadsheets to narrow web widths

Converting broadsheet newspapers to narrower web widths isn’t simply a matter of putting your existing design mix into a smaller shape. I’ve worked with newspaper clients since 1996 to design for narrower web widths, from The Dallas Morning News and Orlando Sentinel, to most recently, the Brunswick (Ga.) News. In every case, we’ve realized that the old mix of headline fonts, page headers, and other ingredients just doesn’t translate to the new proportions. Here are some lessons we’ve learned along the way:

Akron Beacon Journal newspaper redesign.

Headline count: Think condensed, compressed
Many clients discovered that their old headline typefaces were too limiting on a narrower column width. Once set at a size large enough to have impact, they did not allow the letters or words needed to summarize stories accurately. An exploration of appropriate serif or sans serif typeface families, which must have condensed or compressed variations, is usually the first stage of these projects.

Stuck with a limited selection of licensed fonts, such as the Adobe Type Library? You will likely not find much of what you need on hand, unfortunately. Quality headline faces with a variety of narrower weights are  most often found in outside type vendors. Based on a client’s briefing, seeking out and testing good options for new fonts is one of the most important things I do.

Rearranging? Create added value
Even if you are keeping the same news hole (number of column inches) for editorial, some readers will charge that “you are making their paper smaller” when you trim a bit off the edges. To compensate, I always ask clients to come up with at least six significant new features or destinations in the paper that can be sold as new or added value.

It might be community news briefs, previously scattered throughout the paper, newly labeled as a “Neighborhood Forum” page, with an accompanying new advertising anchor, and perhaps new avenues to interact with readers via social media as well. Or, as clients including The Dallas Morning News discovered, there may be merit in a smartly designed news summary, including highlights from commentary and digital and social media, maybe anchored alongside a new celebrity news column.

Address advertising, early and often
Redesign where change in format is not a concern, and you may address advertising late in the game, or not much at all. But with a change in web width, it is paramount you consider as early as possible a variety of questions related to this. What is your standard column width on inside pages, and how will advertising shapes and sizes and rates change to adapt to that? How will classified line rates (and design) be adapted if you switch to a different number of columns, or width, per page? If you have an archive of “house ads,” will they all need to be redesigned as well?

Of course, it is essential to communicate to advertisers as well as readers about any drastic upcoming change in format. I’ve created and advised clients on their marketing campaigns to help smooth the transition. Here’s a sampling of that creative work. In addition, you may want formal or informal focus groups to test advertiser or reader reactions to the changes you have afoot. I can help with that, too.

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Considering a web width conversion, switch to tabloid or redesign inspired by other factors? Email me at ronreason (at) and let’s talk. We’ll start with a free critique and take it from there.

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