Thesis: Clothing the paper

Full title: Clothing the paper : On the state of newspaper design, redesigns, and art directors’ perspectives in contemporary quality and popular newspapers
Jasso J.J. Lamberg
PhD thesis (unpublished)
December 2015
Department of Typography & Graphic Communication
University of Reading
Supervisors: Andy Goodwyn & Mary Dyson
247 pages (A4 format, 203 pages + front & back matter)
Keywords: newspaper design, news design, newspapers, design research, graphic design, typography, visual journalism, journalism, mass media, visual communication, mixed methods, paradigm building

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No print copies are available at the moment. If you wish to print it for yourself, you might prefer to download the full thesis as a PDF formatted for double-sided printing (about 3.5 MB). I recommend taking it to your corner copy-and-print shop and having them do a ring/spiral binding. In the right shop one copy should cost you only about 15–20 euros (£12–15).


This thesis contributes to understanding contemporary newspaper design and redesigns in quality and popular newspapers with a focus on art directors’ perspective. A triangulated multi-method investigation of newspapers in the United Kingdom and Finland produces several original contributions to knowledge.

As little data exists on contemporary newspaper design in these countries, a content analysis of newspapers captures a snapshot of its current state. This reveals design elements that function as genre markers and cross-national differences in their use. Quality papers use a more rule-governed design employing a narrow range of expression, while the populars employ a wider range of expression.

Existing literature, largely ignoring popular papers, provides little knowledge about how art directors see their work and how redesigns are conducted. I investigate these issues through qualitative in-depth interviews with art directors. They reveal several differences between the genres. Quality papers implement large scale redesigns with intervals of several years. Popular papers perform small gradual changes, evolving almost constantly.

In both genres, art directors rely largely on their professional intuition in making design decisions. They might use metaphorical newspaper personalities, possibly as energy-saving devices similar to genre. They see several roles for newspaper design, including journalism and enhancing usability. They acknowledge a connection between design and branding, but no evidence is found that newspaper design has been taken over by branding. Art directors are shown to be the true gatekeepers of redesigns, as executives leading the process usually entrust them with final decisions.

I present a naturalistic reconceptualisation of newspaper design, taking steps towards a conceptual framework for the currently pre-paradigmatic field. I propose using the concept of visual energy for summarising the effect of design features, which can be used to describe the relative positions of newspapers and their genres.

Editorial comments & errata

The work has been checked, rechecked, examined, and re-examined, and proof-read by three people but nothing is ever perfect. If you find typos or other funky mistakes I would appreciate if you’d let me know.

  • On page 12 (section 1.5) there is a citation with erroneous year: Instead, a professional has ‘been exposed to a large number of examples of the problems and solutions’ in their field and because of this can ‘recognise underlying principles, rather than focussing on the surface features of problems’ (Cross 2006, 431–432; Dreyfus & Dreyfus 1980, 12). This should read Cross 2004, 431–423, thus referring to the journal article Expertise in design: An overview and not the book Designerly Ways of Knowing. (Also having two quotes from two sources in the same sentence is not pretty. The sources could have been indicated separately.)
  • On page 13, section 1.6 raises the question that there might be sources on newspaper design in languages I am not able to read but this question is never answered due to an editing mistake. (I have cut out the answer but not the question itself. Or alternatively I was supposed to reformulate the question sentence but forgot.) Basically this question and the missing answer is just my way of pointing that my research has been limited to English, Finnish, and some Swedish and German sources. However, the other research literature on newspaper design also does not reference many sources in other languages than English. This suggests that either there are no major sources (works beyond masters’ theses) in these languages, or that they exist in isolation without truly contributing to the field of newspaper design research.
  • On page 24 (section 2.2.2) there’s a sentence with odd punctuation: The other way is that the language of the media conveys a feeling – constructs – an imagined community and a shared identity, which encompasses both the medium in question and its audience. There is either an extra dash there, or I should have used a semicolon instead of any dashes. For example: The other way is that the language of the media conveys a feeling; constructs an imagined community and a shared identity, which encompasses both the medium in question and its audience.
  • On page 47 (section 3.1) there is a stupid and severe mistake about Edmund Arnold’s publications. I have written that he published 27 books on newspaper design. This is false. According to my source (Arnold’s 2007 obituary in New York Times by S. Heller), he published 27 books on various subjects. Not just news design. So I knew this, but some unknown brain-fart has caused me to write it wrong. This mistake is rather appalling as it shows factually wrong information.
  • On page 199, in section 9.5.6 there is a sentence missing a verb: I do not have a clear answer to how the detailed sampling should be done, but I think it warrants further thought.
  • On page 246, in the bibliography two online sources had their “Retrieved” dates in Finnish. This was such a minor but annoying thing that I’ve now fixed it in the pdfs.
  • Minor point, but annoys me: I usually write abbreviations like Mr, Ms, and Dr without points in the end, as specified by Oxford rules. For some reason I have managed to write all these with the end points in the thesis.