A couple of years ago, shortly after Stig Abell was appointed to the editorship, the Times Literary Supplement did a bit of market research in which I got involved. They were already talking about wooing a younger audience back then, and I fear my input was probably not too helpful as I kept on saying “don’t change this; don’t change that”.

Of course every publication wants a younger and more diverse audience. I’ve often claimed that the subscription base of a newspaper like the TLS or The New York Review of Books will not really be an accurate reflection of its readership. Anyone working in publishing will get these papers at work, and we all read them. So the average age of subscribers may well look high — I didn’t subscribe till I had retired — but will be self-refreshing as people cease to get it free in the office. Still, the circulation department are not going to take my word for this and stop trying.

One of the troubles in changing the title to TLS tout court is that this combination of letters already means quite a few things on the internet. Type TLS into the Wikipedia search box, and it’ll ask you to chose between 27 different options. Is this a good thing? Google it and your search results will be all about Transport Layer Security which is “a cryptographic protocol that provides end-to-end communications security over networks and is widely used for internet communications and online transactions”. So they’d better not throw out the full title too quickly.

Now they’ve come up with a new design which according to Design Week, “aims to attract ‘new, younger and more culturally diverse audiences’”. I’m not altogether sure what’s particularly culturally diverse about having a big white space between column two and column three of your three-column layout. The old four-column layout looked too “old, white, Anglo-Saxon male” I guess! I’m not going to do the cast off, but I expect they are now getting fewer words per page. I imagine contributors must have been warned of the youthful virtues of concision. There’s quite a bit of orange type sprinkled about. It occasionally changes to pale blue without apparent rhyme or reason. Poor old JC has been banished from the back page which is now just a boring old advert — sorry, an exciting, young advert. The title of his column, now on the penultimate page, has virtually disappeared and is transformed into a tiny orange box at the top right corner. The admittedly old-fashioned NB logo made up of books representing letters is nowhere to be seen.

One comment in their correspondence columns describes page 18 (shown below) as a “typographical hot mess”. It does look a bit scatter-shot with these wobbling margins which are mainly a consequence of the decision to indent long quotes both left and right, as well as setting them in smaller type. In the old design they didn’t have that right hand indent. Cleaving to minimalist principals, I think long quotes can be distinguished by indentation or by the use of smaller type. Using both risks redundancy and in this case a messy page. And yes; it looks like they are using a whiter sheet, though my photos may exaggerate the difference — and the fact that the old issue is a year and a half old already may mean that acidic decay is responsible for the yellowing.

You can click on the photos to see the whole page of the old design.

I sound sarcastic, but I don’t really have any problem with the new design. I didn’t have any problem with the old design either though. I suppose change is necessary from time to time, and when the publication made the fairly dramatic decision to hire Mr Abell they were obviously signposting a turn towards youth. His editorial in the first issue using the new design ends up with the rather mild and middle-aged rallying cry: “Continuity and change, as ever, need to be kept in balance. I do hope you enjoy our own reinvention”. The new design grows on me as I refer to the pages while writing this. It may be damning with faint praise to say it’s certainly a lot better than The Economist‘s recent redesign. The front cover is (at least in the first example) admirably clean and attractive. The new typeface used for the title/logo is an upgrade, and is much better letterspaced than its frumpy predecessor. Not sure what if anything is particularly youthful about the redesign though, but if you can persuade younger people that the redesign is a gift to them, them persuade away, and hope that they sign up.