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The Daily

Design trumps content in launch of first major tablet newspaper.

Contributed by Stephen Coles on Feb 7th, 2011. Artwork published in 2011.

Founded by the world’s most notorious media magnate, preceded by months of speculation and fanfare, and backed with unusually strong support from Apple, The Daily is the most anticipated digital publication since publications went digital. It claims to be the first daily newspaper designed specifically for the iPad. This is not an adaptation of an existing print publication, but an entirely new operation, built from the ground up within the age of digital delivery. So what does that mean for The Daily’s typography? Let’s take a look.

Openers and Headlines

A screenshot from The Daily iPad app (Feb 2, 2011 edition). Click any image in this review to see the screenshots at actual size for a more accurate representation of the typography as seen on the iPad.

The Daily is less a newspaper than a daily magazine with a bit of news. Others have already commented on how the content leans heavily towards sports and gossip. The editor — Jesse Angelo, also of the New York Post — was noticeably prickly at the launch event when asked what percentage of their resources would be devoted to long-form investigative reporting. While the content is on the lighter side, the design isn’t frivolous or cute. It’s not Gray Lady formal, but it does have the look of a fairly serious weekly news magazine. Much of this posture comes from steering clear of ultra-modern or casual typefaces and choosing the more conservative Founders Grotesk, Kris Sowersby’s ode to English Grots of the early 1900s. Sowersby toned down the idiosyncrasies of the old types, but not their heft and directness.

Miller & Richard’s Grotesque No. 3 from 1912 (top left) and H. W. Caslon’s Doric No. 4 from 1919 (bottom left) inspired Kris Sowersby’s more sober Founders Grotesk.

Founders Grotesk has tight spacing, which works well for most of the headlines. Unfortunately, The Daily doesn’t loosen the tracking for captions and other smaller settings, which strains readability. Sowersby’s philosophy for Founders was to space the fonts for display use because users “can obtain better results by opening tight spacing for text, rather than closing loose spacing for display.” I’m not sure I agree, but I’d love to hear other type designers’ thoughts on that strategy.

Founders is a large, full-featured family with three widths of five weights each. The Daily makes good use of the two condensed members, often in all caps. While the choices are too light for small stuff at times, most of the type set in Founders looks great.

FF Unit Slab modernizes the magazine and adds a European touch. Designed by Christian Schwartz, Erik Spiekermann, and Sowersby, it is no-nonsense yet novel, rarely seen by American readers. The choice would be even more original if the family had not been snagged last year by Metro, a free daily commuter paper with local editions around the world.

Unit Slab is extremely versatile, getting the job done in headlines (with tightened spacing), decks, folios, and infographics. Its low contrast and sturdy serifs serve it well for small and reversed type too. I only wish The Daily would use it in these spots more often.

Founders Grotesk is modified for a special section logo in this story opener.

A story opener when viewed in vertical orientation. When the iPad is turned to landscape mode it becomes a photo gallery.


Feature openers occasionally get special type treatments and illustration.

Text

Tiempos Text delivers The Daily’s text and some of the trim. Another Sowersby typeface, Tiempos is a modernization of two classic newspaper faces, Plantin and Times New Roman, with more rugged strokes and serifs, more open counters, and more space-efficient proportions. The iPad screen treats Tiempos nicely. In fact, the face performs as well at the same sizes as Georgia and the New York Times app’s Imperial, which is an impressive feat.

Type as rendered by the iPad: Tiempos Text in The Daily app, Imperial in the New York Times app, and Georgia in Mobile Safari.

Text typography is still the weakness of nearly every iPad publication. Presented with a device that echoes the dimensions of a printed page, designers — especially those in the news world — feel obligated to stick with print conventions: static text set in justified columns. The Daily suffers the same shortcomings. When the columns are wide enough (see above) full justification works. When columns are any narrower (see below), letter- and word-spacing stretches to distraction, even with hyphenation. I admire the way text layouts change when switching between vertical and horizontal orientation — pull quotes often pop in when appropriate — but the typesetting requires more attention. Articles rarely scroll, but when they do, it works just fine. It makes one wonder whether the very short story lengths are a preference of the design staff or an editorial staff unwilling to put more meat on the table.

The same article pictured above in vertical orientation.

Full justification isn’t working in columns this narrow.

In this vertical layout, text runs in a single column over three pages. The reader pages through the article by swiping.

Readers cannot resize or select text in The Daily, which is disappointing but common in today’s tablet publications. It’s difficult to build layouts that are flexible enough to accomodate text of any size. The solution, for longer stories at least, is to let go of a traditional print mindset and learn something from the web. In a single-column layout (see above) word-spacing is not a problem until the font size gets very large. And if the article is read by scrolling, rather than paging, articles can be any length.

Infographics


Before: an interactive infographic on Super Bowl history.

After: tapping on a box reveals details about that Super Bowl.

For me, information graphics are the aspects of tablet publication design that show the most promise. Touch interactivity presents an opportunity to make complex data more interesting and easier to understand. It also saves room and page flipping — features that would occupy several pages in print can be condensed using touch actions to show and hide different elements.

The Daily is just flirting with this, offering a handful of interactive pages in each issue, but they are on the right track. A good example is the Super Bowl graphic (above) in which eleven years of history are clearly presented on a single page. Unit Slab is just right for the topic and the demanding setting.

Sports & Weather


The same trio of type families are used throughout The Daily which keeps things cohesive. While Sports and Weather pages feel more “live” and interactive, the identity typefaces confirm they are part of the same publication. This is one area, though, where the designers use a weight of Founders Grotesk that is too thin and close-fitting for small, reversed text. The Weather page could be more interesting and useful if nearly half of it weren’t dedicated to silly horoscopes, but I suppose this is just another indication of The Daily’s intended audience.

Kinks to be Ironed

FF Unit Slab is usually tracked tighter in headlines, but someone forgot to apply that style here.

CUBANA P ARTY POOPER? The kerning is inadvertently switched off here and Founders narrow word-spacing doesn’t help.

Straight apostrophes rear their ugly heads in headlines and captions.

A nice popup in Founders Grotesk. But text set in Helvetica. Why? Tiempos or Unit Slab would do fine here.

Here, all three typefaces work well together on this page, but spacing is inconsistent and the numbers are floating a bit. This is a job for lining figures.

The first few issues of any new publication are bound to be wrought with errors. The Daily is no exception. Sometimes kerning is missing and overshoots get clipped. Straight single quotes often stand in for apostrophes. Helvetica occasionally intrudes. Each issue needs a better table of contents for swifter navigation. But most of these seem to be errors of omission, rather than poor design direction. My guess is that the style guide is still being written, staff is still getting comfortable with the format, and everyone is still learning what’s possible in this new medium.

Those who were hoping for a more radical approach to a tablet publication will be disappointed, but I found the overall experience to be readable and enjoyable, albeit with minor annoyances. I could even see myself reading it every day, if I found more of the stories worth reading. After all the hoopla, The Daily isn’t earth-shattering, but it presents itself as a magazine to be taken seriously, even if its content doesn’t.


18 Comments on “The Daily

  1. Feb 7th, 2011  5:18 am
    Edit

    Sowersby’s philosophy is to space his fonts for display use because users “can obtain better results by opening tight spacing for text, rather than closing loose spacing for display.”

    In my mind that is nonsense, as bad rhythm won't be turned into good rhythm by adding tracking! Spacing for display neglects rhythm in favor of tightness, i.e. take the inter-character space out where you can. That way the distance between individual letters becomes more important than the evenness of white space.

  2. Feb 7th, 2011  6:44 am
    Edit

    Alas, I can’t completely agreeing to “generally good typography”. Perhaps you picked the screenshots to illustrate the few occasional problems, but since I can't compare them here in Europe to the rest of the magazine’s pages I for now am not exactly thrilled by the general design and rather put off by the badly flowing and uneven (justified) body text and other typographic flaws. The white type on black or pictures feels hard to read and not only due to the choice of too light a weight, as you already pointed out.

    Founders Grotesk, as cool and striking as it might be, has very closed aperture which makes it not particularly suitable for reading sizes and length, especially on the screen. For instance the C is mistaken for an O easily, the tight spacing (see above) doesn't help either. I'm with Hannes here—it is far less challenging to optimize spacing for short paragraphs or a single line by tightening and kerning certain letter combinations at display sizes, than struggling the other way round with all body text.

    While Tiempos, and especially FF Unit Slab, are more legible picks I’m not all comfortable with the combination of the three. Tiempos shares the rather closed forms and tightness of Founders Grotesk, so it’s a good companion and I'm pleasantly surprised how well it performs on screen here. But FF Unit with its different, more open and friendly form model feels odd next to the rigid sans. Something like Glypha would have fitted better in my opinion, or the other way round, a more approachable, open Grotesk (among other things) would perhaps hold me less at distance with The Daily.

  3. Feb 7th, 2011  1:36 pm
    Edit

    I’d just like to clarify the following quote from the article—

    Sowersby’s philosophy is to space his fonts for display use because users “can obtain better results by opening tight spacing for text, rather than closing loose spacing for display.

    This does not, in any way, reflect my “philosophy” for all of my typefaces. It is simply something I tried for Founders Grotesk.

    And from the commentators—

    Spacing for display neglects rhythm in favor of tightness, i.e. take the inter-character space out where you can…That way the distance between individual letters becomes more important than the evenness of white space.

    Perhaps “neglecting rhythm” is true for some approaches to spacing for display. However, I always aim for evenness of space. Please don't assume otherwise.

    Tiempos shares the rather closed forms and tightness of Founders Grotesk

    Tiempos shares nothing with Founders. The forms are not “rather closed”.

    I’m pleasantly surprised how well it performs on screen here.

    Thank you for your back-handed compliment.

    --K

  4. Feb 7th, 2011  2:10 pm
    Edit

    This does not, in any way, reflect my “philosophy” for all of my typefaces. It is simply something I tried for Founders Grotesk.

    Sorry to misrepresent you here. I've clarified the text.

  5. Feb 7th, 2011  2:18 pm
    Edit

    Something like Glypha would have fitted better

    Sure, Glypha is a Grot-style slab, so they share similar shapes and are compatible when next to each other. But using a face like Glypha would probably make the mag pretty stuffy and dated. Unit Slab really does make The Daily a contemporary paper, and the way it's used makes Founders feel more contemporary as well.

  6. Marcos Ojeda says:
    Feb 7th, 2011  7:23 pm
    Edit

    The challenge, which i think is handled pretty reasonably in The Daily, is balancing letter and word-spacing. I don't know how the app renders its type (my first guess was a nice pseudo-html library that rendered in core text, making the performance good, but making text nonselectable), but a huge issue on ios is generally having control of spacing at all, so i think whatever's going on, it's a pretty solid start.

    As an aside, all typefaces have different letterfit, i learned on Prensa, which has a tight letterfit, being a newspaper face, and part of the lesson was finding which combination of word & letter spacing worked for what you were doing, but you actually had to try it out and see for yourself by adjusting and printing and so forth. The actual glyphs were spaced just fine, but you had to find this balance of inter/intra-word spacing each time you use any typeface in a new context or size or what have you. This is trivial in indesign, but less so programmatically.

    I think maybe we can forgive a few growing pains here and respect that maybe, pragmatically, a typeface will be instanced for its most common use case and then adjusted for situations outside of that. I say well done, though, to all involved, for making it look so relatively effortless.

  7. Jon Dascola says:
    Feb 7th, 2011  9:04 pm
    Edit

    Did you notice there is no sense of flow, or continuation while reading an article?

    All scrolling (except a few instances) happens left to right. With all left and right movement there are times when sentence ends on one page, the next page shows a full width image and finally, after a second swipe you’re ready to continue the thought. It’s terribly distracting. Every article feels disjointed and there is no good way to tell when you’ve finished one article or even a section.

    I wish iPad publication designers would stop thinking of the printed page and embrace single column vertical scrolling, an easy and natural way to read on the device.

  8. Feb 7th, 2011  11:59 pm
    Edit

    @Marcos - If they produced it like Wired have their app, then it's all done in InDesign and outputs basically as PNGs with vidos, etc. embedded. That's usually why you can't adjust text.

  9. Podesta says:
    Feb 8th, 2011  2:39 am
    Edit

    I must disagree with the claim that forcing switching back and forth between vertical and horizontal to view content in The Daily's iPhone app is a good idea. It interrupts the flow of experiencing the article. Furthermore, the most used iPad cases, including Apple's, favor viewing the screen horizontally. Since many of us have the case in its tilt option most of the time, it is awkward to hold horizontally. This, along with the introductory video that self starts, is one of the first features The Daily should lose.

  10. Feb 8th, 2011  3:00 am
    Edit

    Perhaps “neglecting rhythm” is true for some approaches to spacing for display. However, I always aim for evenness of space. Please don’t assume otherwise.

    Totally true, I presumed. This is part of a bigger and very different discussion I would love to have, for which this is probably not the right place: Spacing strategies for display and text faces…

    Also apologies for my grumpy tone. Not enough coffee?

  11. Mark Wise says:
    Feb 8th, 2011  8:49 am
    Edit

    @Marcos – If they produced it like Wired have their app, then it’s all done in InDesign and outputs basically as PNGs with vidos, etc. embedded. That’s usually why you can’t adjust text.

    So, it was produced to make life easier for back office tech and designers rather than making the experience better for readers?

    If so, oy.

  12. Feb 8th, 2011  11:35 am
    Edit

    @Mark - It's a bit reductive to pass off the current InDesign workflow as negligence. Outside of Popular Mechanics, who developed their own backend and workflow literally from the ground up using objective C, there really aren't any open or extensible workflows currently available that allow passable typographic control for iPad publication development. Adobe is currently working on an incremental update to CS5 that will allow for better integration of the Adobe suite (including InDesign) and mobile devices, but outside that the only other option is to hire a team conversant in Objective C, which, I would assume, is not a cost-efficient solution for most publishers.

  13. Matthew Butterick says:
    Feb 8th, 2011  3:32 pm
    Edit

    Give the typefaces a break — they're the only well-considered part of the whole venture. An unusual counterexample to the general rule that if an editorial project is coarse and sloppy, the type will be coarsest and sloppiest of all.

    The old adage was that "software sells hardware"; the modern rephrasing might be that "the content sells the platform." The Daily is just the latest in a decades-long line of expensive projects that get this calculus exactly backwards. (Flipboard being the previous entrant.)

  14. Tim Schafer says:
    Feb 8th, 2011  9:53 pm
    Edit

    Nice analysis Stephen. I'm wondering about the New York Times' use of Imperial— as near as I can tell they use and have traditionally used Cheltenham for headlines and text where they can, but Imperial so crazy similar it's hard to tell quickly. I wonder how much Imperial is inspired by Cheltenham...

  15. Matt Steel says:
    Feb 14th, 2011  4:43 pm
    Edit

    Why does text in a digital magazine or newspaper need to be scalable? I hear this complaint occasionally about digital magazines. Most people don't scale text in their browsers, and of course you're at the designer's mercy when it comes to print. I understand that other apps on the iPad have zooming capability for text (perhaps in some cases merely because they can) but in a long-form reading situation it doesn't sit well with me. Needing to zoom in for reading text implies that it might have been set poorly from the outset. I think whomever sets the type, whether in InDesign, Objective C, or whatever, should take care from the outset that it will be legible for the intended audience. Leave the zooming features for things like slideshows, videos, or other kinds of interactive content. I know for myself, whenever I'm reading anything I like the body copy to be of a consistent size. If I have the option to zoom in, not only does it force default line breaks, but it's distracting. This isn't typographic tight-fistedness. It's merely respecting the reader and carefully choosing which interactive choices they have. Some are simply not helpful.

  16. Feb 14th, 2011  6:13 pm
    Edit

    Scalable text is the way of the future. Bibliotype, for example, has three different formats for the ipad: bed, knee, and breakfast. Not only are things being read on different devices, they are being read at different distances.

  17. Matt Steel says:
    Feb 15th, 2011  12:31 pm
    Edit

    Well, I suppose something like Bibliotype's solution is a viable happy medium. But in your example, they still have control over the options. There are only three text sizes to choose from. This still allows for professional (well-set, attractive) typography. I understand that things are being read at different distances, but to my original point no one seems to crave pinch/zoom capability in books. I've never heard anyone complain about difficulty in reading a book as they move from breakfast distance at the table to knee distance on the couch. I think people are often given too many choices in how to interact with content these days. It's overwhelming, and we end up skimming rather than reading. It's the continuing hypertext mentality, where (supposed) convenience trumps concentration. The iPad and other tablets are, when it comes to reading, slow-down devices. I don't think they should mimic other computers with their browser interfaces which act primarily as distraction and disruption devices.

    Respecting readers and catering to their every whim are not synonymous. I'm not implying that's what you're saying above per se, Patch. I just think we have to be very careful about the viewing options we give readers.

  18. erik spiekermann says:
    Feb 20th, 2011  5:37 am
    Edit

    The first few issues of any new publication are bound to be wrought with errors. The Daily is no exception.

    Didn’t I read somewhere that they spent 30 million to launch The Daily? That is ten times the turnover of my office at present. If they’d given us (or a lot of other design studios, for that matter) only a fraction of that money, we would have come up with perfect typography, a tight style guide and legibly spaced type, whatever the type designer’s original preference. The truth is that they obviously don’t have anybody on staff who cares, or certainly not in a senior role.

    They must have spent all that money copy-and-pasting content from their other magazines. In a way I’m glad about that: at least their typography shows a similar approach to quality as their content does. I’m not even sure how flattered I should be about them using our FF Unit Slab; it must be trendy, or how else would they have known?

    Clients always have the design they deserve.

  19. Feb 20th, 2011  8:30 pm
    Edit

    I’m not even sure how flattered I should be about them using our FF Unit Slab; it must be trendy, or how else would they have known?

    I'd give the AD (or whoever was responsible) more credit for the type selection, at least. It's not like Founders Grotesk is trendy either.

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