‘Newspaper’s design gives away its nationality’

German journalists think in letters, Scandinavian reporters love to co-design and Latin newspapers excel in infographics.

Each country has its own recognisable newspaper design. And it’s likely to stay that way, says Norbert Küpper, founder of the prestigious European Newspaper Awards in an interview with Dutch News Design.

Norbert Kupper founder European Newspaper Awards - Dutch News Design

German based Art director Norber Küpper believes language causes cultural diversity in design

Show Küpper a newspaper design template and he will likely tell you what country it is from. Some experts believed that all newspapers would look equal in design, by now. After all, since the arrival of internet, editorial designers all of a sudden had access to unlimited visual resources. ‘But we see absolutely no trend towards such a universal style,’ says Norbert Küpper. On the contrary: the nationality of a newspaper is surprisingly recognisable by its design.

The Times of India used to look like the Times of London, but now it looks like an American newspaper.

German based art director Norbert Küpper is mainly known as the founder of the European Newspaper Awards. But he also has an impressive international career, redesigning more than 170 newspapers since 1984. He designed newspapers in Germany, Austria, Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia, Italy and the United Arab Emirates.

Scandinavian newspapers resemble their interior design. Their newspaper design is very clean.

When he founded the European Newspaper Awards in 1998, little did he know how high regarded it would become among graphic designers. The international jury received more than 200 entries from 28 countries for their 15th competition. Awards are granted in over 20 categories, of which the European National Newspaper of the Year is the most prestigious.

News design awarded - Dutch daily Volkskrant

The Dutch Newspaper Volkskrant proudly displays the subheading ‘European newspaper of the year’ on their front-page in 2014

Dutch newspaper Trouw best news design 2013

One year earlier, in 2013, The Dutch Newspaper Trouw proudly displayed the subheading ‘European newspaper of the year’ on their front-page.

During his long career Küpper learned that each country has a recognisable style: Scandinavian newspapers resemble their interior design. You don’t see much furniture in households in Norway and Sweden. You see a wooden floor and further it’s spacious and light. Their newspaper design is also very clean. Norwegian journalists are more interested in design than German journalists. They personally want to contribute to the design, so at the end of the day their page looks fascinating,’ he says.

‘German journalists have not so much interest in design.’ Last week (14 february 2014)
the German agriculture minister Hans-Peter Friedrich stepped down (he leaked confidential police data on a parliament member to political leaders of a rival party, and was exposed). Küpper: ‘The next day German newspapers were filled with long analyses. Page after page. German journalists think in letters. They expect the art director to think about the design.’

In Great Britain the paper certainly would look different the day after an MP steps down. A huge photo would be an absolute necessity, as ‘bigger pictures’ (and big headlines) are the main thing in British newspapers, according to Küpper.

British news design: big pictures, bigger headlines

British newspaper design: big pictures, bigger headlines

Die Zeit - reporting on the fall of an MP

Frontpage of the German newspaper Die Zeit on the subject that led to minister Friedriech stepping down. A calm design.

Latin countries have the best infographic-designers

For the best infographics and visualisations you have to be in the Latin countries, like Spain, Portugal and Italy. Küpper: ‘I think this is mainly because the newspapers all have a special layout department. But what helps is that in these countries the newspapers have a very small target audience. In Spain, for example, papers are mainly read by an intellectual elite of high level readers. And these readers are used to good design.’ Yet he sees also a strong trend in the Netherlands and Germany to use infographics frequently.

So why are newspapers designed different per country?

According to Küpper the cultural differences in design are based on language: ‘Newspapers from French speaking Switzerland and French speaking Belgium look very much like newspapers in France. They are different from other newspaper in Switzerland and Belgium. Former British colonies in Africa still have newspapers that look similar to the Times. The Times of India used to look like the Times of London as well, but now it looks more like an American newspaper. It resembles how publishers in India are now more oriented on the United States than on the United Kingdom.’

From the users perspective

That doesn’t explain all differences. A study on the user’s perception of a webpage by Yin Dong shows that Asians see webpages as a whole, where Western readers perceive webpage objects separately.

In his research, Yin Dong used eye-tracking tools on Chinese, Korean and American readers who all read a similar lay-out of a webpage. The design was equal, the language different. Turned out the way Asian and Western readers looked at the page is completely different. Yin Dong described the Asian reading behaviour as holistic and the western behaviour as analytic.

In design usability is a key-factor. It is likely that cultural differences in user behaviour is also visible in the design of webpages – and newspapers.

Küpper adds one other factor that makes him believe we won’t see a global style anytime soon: The pursuit for originality. ‘You can see that designers are influenced by what they see. But usually you see them come up with something new after a couple of weeks, based on the design they saw, but totally different.’

Want to compare more national newspapers? Newseum.org displays a nice collection of today’s frontpages.

Stijn Postema

Stijn Postema is a journalism lecturer and freelance reporter from the Netherlands. He has a background in journalism, arts and design.

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