As we celebrate our 120th anniversary today, it may interest readers to know that the last time The Japan Times had a major redesign was 30 years ago, for our 90th anniversary, when the current logo first graced the front page.
Prior to that, the paper had last changed in 1956 and before that in 1943, when it was renamed Nippon Times due to nationalist pressure. In all, since our launch in 1897, the paper has been through eight major logo changes and several name changes. Yet, it has remained true to its original mission to provide a bridge between Japan and the world.
As we countdown to the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, we wanted to once again update The Japan Times with a new look.
The first time I picked up a copy of The Japan Times was in mid-1991, shortly after I arrived in Tokyo to teach English. In those pre-internet days, the JT (as most people I knew referred to it) was my only source of news in English in Japan, and it was to become an essential part of my daily commute and often part of the lessons I gave during the three years I was here.
I was never really much of a teacher though, and during that first stay in Japan I slowly became more interested in graphic design as a career. I’d always loved magazines and had studied photography in college with the dream of becoming a fashion photographer. I was like a kid in a candy store every time I went to Aoyama Book Center to flip through magazines and books on Japanese design.
It’s fair to say, that if I’d never come to Japan and been inspired by its art and design I’d never have taken up graphic design. The art listings and reviews in the JT were, of course, my guide to where to find what exhibitions and when they were on.
Over the following decade, while working as an art director for various magazines in Australia and a three-year stint as AD for The Financial Times Magazine in London, I often returned to Japan on holidays, and I’d always grab a copy of the JT on arrival.
As a designer, I couldn’t help but think what it would be like to one day redesign the paper. In the U.K., The Guardian newspaper had recently had its 2005 overhaul and the face of newspapers was also changing as more people began to consume news online.
Six years ago, when I began working at the JT (initially as an editor), revamping the print edition of the paper was never far from my mind.
While The Japan Times website was given a much-needed facelift by Tokyo-based design agency Bento Graphics in 2012, the look of the paper had barely changed since I first saw it in 1991. It was, however, logistically impossible for us to also change the print edition at that time.
In the lead up to our tie-up with the International New York Times (then The International Herald Tribune) in October 2013, a new chance presented itself.
The tie-up would only be for six days a week and a new Sunday edition of The Japan Times was needed. While a complete redesign of the daily was out of the question, my colleague Elliott Samuels and myself were tasked with creating a fresh new weekly paper. The result was the tabloid-sized The Japan Times On Sunday, which has since gone on to win four Awards of Excellence from the Society of News Design.
At the time, the idea of redesigning the whole paper was considered, but ultimately it was decided that we would wait until the 120th anniversary for such a major change.Once that decision was made, planning began.
The design constraints given to me were set in stone: no change in format, the paper would stay broadsheet. It would also stay at its current volume of pages; no increase in color pages, except for rare occasions only the front and back pages would be color; and, finally, the grid had to accommodate existing ad sizes.
While this shot down any grand ideas I had about radically changing the paper and making it a full-color tabloid, it focused the design process and got me thinking how a broadsheet could adapt to changes in the way readers are consuming the news today.
In researching how and why other newspapers have been redesigned, a common problem was how to produce a printed paper that can exist alongside the digital version. In general it was understood that readers were now getting breaking news on the internet, from mobile devices and social media, and that when picking up a paper in the morning, more analysis and long-form articles should flesh-out the previous day’s news.
There will be a new Life & Culture page inside on Mondays.
However, when we surveyed our own print readers we found that they were a little different from our online visitors. Print readers actually prefer a mix of short and long reads.
The challenge then became how to keep our current print readers while making a product that would be eye-catching and fresh enough to attract more casual print readers.
By changing the focus of several pages to accommodate longer reads and keeping smaller articles and briefs on the news pages, we’ve been able to be more creative with the design when necessary, but not change things too drastically as to be distracting.
Editorial changes include shifting art, culture and travel features to the back page to take full advantage of our color pages, as well as having more features focusing on national news issues on the relabeled Page 3, “Insights.”
We have also replaced the narrow eight-column measure with a flexible six-column grid for a more comfortable reading experience.
The text font has also changed from Utopia to the beautiful Berlingske Serif Text Light and we have used several other weights of Berlingske Serif Text for headlines and elsewhere throughout the paper. This typeface was originally designed for use in the Danish national newspaper, Berlingske, by the Copenhagen-based font foundry Playtype, who describe it as a “distinctly newspaper typography” that’s “eminently readable and strikingly easy to navigate in.”
We were fortunate to find a font that had already been so rigorously tested in a newspaper environment. It was a perfect match for us at The Japan Times. The sans and slab styles, too, work well as secondary fonts for sidebars, subheads and so on.
The Serif Black style is also used in our new logo and in the new page labels, which really pull the whole look of the redesign together.
It has been a long journey for us to reach this point. Redesigning a national newspaper is always risky, especially one as established as The Japan Times, there will always be someone who doesn’t like what you do. My favorite anecdote about David Hilman’s radical 1988 redesign of The Guardian was when one reader wrote “‘Got the comic. Where’s the newspaper?” Now, of course, Hilman’s design is seen as a seminal work of modern newspaper design.
As you can see in the samples presented here, The Japan Times is going to look quite different from April 1. Considering the launch date, it is possible one or two of our readers may also think we are joking. However, I’m confident you’ll like it.
Andrew Lee is art director of The Japan Times. Over the past two decades he has designed dozens of magazines and books, in both Japan and abroad. He was previously art director for The Financial Times Magazine in London.