Small newspapers dominate design award

Summary:Four of the five best designed newspapers, selected by the Society for News Design, serve less than 175,000 readers. Is innovative design possible for a larger audience?

While Americans go through more toilet paper than newsprint these days, there's one thing newspapers have over bathroom tissue: their graphic design and typography.

The non-profit organization Society for News Design recently selected their top five picks for the best-designed newspapers in the world, and two of the five papers were Toronto-based. The winners were:

  • National Post (Toronto)
  • The Grid (Toronto)
  • Excelsior (Mexico City)
  • Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung (Frankfurt am Main, Germany)
  • Politiken (Copenhagen)

Four of these papers have relatively small circulation: less than 175,000 subscribers, excluding the German paper. And this fact was not lost on the judges; in the words of judge Bob Unger from Bedford, Massachusetts's Standard-Times:

The formula for excellence will always be less about format and typography than about the unreserved commitment to the community of readers that newspapers serve and clarity about the nature and interests of those readers. What is a perfect look for an audience in Beijing or Oslo will not likely be perfect for an audience in Buenos Aires or Charlotte. A newspaper must find the voice that speaks clearly to its unique audience of readers, and the best newspapers will always do so.

Does this mean that creative design for larger papers is doomed? Major US papers tend to look pretty much the same: columns of serif text topped by bolded headlines. But larger papers in many European countries, for example, don't necessarily follow this format, often containing colorful infographics and stories laid out with a bit more art and pizzazz.

"Print innovation is seemingly happening everywhere except in the US. Why do so many American newspapers look so much alike?" asked judge Rhonda Prast from the Missouri School of Journalism.

High-circulation papers may just not have the wiggle room to experiment because any failures could big losses. But I am certainly more likely to buy a paper with compelling design; maybe creative redesign could help boost print circulation.

Photo: Flickr/NS Newsflash

This post was originally published on

Topics: Innovation


Weekend Editor Hannah Waters is a freelance writer based in Brooklyn. She writes a blog on the Scientific American network, and has written for Nature Medicine and The Scientist. She holds Biology and Latin degrees from Carleton College. Follow her on Twitter. Full Bio

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