By Samantha Cook
There are varying opinions that come to light when discussing tabloid publications and tabloid journalism, with many supporting the notion of “popular” journalism and others dismissing tabloids as simply being trashy and not up to the standard of conventional journalism. One aspect, however, that most people will agree on is the fact that tabloid publications, whether magazines, newspapers or even websites, all sport a very distinctive design style – a tabloid template, if you will.
According to Artwell Nwaila, Newsclip’s head of creative communications, there are a number of elements that comprise typical tabloid design, three of which stand out as the most prominent. “Low-resolution images everywhere, including the cover – you’d get fired three times a day if you did this in any normal magazine,” he says. “Also, bright colours all over the place and an exaggerated use of fonts.”
He adds that from a design point of view, it is clear that these elements are used with the intention of positioning publications firmly on the side of the tabloid. “The trend currently is that the more clean and minimalist you are, the classier you are. On the flip side, the more loud and bright you are, the more young and ‘tabloidy’ you are.”
However, according to Richard McNeill, a consultant for the Daily Mail
who spoke to journalist Joanne Carew for an article
magazine, these design elements all form part of a greater strategy to attract readership, much like that of other, more conventional, print media.
“Front pages must have impact,” he said. “You need to grab people straight away with the front page. We try to grab their interest quickly. We do have loyal readership, so some people buy it without even looking at the front page. But obviously, all papers like to try [to] attract a new readership.”
He continued, “Tabloid journalism is about being dramatic – it’s not about being calm and quiet. It is about being vivid and grabbing the attention of your reader with a picture, with a headline, with something that makes them want to read it. All newspapers do this to some extent. We make no apologies for it.”
While this tabloid template may be effective in drawing readers’ eyes to front pages, Nwaila firmly believes that there would be few disadvantages if designers of tabloid publications strayed away from it – and that this differentiation from the industry norm could be more beneficial. “It is very possible to still succeed as a tabloid publication while breaking away from normal design,” he says. “This is actually a problem throughout the publication industry – publishers are too afraid to try something new, design-wise. And everyone wonders why print sales are dropping? To be fair, digital platforms have a lot to do with this, but people need and want change.”
He cites fashion magazines as an example of this. “The formula is the same throughout – the covers are so alike that you cannot pinpoint a brilliant cover. Go back to the 70s and look at Rolling Stone
covers and bring that back. Uniqueness is always a strong selling point.”
Ultimately, Nwaila believes that tabloid publications need to realise that their target audiences are not as visually naïve as assumed and deserve to be exposed to good design. When asked about the design changes that he would make to tabloid magazines in particular if given creative control, he names several. “Firstly, I'd try my hardest to get good quality images, although I understand that it's impossible to always have a high-resolution Britney Spears image. I’d also be a bit more selective about my font choices. The idea is not to try and use every font under the sun on one page. At the end of the day, I really think the youth are more visually sophisticated than we take them for and I’d show that in my design. Not to say I'll go all high-end on them, but just clean up here and there.”
Where do you stand when it comes to tabloid design? Do you think that it is a tried-and-tested template that is as functional as it is stereotypical? Or do you believe that tabloid publications in general need a design upgrade? Let us know on our blog