Inter­change­able news typefaces

Commercial Type’s expansive type series designed to allow individual branding across a large publication group

Christian Schwartz has designed a number of typefaces for news publications, including the celebrated type series for The Guardian, designed with Paul Barnes, his partner at Commercial Type.

This spring he and his team produced an interesting super-family of fonts for the McClatchy Company, a publishing chain that started in the days of the California Gold Rush, including several papers called Bee – Sacramento, Fresno, and Modesto. The resulting typefaces are McClatchy Sans, drawn by Schwartz; McClatchy Serif, drawn by Miguel Reyes; and McClatchy Slab, drawn by Greg Gazdowicz.

The McClatchy type series

The McClatchy type series – Sans, Serif, and Slab – all with matching character widths.

“When we started talking to Mario Garcia, the great newspaper designer who led the project, I thought that the typefaces needed an essential quality of Americanness,” Christian says.

“We started exploring display typefaces from Ludlow, the machine used by many American newspapers in the early- and mid-20th century to set headlines,” he said. “There is something purposeful, strong and decidedly American about these typefaces.”

The project was given an interesting challenge when Mario’s colleague Reed Reibstein proposed not only that they create serif, sans serif, and slab styles, but that corresponding styles share the same widths. This enables each newspaper in the chain to share content and whole pages, but maintain some of its own typographical personality.

All members of the McClatchy type series overlaid for comparison

With matching character widths, all members of the McClatchy series can be substituted without causing text to reflow.

“It took every trick I’ve learned to get three headline families to work with the same width metrics,” Christian says, “but I’m pretty satisfied with the results, if a bit surprised it works as well as it does.”

A number of news groups distribute the same content, pages, and even the same design to different cities. It’s called “hubbing.” And it’s not an entirely new idea to share layouts between titles while automatically switching fonts to maintain local identity. In the 1990s, Eduardo Danilo did this for the El Sol group in Mexico, with distinctive news brands in Mexico City, Guadalajara, Monterrey, and Saltillo.

Front covers

McClatchy front pages soon after launch. Images from the Newseum. Click to view enlarged image.

But this is the first time (as far as I know) that a matched-metrics super-family has been designed for a news group, in three distinctive designs with a comprehensive set of widths and weights. And it’s not as though the serifs were just clipped off to make one style, or turned into slabs for another. The serif, the sans, and the slab have no hint that they were designed together. But they combine well, and the font-swapping works, too.

After extensive research, McClatchy rolled-out the Bees and the Merced Sun-Star. Simultaneously with the print debut, the fonts were launched on the web. Later in the year, the design methodology will spread to other papers in the group, the third largest in the USA.

McClatchy sites on mobile devices

The new McClatchy type series as seen in the responsive mobile views of the Sacramento Bee and Merced Sun-Star websites.

“I think Mario and the McClatchy team have come up with a handsome, readable design that looks like a print newspaper should – and on the web, underlines the fact this is news content,” says Christian.

You wonder if people from Sacramento visiting friends in Fresno will realize that their newspapers even have the same design. And that’s the point. Loyal readers in each town can thank Christian for making some new typefaces, yet holding onto some local identity.

See Christian discuss this and other projects at the Typographics conference during his talk, “Credibility, Legibility, and Style”, June 13.

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