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Champions of Design: The Guardian

The mouthpiece of the Left has kept up with the times via redesigns and a bold approach to digital delivery.

For a newspaper that sells only about 200,000 copies a day, The Guardian is a brand that punches above its weight. Since its launch in 1821 as a weekly Manchester newspaper, it has reflected and led liberal opinion in Britain.

The paper's rise to national prominence came under the long editorship, and ownership, of CP Scott, who held the post for 57 years from 1872. Scott's lofty principles set the tone for coverage, as well as helping to guarantee its independence. He famously wrote: "Comment is free, but facts are sacred" – a quote that still echoes around newsrooms.

Scott's son, John, continued the tradition by establishing The Scott Trust in 1936, giving away his inheritance. The trust owns the paper and aims to guarantee its independence and liberal tradition. The Scott family retained an interest in the running of the company until 1984.

As the national influence of The Manchester Guardian grew, it dropped its home city's name from the masthead, and the editor moved to London in 1964. The paper itself followed in 1976. Its position as the voice of the Left was unassailed until 1986, when The Independent launched, drawing readers from both The Guardian and The Times.

The Guardian responded to the Indie's modern design and fresh approach with a radical redesign of its own in 1988 – David Hillman's dual-font masthead and clean interior taking the paper from the Victorian age to the 20th century. The look persisted until 2005, when the Berliner-sized Guardian launched as the UK's first full-colour national newspaper, and a Christian Schwartz-designed font was introduced to the masthead.

An early advocate of digital, the paper began developing online publication in 1994. Technology section Online took to the web in late 1995, and sites for jobs, sport and news soon followed. The Guardian Unlimited network of websites unified these in 1999.

As hard-copy sales of the newspaper have declined, multi-platform delivery has become more important to the brand. By March 2001, Guardian Unlimited had more than 2.4 million unique users, making it the most popular UK newspaper website. ComScore MMX figures for June 2012 indicated 30.4 million unique users internationally, making guardian.co.uk the third-most-popular newspaper website in the world.

The paper has embraced the shift in web-browsing from home computers to mobile devices, by developing editions for the iPad and Kindle devices, while its free app is available for Apple, Android and Windows phones.


Andy Knowles, chairman, JKRBy Andy Knowles, Chairman, JKR

Fun on the outside, serious on the inside; the bright, cheery layout of The Guardian cleverly avoids the austere conventions of its social-liberal philosophy.

Traditional, yet modern, must surely have been the brief for the redesigns in 1988 and 2005. However, although each was spurred by fresh thinking at The Independent, the latter effort was also required to address far wider challenges for the newsprint industry.

To harsh judges of return on investment, the £80m sunk into new presses capable of producing a full-colour Berliner format was too meagre and too short-lived to deserve applause. Although sales initially rose by 5%, loss of readers quickly resumed and daily sales now stand at little more than half those of the heady days of 2006.

At a time when HMV, Blockbuster and Jessops have all succumbed to the convenience and value of online shopping, it's worth recognising that design works best as a catalyst for change, not a panacea. Measured against the broader need to transform its business model, the transition to online publishing, facilitated by a fresh new look, is a triumph.

Averaging more than 30m unique users a month, the online version has catapulted The Guardian from second-smallest national daily to second-biggest. The brand's problems have not been cured - far from it - but the challenge is at least now clear: to match the growth in digital audience with growth in revenue.


1821: John Edward Taylor published first weekly Manchester Guardian.

1872: Charles Prestwich Scott became editor.

1936: Ownership was transferred to The Scott Trust.

1959: Dropped 'Manchester' to become The Guardian.

1964: The editor's office and major departments relocated to London.

1976: Moved to Farringdon Road site.

1988: David Hillman's redesign introduced two sections and a refreshed masthead.

1992: G2 features section launched.

1999: Guardian Unlimited online network launched.

2005: Berliner-style format was unveiled, making it the UK's first full-colour national newspaper.

2006: Switched to a 'web-first' approach to foreign and City news.

2008: Guardian Unlimited was rebranded as guardian.co.uk.

2009: A Guardian app for iPhone and iPod Touch was launched.

2011: Launched Kindle and iPad editions.

View more Champions of Design



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