Design: Cláirseach – The Irish Independent revamps its look.

Posted 6 months ago in Design

The Irish Independent revamps its look.

On Tuesday September 12, Cormac Bourke Editor in Chief at Mediahaus, publisher of the Irish Independent and a number of sister titles addressed their readers:

“You will have noticed that we look a little different today, with a newly designed masthead sitting at the top of our digital homepages and our print edition front page.

You will also see the change across other digital products – for example, the new version of the iconic Irish Independent harp logo will also be visible on the front of our apps and in our podcasts. It is an important step into the future.”

Having engaged the services of internationally renowned designer Mark Porter, he in turn assembled a team to work on this and ensured local input was pivotal to the pitch. Two of those parties were Dublin-based designer and educator Clare Bell and Max Phillips from Signal Foundry. They explain their involvement in the process.

Bell’s connections with Porter date back to a time in which they worked alongside each other in the Guardian where Porter served as creative director for a decade. “I started out a cub journalist in Dublin ending up in the art department, becoming an editorial designer, I loved the idea of making things.” This led to a degree in Design in Central St Martins. Around a year ago he got in touch.

“I didn’t know who the client was at the time as it was still under an NDA (Non Disclosure Agreement). I happen to be doing a PhD on the visual representation of the Irish language in Northern Ireland at the moment and it is something I have been really interested in for over 20 years, how things are inflected visually. He tapped a subject of mine that I was really interested in.”

Bell started gathering research and materials and reached out to Phillips who runs a type foundry and design office. They’d known each other for years given the intimate scale of the scene here.

“Like every print newspaper organisation in the world, the Indo is being challenged hard by non-traditional news sources, social media, a general distrust of mainstream media and people moving from print to material off phone and tablets…they also wanted a more inviting and sophisticated presentation while distinguishing themselves from competition,” says Phillips of the brief.

One thing which had to stay was the harp.

“You know that if you were starting from scratch with a new newspaper called the Irish Independent, the last thing we’d do is stick a harp on it cause it is everywhere and corny and Oirish and Guinness owns it and the government uses it…but we were careful not to frighten the horses or put off fairly traditionally minded readers, we wanted this to be a gentle refresh, not a radical rebrand.

“I was thinking of a number of problems with reproducing the harp, the old one kind of looked a little Fisher Price, four strings that looked like the bars of a xylophone because it has to be reproduced in small sizes and not vanish. How do we make the strings look sturdy but not clunky and how do we integrate them into the frame so it doesn’t look like an illustration of a harp but a unified thing? We wanted it to be modern but not too modern like a geometric harp.”

Meanwhile Phillips also worked on a four-way typeface called Cláirseach (Irish for harp). Informing this were, “parallel stripes and concentric circles which have been a central decorative element in Irish arts since the Neolithic age like in Newgrange where you have stripes with grooves scratched into the stone.”

Feeding into their deliberations were Bell’s research which encompassed everything from the work of Damien Harrington who “connected to the Neolithic visual culture” with work he created at Kilkenny Design Workshops such as the Telecom Éireann logo. She also suggested visits to the National Museum and National Library when Porter was over to delve deeper into their reference points. “We looked at early versions of Cló Gaelach (a Gaelic script) and samples of An Claidheamh Soluis which we pored over.” The later was an Irish nationalist newspaper published in the early 20th century by Conradh na Gaeilge (the Gaelic League). Pádraig Pearse was once an editor of it.

And one thing which seemed to be a constant is the Book of Kells. “The Indo had a full facsimile of it in a room where one of the briefings was held,” says Bell. “It was very fortuitous.”

On the creation of Cláirseach, Phillips adds, “We started figuring out what qualities it has to have to be on brand and set the Indo apart. We wanted to get away from a high contrast old Serif typeface and explored the idea of a flare typeface which is a little bit like a Sans Serif but each of the ends of the strokes flares out a bit. It has precedent in Irish insular calligraphy, in the Book of Kells you see those flaring ends to the strokes, somewhat rounded.”

Bell also pushed the boat out when it came to their colour. Green had to stay but she says, “we didn’t want to abandon that because it is very easy to signal change through a combination of the familiar and something novel so we introduced three different greens, signalling fresh and moving on.” She also proposed “colours which are a little unusual in terms of being seen in print – corals, peaches, lavenders and tangerines.”

And so, it is out in the world. As with most successfully ideated design interventions, it is mostly  being noticed within design circles. The wider public may well momentarily twig a difference and then go about their business. Design Compass had this to say, ”This is a rebranding that maintains a traditional impression of symbols, colors, and fonts while conveying a modern feel with unique illustrations. You can feel the feel of print even in a digital environment. This rebranding of Irish Independent seems like a good example of not simply repeating visual elements, but organizing the whole thing to feel like it has one tone.” I’m guessing the team will chalk down responses such as this under a ‘win’.

Words: Michael McDermott


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