The designer daily: The ‘rebranding’ of BL

Venky Vembu | Updated on January 27, 2019

Ratan Tata and legendary designer Mario Garcia at the relaunch of BusinessLine, in Chennai, in February 2006   -  Shaju John

A newspaper is a judicious mix of form and content. Strong editorial values — represented by diligent, on-the-ground reportage, and sterling news-desk and production values — may not in themselves be impactful if the articles are not presented (or ‘packaged’) in eye-catching fashion. In an earlier time (and even today, to a lesser extent), newspaper front pages competed for eyeballs on a vendor’s news-stand. Therefore, much attention was paid to how the ‘above the fold’ section (or the top half) of the front page would be displayed. Everything from the masthead — which establishes the newspaper’s identity and makes a subtle statement — to the ‘lead’ story to the subsidiary articles goes to define the character of the day’s paper. Over countless cups of coffee, top editors agonised (and still do) over the choice of ‘stories’ to showcase the best of the newspaper’s offering.

The design and layout operations — as also the visual elements that embellish the page, including photographs and infographics and charts — are also geared to make the front page leap off the stands, so to speak.

When The Hindu Business Line was launched on January 28, 1994, newspaper production values were somewhat rudimentary, compared to today. For a start, the pages were all in black and white, and although The Hindu Group has always been ahead of the curve in inducting state-of-the-art software and printing facilities, the technology — in those pre-dot-com days, remember! — was clunky. A certain conservatism also characterised the choice of BusinessLine fonts for the body text and even the masthead (Times Roman). The unstated, but widely internalised, credo was: ‘Less is more’.

The six-column format, however, represented a break from newspaper tradition of the day – although The Hindu, the flagship newspaper from the Group, had adopted it earlier.

In 1998, four years after the launch, BusinessLine underwent the first of its many redesigns. Documenting the redesign process, TS Vijayanandan, then Deputy Chief Artist in the Art Department, records that his choice of fonts for body text — from the Centennial family — was governed by considerations of aesthetics. “The serif design in Centennial is slightly compact, the weight is sturdy with fairly high contrast between the thicks and the thins. With its clean, unobtrusive appearance, Centennial is an excellent choice for books, periodical texts, newspapers, magazines, and newsletters.” For the headlines, he chose from the Universe family. The masthead font remained unchanged.

Over the next few years, and with the introduction of colour printing, a few minor design tweaks were introduced, but the first major relaunch of BusinessLine happened in 2006. The legendary designer Mario Garcia, President and CEO of Garcia Media, oversaw the redesign process, and stamped it with his distinctive style. For the masthead, he introduced a sleek font, Big Caslon, for its visual appeal; for the body text and the headlines, he chose from the Mercury family, which he considered strong and impactful. He also integrated elements in the print edition that would point to more reading material on the web, bringing a synergy to the print and digital platforms.

In 2014, BusinessLine, by then 20, gave itself a new makeover under the skilled hands of designer Aurobind Patel. As the then Editor, Mukund Padmanabhan, noted in a message to readers on January 24, 2014, it wasn’t just a redesign, but a relaunch. “While retaining our traditional strengths as a newspaper, the content has been changed or rather aligned with the changing information needs of today’s business reader,” he added. The typographical elements underwent some changes: Patel used the Freight font for the masthead; Capitolium News for the body text, and Big Vesta for the headings. In comments at that time, Patel called it a “rejuvenation… The idea was to ensure the design reflected the editorial changes in the paper and rejuvenate it in a contemporary style.”

The newspaper you now hold in your hands abides by those typographical and content changes that were introduced then. With time, BusinessLine will doubtless evolve, both in form and content; but it’s fair to say there will be no dilution of our commitment to quality journalism.

Published on January 27, 2019

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