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Design Comes to the Newsroom

A printer locks in the chaise for page 1 of the redesigned Minneapolis Tribune, publication date April 5, 1971. Photo by Michael Carroll

A printer locks in the chaise for page 1 of the redesigned Minneapolis Tribune, publication date April 5, 1971. PHOTO BY MICHAEL CARROLL

A time of transition

Ariss’ willingness to spend time in every area of the Tribune helped the paper adapt to his radical design.

“Frank Ariss believed in going into all departments of the paper to get ideas,” Wally Allen said. “In the newsroom, we led them through the whole little by little. The newsroom was very good about it.

“I think from time to time we had what Frank called ‘creative tension,’ but that was for the good.”

The leaders at the Tribune introduced the new concepts bit by bit in the newsroom and in the back shop, and they gradually applied Ariss’ ideas to the paper. Ariss developed a slide show on the redesign that he showed to the leaders in every department of the Tribune.

Readers, Wally Allen said, were “pretty good; they understood, most of them anyway, what we were trying to do.”

The Tribune’s leaders decided that introducing such a radical new look all at once might shock readers, so some of the changes were phased in over six weeks. Promotional ads were published explaining the redesign.

On April 5, 1971, nearly four years from the time Allen and Ariss had first discussed the project, the Tribune rolled out the complete design, including the new headline type, the new Helvetica nameplate with the Ariss logo, and the new layout format that began with the lead story in the upper left corner of the page.

Some of the things Ariss had proposed in his prototype didn’t make the paper. Those first editions were set on nine columns to coincide with national advertising standards, although six columns soon became the rule. The most noticeable difference was in the body type. Ariss had used Helvetica in his prototype based on work published by Sweden’s Bror Zachrisson on legibility, comprehension and retention rate.

“His research showed there was absolutely no difference with serif and sans-serif type,” Ariss said. “So as far as I was concerned, that cleared up the readability question.”

Allen, Hawthorne and John Cowles Jr. were persuaded, but the Cowles patriarch could not shake off this one newspaper myth.

“It’s one of those things, you know. You don’t win by damning everything, in spite of logic. So sometimes you just have to go with that, but it didn’t make sense. But 95 percent of what I suggested went through.”
— Frank Ariss on Tribune patriarch John Cowles Sr. rejecting Helvetica for the paper’s body type.

“I just couldn’t convince John Cowles Sr. to go with the text all in Helvetica,” Ariss said. “They didn’t end up with anything other than, we’ll use what we’ve got. I don’t remember what it was.

“It’s one of those things, you know. You don’t win by damning everything, in spite of logic. So sometimes you just have to go with that, but it didn’t make sense. But 95 percent of what I suggested went through.”

As with most new things to come along in the newspaper business, Ariss’ design was received with skepticism among professionals — while they rushed to imitate it. The attitude of newspaper people was summed up by the Minneapolis Tribune’s Dick Youngblood, who wrote in a 1988 column:

“To be truthful, I was absolutely certain that Frank Ariss was up to no good when he was hired in 1968 to engineer the typographical redesign of the old Minneapolis Tribune.

“I mean, the man kept talking about how creative use of a lot of unadorned white space would make the paper more attractive.

“I kept thinking how there wasn’t enough space to display my sparkling prose the way it was.

“In the end, the British-born Ariss developed a grid system that aligned the elements on a page both vertically and horizontally and produced a clean, uncluttered style that emphasized that dad-blamed white space.

“It was a design, I reluctantly inform you, that won a lot more awards for this newspaper than I ever have.”

In 1972, the Tribune won first place among large newspapers for typography and design from the Inland Press Association. It won the same award in 1974. Ariss’ grid served another important function in 1976, when the Tribune changed from hot-metal composition to photo typesetting, or cold-type composition.

“One of the great things about it was that he adopted it to composing type and the new computers that were coming in,” Allen said. “He made it much easier to put the paper together, apart from the artistic considerations.”

Mike Carroll said Ariss “could see the technology coming down the road.”

“He helped the paper have a good transition to photo typesetting, cold type, all way into computers,” Carroll said. “He was ahead of his time.

“You could lay a ruler all the way across the page, and everything would line up. The transition was built into the original design.”

But for Frank Ariss, the highest accolade came from the backshop, the men with ink on their hands who had to turn his ideas into a living document. At a luncheon, representatives from the production department presented Ariss with a metal bar about 10 inches long and an inch square. It was the slug containing the old Germanic Minneapolis Tribune name plate. Ariss still treasures it.

“I’m very proud of this, and I’ll tell you why,” Ariss said. “The Tribune project was more than a design in the way that most people think of design. You’ve got to be able to make the bloody thing. It has to be reproduceable, and it’s the one difference, and the only difference, between art and design.”

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