150th Anniversary Issue

Putting the ‘paper’ in newspaper: The Daily Cal’s visual communication journey

When it comes to informative design, nothing comes close to the traditional quality of the printed newspaper. Newspaper design isn’t just a pretty picture; it is a form of visual communication, drawn up through the intricacies of composition, white space and color.

One of the best things about newspaper design is that it’s historical: It reflects the nuances and visual beauty of the time it’s printed in. After all, papers wouldn’t be appealing to read unless they were eye-catching and modern. Design is transformative, not timeless — it’s receptive to the whims and fancies of the period it appeals to.

The Daily Californian is in the process of digitizing its newspapers, and select copies are currently available online. So, in light of the newspaper’s 150th anniversary, I went wading through the Daily Cal’s digital archives to see just how design has inspired past copies of the paper you hold today.

We start on April 1, 1875. The Daily Californian, then called The Berkeleyan, is in a simplified format, with thin-lined columns and plain, transitional serif fonts. A dramatic quote lives under the newspaper masthead, which engulfs the top of the page. It declares, “Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way,” a reference to the 1862 painting of the same name that now hangs in the U.S. Capitol.

With close to no images, the beauty of the 1875 paper lies in its formatting and its accessibility. This paper is one of convenience, displaying lists of shops, local ferry timings and apartment listings. There are no headlines, no variations in the font. It’s purely informational: a visual bulletin board of local happenings.

Fast forward three decades to Jan. 15, 1900. The Berkeleyan is now The Daily Californian and boasts a spunky new masthead font and design, as well as a whopping four columns of text. It’s here we see variations in text sizes and styles, eye-catching visuals and advertisements for graduation announcements and football games: the beginnings of a college newspaper. The paper communicates important university events and happenings, complete with its own neatly arranged calendar of activities. However, it’s disorganized, with no clear distinctions or categories. Again, it echoes nearly three decades of bulletin-style press, something that will change in the years to come.

Next come the Roaring ‘20s, a period of flair and audacity that is clearly captured in the newspaper. The masthead takes on the classic, carefree font that we now associate with the period. We’re sucked into the rushing thrill of the ’20s, complete with the appearance of the first embellished headline of the Daily Cal. The typeface of this period is significant, spurred on by the art deco movement that was popular during the time. It is a period of typographic innovation, and newspapers are dedicating their time to creating a paper that is beautiful to look at. Here we see multiple typefaces being used throughout, which create a newspaper that enthralls the eye.

We can’t discuss the typography and layout of the Daily Cal without looking at the paper that dominated much of the 1980s. It’s funky and modern, with generous amounts of white space and columns. But the best and most interesting design choice is the masthead, which is in a retro, groovy font. This adds an element of uniqueness to the print, a creative and eye-catching design. The added element of spunk establishes the paper as a forward-thinking, modern press — a press that knows what it wants to print and is driven to do so. It’s a classic rendition and visual portrayal of the Berkeley culture.

We end our typographic deep dive at the end of the same decade, on May 1, 1989. It’s here we see a newspaper that is familiar to our eyes, evidence of a shift in design that was made two years prior. With a return to a classic serif font and tall letters, the paper uses a generous amount of white space, giving a cleaner read to the overall paper. The sophisticated font implies an underlying tone of a paper that has seen years of history and establishes a sense of determination for the years to come.