The redesigned FT print edition looks nice enough. It turns out to be the work of my old boss Richard Addis. It is hardly revolutionary though, which is presumably why, in an interview with Roy Greenslade, Lionel Barber, the FT's editor, refers to it as a 'refresh'.
Barber also mentions that one of his goals was to make the FT appear 'sharper', which immediately took me back to my newspaper days. Whenever we redesigned, refreshed or revamped the paper, or introduced a new section or a new columnist and were looking for a way to puff this to the readers, we inevitably hit on the word 'sharp'.
Why? I think because 'sharpness' in newspapers sounds utterly desirable but is almost entirely indefinable. Is the FT now 'sharper' than the Guardian or the Times? Who can say?
The truth is that the success of newspaper redesigns and relaunches is very hard to judge. Sales may go up - or, these days, a decline may be arrested - but it is very hard to attribute this to any one factor. Is it the redesign, the giveaway DVD, the Princess Diana exclusive? Are readers looking at the revamped product for longer or in more depth? Research may give a clue, but it is impossible to be sure.
In the absence of any objective measures of success, newspaper redesigns and relaunches tend to be judged as successes or failures by acclaim within the paper itself and the small world of the media. What do other editors and designers think of it? Will it pick up a gong at one of the many newspaper awards ceremonies? Loudly proclaiming your new paper to be 'sharp' may just help to influence opinions in your favour. Best of all, it is a claim that nobody can authoritatively rebut.
Contrast this with the online world, in which new designs, new launches and so on are subjected to ruthlessly objective scrutiny. How many people visit your site, how many pages do they visit, how long do they stay? A site redesign will be given clear goals - to increase page views per user, for example - and will be judged a success or failure accordingly. The question of whether or not it is 'sharp' will not enter the equation.