Field Notes: Color in the New York Times

Typical, colorless pages inside The Times. Generally, color is reserved for photographs.

Other than ads, photos and the weather, the New York Times is black and white. After scanning the A sections of a number of papers, this is indubitably true. There is not a single use of color off the gray scale on these pages.

Beyond the news, there are occasional uses of color but they are few and far between. A dark red strip of color is sometimes used for logos, and a color will appear in shades of a hue in infographics. In analyzing this decision, I can come to the conclusion once more that The Times is representing the most “American newspaper” extreme of bare bones design. And it’s not always to the paper’s advantage. There is no hierarchy

The design of the weather in the news section is one of few including color. This style and scheme is also occasionally used for infographics.

created by color, and they are choosing to ignore a huge principle of design that could factor into the equation and really be powerful. On the other hand, it’s impressive that the design does have hierarchy and clear sense of organization without using color as a tool.

The design of the New York Times, in terms of color, is bland. It’s the quintessential black and white and read all over. When photographs are factored in, however, I think The New York Times uses color quite effectively. On some section fronts, colorful and beautiful photographs are played very prominently and largely.

A more colorful feature front uses photographs to incorporate color.

Photographs are often used, also, to tell a story — and color plays a huge part with that too. Sometimes a page featuring many photos feels very united and cohesive because the photos’ color composition is really pleasing and matches the feel and subject of the story the page tells.

Overall, I don’t think The Times usually feels like it’s lacking color, though inside pages can really become gray and ignored because the photos don’t do the job of bringing mood and light to the design. I think The New York Times’ infrequent use of color with words makes sense, given all of their other approaches to design. The newspaper is staid and classic.

Colorful images can really set the tone for a story, like this one here.

It would be out of place to splash color across all of the pages. Readers know what to expect from The Times as a publication. Yet, color isn’t helping to guide the readers to expect anything from the articles themselves, so I think there is a lot of potential power in design lost.