In Britain, perhaps more than anywhere else in the world, your choice of newspaper reflects more about your personality, social status and cultural interests than almost any other purchase.
Traditionally there has always been a clear distinction between the compact red top tabloids and the larger, more sober broadsheets. But following The Times and The Independent's decision to move to a smaller tabloid format it seemed inevitable that The Guardian would follow suit, but the newspaper's designers had other ideas.
"Before The Times and The Independent went tabloid, our editor came back from holiday in Italy with a copy of La Repubblica and started a conversation saying, 'We've got to shrink this newspaper'," says Mark Porter, The Guardian's creative director. "That was back in 2003 and at the time it was just a conversation, but when The Times and The Independent both went to tabloid format, the matter was pushed higher up the agenda."
The Guardian's creative team eventually decided to adopt the 'Berliner', a popular format among European papers such as La Repubblica that retains the proportions of the broadsheet in a slightly smaller format.
But the new Guardian hasn't just shrunk in size. Along with the new format the paper has also undergone a bold restyling that incorporates a completely new design.
The most notable visual changes are found in The Guardian's updated typography, which breaks with the long-held traditional conventions of newspaper layout. "Most newspapers use a serif font for the headline and then bring in sans serif for the secondary level stuff. It's an easy way to bring in a bit of modernity and richness," says Porter. "But we couldn't find anything that had the right kind of character. [The Guardian] having had such a reputation for design and innovation, it felt wrong to go back and use the kind of typography that had been used in newspapers for 50 years."
So Porter and his team found an innovative solution: "We worked out that we should use just one typeface, but with an incredibly wide range of weights that would hopefully give us the richness that most newspapers get from mixing typefaces together."
Type designers Christian Schwartz from the US and Paul Barnes from the UK set about developing a single custom font. Barnes drew heavily on the Egyptian typeface, a slab serif font popular in newspapers in the early 19th century, to create Guardian Egyptian.
Barnes created a type family of 96 members comprising varying weights, serifs and sans-serif versions, and an italic. Extra characters - £ signs, for example - were also designed. It was a painstaking process.
Porter and his design team then set to work on designing dummy layouts. Unlike most newspaper redesigns, which often rely on outside consultants, The Guardian's in-house creative team managed the entire process.
"No matter how good consultants are they don't have an intimate knowledge of how a paper works," says Porter. "Having worked at The Guardian for ten years I could make a design that was adapted to the paper."
Along with the new layout design, The Guardian has also invested in a brand new set of print facilities - one in Manchester, and two in east London - and installed state-of-the-art ColorMAN presses from German printing firm MAN Roland. The new presses enable The Guardian to print full colour on every page of the newspaper (most are only able to print colour in certain sections) and large colour photos now regularly span the centre spread.
But, says Porter, the ability to use colour throughout the newspaper has further benefits. "The most interesting thing I am now able to do is to use colour in the typography. It's a navigational and structural thing that I'm used to doing in magazines, but have never been able to do on a newspaper before."
INFO The Guardian's redesign is on sale now. To view the digital version visit http://digital.guardian.co.uk/