First thoughts on <i>The Guardian</i> redesign

Well, the first issue of the new-look Guardian is out today after 18 months hard work by those in Farringdon and the first impression is “terrific”.

In fact, the woman at the petrol station where I bought it had trouble recognising it. She was staring at it and asked me if it was mine (I was also buying The Independent). Then she scanned and read the masthead. “Oh, it's the Guardian. Nice.”

And it is nice. The new size is really nice. It's not the handful that broadsheets are and which make them impossible to read unless sitting down either with a table or deploying someadvanced method of folding. When folded in half, The Guardian is oddly portable. And when reading, you don't have to rest it on anything. Incredibly and rather oddly, it made the tabloid-sized Independent seem a little past its prime.

The design, paper and print are also lovely. Better quality paper, sharper, better details, full-colour throughout. A real jump ahead of other papers on the market.

The paper itself though is a bit weak for a first issue – but then these things often are. The lead story “Backlash over Blair's school revolution” is low-grade but then that's news. It's not as if it led with the wrong story, just that no strong stories were available.

The new font, called Guardian Egyptian, is lovely for the body but there's something about it in the lead headline that I don't quite like. It seems a little weak. But maybe that's just an initial feeling that will rub off.

The new design has lots of stories on the front, with arrows pointing to the page inside where the story continues. And it also has the byline at the end of the column rather than before the copy begins. I like both of these changes – even though the habit of having to turn inside the paper for the rest of the story has *always* irritated me.

Again though, none of these stories were very interesting. Possibly it was something to do with editorial efforts being focussed on publication of the paper rather than sharpening the content – and who can blame them?

I also don't understand why they've called the Comment column on the front right-hand-side column “Column Five”. It looks like a subbing mistake. Plus of course, only journalists think in terms of numbered columns. Everyone else in the world just thinks “the bit on the right”. I also don't like the huge but skinny drop-cap that starts it off.

However, the biggest area where The Guardian has really missed out – and which I'm certain will be swiftly corrected – is in photos. The beauty of having high-quality, full-colour presses is that you can be bold with your photos. The Guardian has always has a weird habit of having one really good photo per paper and then sticking ridiculously cropped poor photos through the rest of it. This tradition would appear to be continuing.

Although suddenly in the centre pages, a double colour spread of a single photograph from the riots in Belfast at the weekend leaps out at you and gives you the buzz that had been draining. This is what the paper needs more of – big, bold images strewn throughout the paper.

To do this though there will have to be a change of culture. The Guardian's main rival, and the reason for the paper's radical shift, The Independent, has always been renowned for the quality of its photography. If The Guardian is to make the most of its new format and presses, it will have to advertise heavily for the best photographers.

This will mean a dynamic hands-on pictures editor, a much bigger budget to entice the best photographers, and a constant demonstration in the paper itself over how important images are. If The Guardian doesn't make these changes right now, it will regret it for years to come.

As for the sections. It was weird having the second section – on Mondays, Media – at bigger-than-tabloid size. Even more weird was the G2 section – now tiny and more like a fanzine than the newspaper's feature section. But I rapidly got used to both quickly and actually now really like the tiny G2.

So my summary: great job, a real step forward. But if The Guardian wants to press home its advantage, it has to do what The Independent did and start creating new and exciting content. It will be interesting to see what happens on that front. And will have to concentrate strongly on pictures – getting them and winning battles with the news desks to get them included at a good size, possibly with the loss of a story on that page.

We shall see what impact all this has on the circulation figures over the coming months.

Fellow freelance IT journo and Guardian contributor Guy Clapperton is also a big fan of the new design – and he senses a change in the paper's news values – something that editor Rusbridger has been talking about all week. Guy reckons its The Guardian he's been wanting to read for 10 years.