Edmund Arnold, 93; designer set newspaper industry standards

Washington Post

Edmund Arnold, an early consultant and educator in graphic arts design who brought cleaner displays of stories and pictures to hundreds of newspapers, died Feb. 2 of pneumonia at a hospital in Salem, Va. He was 93.

Publishers of magazines, which have a longer shelf life on coffee tables and in waiting rooms than daily newspapers, have long appreciated the value of beautiful layouts with vivid typefaces and effective arrangement of pictures. Many newspapers, in contrast, threw together words and pictures, knowing the paper would become obsolete hours later.

“With newspapers in the 1950s, when 90% of Americans subscribed, you didn’t pay for a paper for its beauty,” said Mario Garcia, a well-known consultant who recently redesigned the Wall Street Journal. “At a time when no one really cared how newspapers looked, Ed Arnold told them to reorganize and reduce clutter.”


A former typographer, editor and publisher, Arnold went on to a four-decade career as a design consultant. He worked with such papers as the Chicago Tribune, the Christian Science Monitor, Newsday, the New Orleans Times-Picayune, the Boston Globe, the Toronto Star, the Kansas City Star and Dow Jones’ now-defunct weekly, the National Observer.

At his peak in the 1960s, Arnold helped implement changes that have since become standard, including bigger type and a shift from eight narrow columns to a more legible six columns of print. He also pioneered the use of a modular layout in which stories were packaged in squares instead of long, haphazard chutes of text that might jump unexpectedly to the next column. He argued for photographs that enhanced a story, rather than those plopped in as meaningless decoration, such as obligatory head shots.

Through recent years, Arnold remained a vital, sometimes curmudgeonly force, speaking out for the frustrated average reader who tried to understand editorial judgments -- and misjudgments.

“The front-page images on our newspaper are becoming so big that they don’t attract the reader, they attract the looker,” he told a Society for News Design publication in 2000. “And they often don’t work because the broadsheet page is folded so you only see half of it in the news rack. We are over-designing, and we are over-coloring, so what the reader is confronted by is a three-ring circus. Who do I watch? The bareback riders, the weightlifter or the jugglers?”

He also disliked placing advertisements on the front page, an act he likened to NASCAR drivers who resemble “walking billboards.”

Arnold, a blacksmith’s son, was born in Bay City, Mich., on June 25, 1913. He graduated from Bay City Junior College in 1934 and became an editor at the Frankenmuth News in rural Michigan. He and a friend later bought the paper after Arnold finished his Army service during World War II.


He received a bachelor’s degree from Michigan State University and held editing jobs at other Michigan papers before moving to New York in 1954.

He became director of trade relations at the Mergenthaler Linotype Co., a manufacturer of typesetting equipment. Figuring it would mean more business, the company encouraged Arnold to speak out about his thoughts on newspaper layout changes.

Arnold, who lectured widely to newspaper executives, held professorships in graphic arts at journalism schools at Syracuse University (1960-1975) and Virginia Commonwealth University (1975-1983).

He wrote what are regarded as influential books in his field, including “Functional Newspaper Design” (1956) and “Ink on Paper 2” (1971). The second highlighted the novel and controversial transition within the publishing industry from hot-metal printing on linotype machines to automated typesetting.

He received a prestigious George Polk Award in 1957 for his contribution to typographic redesign and the Society for News Design’s lifetime achievement award in 2000.

Survivors include his wife of 65 years, Viola Burtzloff Arnold of Roanoke, Va.; three children; and five grandchildren.