Autumn 2006

That’s art direction

Simon Esterson
Magazine design [EXTRACT]

Words and pictures – and the way they are used to tell a story – lie at the heart of every magazine, big or small

Judging by the design meetings I sit in, these are tense times in magazine publishing. While the technology to design and print magazines has never been quicker or cheaper to use, the publishing environment has never been more commercially aggressive. There are free competitors, mature markets where every readership niche seems to have been explored, changing postal and environmental regulations, newsagents wanting a better return on their shelf space and supermarkets planning to cut out newsagents altogether.

But of course it is the internet that has really concentrated everybody’s minds. Publishers watch it eating away at the newspaper industry and ask how they can prevent themselves becoming the next victim. This is competition from a different media species that wants print’s readers and advertisers.

The Web is having positive creative effects as well as negative commercial ones. It has reminded editors and designers that there are other ways of organising content and that they need to stay closer to their readers, especially those who have grown up with online and don’t have a cultural attachment to print. But sometimes the Web is also a reminder about the virtues of the printed object and the varieties of editorial page design: magazines can exploit the tactile qualities of different formats, the physical scale of the page, richer photographic styles and different paper stocks.

In the face of the internet, magazines certainly have a continued life as a specialised product, better produced, more expensive, less frequent... think ‘bookazine’, as one Dutch publisher called their venture.

At the heart of the magazine is the relationship between words and pictures and the way they are used to tell a story. That can be anything, from the New Yorker with its small headlines, long texts and cartoons to the English celebrity weekly Heat where the photographs and shouting type are the story. And it’s these kinds of editing and design choices – why something looks the way it does – that the following case studies explore.

New York: a love affair with the city

Founded: 1968

Redesign: Luke Hayman, Autumn 2004

Frequency: weekly

Circulation: 435,949

Design and photography team: 16 (design 5; art / production 4, photography 7)

Photography budget per issue: not disclosed

New York magazine has the editorial energy of a weekly combined with the art direction standards of a monthly. Smart and intensely media literate, it rips through story ideas and packs its pages, but executes them perfectly, from headline and caption writing to photo editing and typographic detailing.

The magazine was founded by Clay Felker and Milton Glaser (see Eye no. 25 vol. 7) in 1968 as the first ‘city magazine’. With regular features such as ‘The Insatiable Critic’, Glaser’s own ‘Underground Gourmet’, and contributors such as Gloria Steinem, Tom Wolfe and Steven Sondheim, it perfected a then new combination of reportage and service feature journalism.

Adam Moss was appointed editor in March 2004 and hired Luke Hayman as design director soon afterwards. ‘We try not to imagine a single type reading this magazine,’ says Moss. ‘The magazine is all about embracing the variety of characters who pass each other on the streets of the city. The magazine has to speak to all of them, otherwise it doesn’t work.

‘Adam Moss has brought a specific tone of voice to the magazine,’ says design director Hayman. ‘It’s complicated and nuanced: sophisticated, intelligent, funny, serious, self-depreciating. The art direction tries to reinforce that. A huge part of the look of the magazine is due to photo director Jody Quon’

Stories are told with a huge variety of techniques: infographics and tables, annotated photographs. Sections like ‘Strategist’ use a box-ruled, centred style like a nineteenth-century illustrated magazine but made contemporary by different styles of photography and illustration.

Covers are a team effort, sometimes trying dozens of variations. ‘There’s some sales difference between covers,’ says Moss, ‘but we’re still never entirely sure why something sells or not. So we try hard (and not always successfully) to not think too much about newsstand sales. The magazine’s newsstand circulation is just five per cent of our total circulation. We’re much more interested in the subscriber than the casual buyer.’

The Architects’ Journal:

the quick and the long

Founded: 1895

Redesign: A collaboration by APFEL

(A Practice For Everyday Life) and

art editor Sarah Douglas, June 2005

Frequency: weekly

Circulation: 13,491

Design team: 2

Photography budget per issue: £1000

Established in 1895, The Architects’ Journal is a paid-for magazine for the UK architectural profession. Its redesign last year (2005) is one whose apparent simplicity belies a very subtle approach. Like much young contemporary English architecture, it is deliberately unheroic and uses a restrained palette of basic materials very effectively.

‘In recent years the growth of free, controlled-circulation competitors and the rise of the internet has undermined the AJ’s position,’ says art editor Sarah Douglas, who designs the weekly with assistant art editor Eriko Shimazaki.‘The redesign of the AJ was informed by market research which found that architects feel overwhelmed with information and long for clarity and simplicity.’

As a result of the redesign, in-depth information and breaking news are published on the AJ’s website, leaving the magazine to carry the material most suited to print: analysis and visually rich features that use photography, architectural drawings and sketches. The expansion of written information online has meant that the AJ has been able to reduce the amount of text it prints by a third.

Douglas continues: ‘We wanted it to be bold and modern without losing its authority.’ They chose Bembo Schoolbook and Akkurat (including a monospace for captions and drawings) to differentiate running copy, captions and boxes.

‘Editor Isabel Allen and I wanted to create a magazine that could be read at two levels – the quick and the long read. The cover’s simplicity reflects the layout inside; the date provides the immediacy of a weekly. ‘The news pages reflect a transformation in the way we report news. We now break stories daily online.

‘A key part of our new approach to AJ is to emphasise that our buildings features are a highly subjective response – the result of a particular critic and photographer, at a particular moment in time. I now commission all our own photography, which allows us to capture imperfections, moments, inhabitation and context, rather than the contrived uninhabited timelessness of conventional architectural photography.’

Reader response has been mixed: ‘A lot love it, some hate it,’ she says. ‘There doesn’t seem to be any in between.’ Paid subscriptions to the AJ have risen by five per cent.

Die Weltwoche: more neutral,

more matter of fact

Founded: 1933

Redesign: Müller + Hess,

Autumn 2002

Frequency: weekly

Circulation: 80,000 (print run)

Design team: 4-5

Photography budget per issue:

CHF 22,000–25,000

In 2002, a new editorial and design team arrived at the Swiss publication Die Weltwoche (which literally means ‘world week’). Their redesign process culminated in the format being changed from a Berliner-sized newspaper to a magazine. Within a tightly detailed typographic system (horizontal rules, tinted panels and the font Lexicon) the magazine ran long articles with a few carefully selected large images. Small headlines, direct layouts and unbroken texts signalled to readers that this was a serious magazine.

‘Die Weltwoche was unprofitable for several years,’ says co-art director Wendelin Hess (see article about Müller + Hess, Eye no. 32 vol. 8). ‘New Sunday papers were launching and eating away at advertising revenues. We decided to move into the magazine market, where the competition was not as strong. We had high journalistic ambitions and wanted to create the most intelligent and sophisticated magazine in Switzerland.

‘As far as the design was concerned, we wanted to achieve a combination of the feeling of a traditional highbrow newspaper and the appeal of a “classic” modern magazine. We didn’t want to lose subscribers, but we also reached out for younger readers.

‘A few subscriptions were cancelled, but we gained a lot of newsstand sales. The readers appreciated the new format. The management, however, wanted to water down some of our artistic decisions and presented a paper with proposed changes. Their proposals were withdrawn after several weeks. An “experienced media expert” said before the relaunch that we would lose up to 30 per cent of our readership. In fact, we increased our readership by 30 per cent after six months. After two years, even the financial deficit was gone.’

Du: the art direction goal is to be functional

Founded: 1941

Redesign: Müller + Hess,

September 2003

Frequency: ten issues per year

Circulation: 17,000 (but print run

can change for special editions)

Design team: 2

Photography budget per issue: CHF†25,000ñ30,000

Du, like Die Weltwoche, has a long tradition. Created as a publishing extension to the printers Conzett & Huber, it evolved into one of Switzerland’s leading cultural magazines, known for its strong combination of words and images. By the 1990s the title had started to lose money and was sold.

‘In the redesign we wanted to have a main thematic core,’ says co-art director Beat Müller. ‘Around the core we created a more pluralistic choice of articles to broaden the appeal of the magazine.’

Single-issue themes included ‘bargain products of high quality’ and ‘everything you always wanted to know about everything’, as well as famous personalities such as David Bowie or Philip Roth. The design of each issueís core is different. The Bowie issue begins with a series of large portraits, a visual history of the performer, followed by text pages and archive photography. The Roth issue mixes texts and new reportage photography of the author, but its typographic concept springs from the bilingual nature of the issue. German and English text are split horizontally across the page and end at different points.

‘Our art direction goal was to be functional,’ continues Müller. ‘We wanted to create a design that responded to the main topic of the magazine. The design should not look dated after a few years, should not be, in retrospect, part of superficial design trends.’

The magazine exploits its small run, using mixed papers, gatefolds and complex gestures such as the Bowie issue, which was available with 22 different covers.

Make: designing for the ‘armchair geek’

Founded: March 2005

Launch design: Albertson Design

Circulation: 80,000

Design team: 3 (but only art director Kirk von Rohr is full time)

Art budget per issue: 00 (5-6 photo shoots, 5-6 illustrations, 2-3 internal shoots)

Make is a small-format magazine about DIY technology published from San Francisco. It harnesses the instincts of the traditional hobby magazine to contemporary devices such as digital cameras and iPods, with a dash of anti-corporate hacker spirit thrown in.

Art director David Albertson, whose studio Albertson Design created the original format and now produces each issue, works for clients such as Wired, the Whitney Museum and Sun Microsystems. ‘When the publisher and editor approached me,’ says Albertson, ‘we began looking at a lot of old Popular Mechanics magazines, and workshop manuals from the 1920s to the 60s. I loved the direct and unadorned way that these publications laid out each project. The digest size was also an inspiration from the past, but it fitted in with the plan to sell back issues on bookshelves. There’s something about the size that feels portable and ‘handy’.’

At the heart of Make is a projects section where readers are taken through illustrated step-by-step guides to building things like aerial photography kites.

‘In Make’s art direction, we try to build a bridge between the mechanically adept and the rest of us who have trouble navigating a wiring diagram. So, we try to give everything a clean sense of organisation, and use as few screengrabs as possible. We’re designing for the ‘armchair geek’, who may not undertake a project, but loves being able to follow the way something comes together from raw materials to finished piece.

‘Most of the photography is supplied by the authors. Many of the images are technically not printworthy, but the unprofessional artwork underscores the authenticity of the source material. We’ve found that a home-made piece of technology becomes folk art in its raw beauty, and we show that whenever we can. We make the good stuff big, and the not so good small.

‘The magazine and website have a symbiotic relationship – our readers spend a lot of time online, and the website draws over 1 million visitors a month. Makezine.com brings together Makers, ideas and inspiration from around the world.’ [...]