Classics, Redesigns

Weird Science

07.17.07 | Comment?


Speaking of web-inspired stupidity, I caught the just-redesigned Scientific American the other day. A step back from the clean, contemporary look the magazine had been sporting, the new SA seems to reflect the belief that print is irrelevant so it might as well look the part.

Now saddled with an odd mix of mid-century typography (the new signature sans is Eurostyle, the same once-contemporary faux-Swiss used on the hull of the original Star Ship Enterprise—damn it Jim, I’m a doctor, not a typographer), which is combined with an even more archaic-looking serif for the flag. The magazine throws a condensed post-modern sans into the mix for headlines and a couple of other families join the font-feud—the result is a magazine typographically unmoored in time. (Come to think of it, that was one of those awful first-gen season three episodes—the crew found the staff of Holiday magazine still dutifully putting out issues in the middle of some barren alien landscape.)


Beyond the typographical mash-up, the new SA introduces a number of features designed to make the magazine friendlier—at least that’s what the editor’s note says—to the next generation of attention-deficient readers. The most questionable of these is the “Key Concepts” box that now live on every feature spread. You have to hand it to them—they came up with a name deadlier than “Executive Summary” for this add-on, but the real question is why give the reader a summary at all? First, it telegraphs a strong message that the feature article need not be read—the essence is just two or three paragraphs. And second, it puts a turd in the middle of every feature opener, greatly limiting the designer’s layout options.

With the possible exception of “Key Concepts,” though, the new “friendlier SA” is all bluster. Actual pages—especially F.O.B pages—are grayer, denser, less inviting and with fewer entry points than the previous design.


What’s strangest about SA’s anachronistic hodgepodge of type is that the magazine need not try to look old—it really is old. SA is a venerable institution with its own traditions—if they want to look towards the past, why not look towards their own past, and the elegant Bodoni that was once the SA signature?


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