Art Direction, On the racks

In Praise of the 50 cent Cover

10.17.08 | Permalink | 7 Comments

So you’ve hired a Cadillac of a photographer and there’s a celebrity or maybe some high-strung supermodel. A few photo assistants are futzing with (rented) lighting in a (rented) space. An art director and assistant have flown in for the shoot, There’s a hair stylist, a makeup stylist, a fashion stylist, maybe someone’s built a set, maybe a couple of people styled that set. And god knows how many hours went into orchestrating the event—scheduling, catering, and putting out fires. No doubt, a high-end national magazine cover shoot can put you back quite a few more Benjamins than a fancy wedding or sporty car. Oh, Jeez, did I forget about digital delivery fees, retouching and color correction? Did someone budget for any of that?

Considering how over-the-top it can all be, one has to admire a major glossy that routinely pays closer to 50 cents for its covers. Wired’s Scott Dadich is the current master of the all-type cover.

Of course, Wired’s covers must cost a bit more than 50 cents–they doubtlessly take a bit of time to pull off and Wired has a tradition of using multiple metallic and florescent inks, which all add a bit of cost, but considering that this magazine frequently goes to war on the newsstand with nothing but a a few colors, shapes and words cobbled together, it’s all still pretty impressive. Often even when there is an image, such as is the case with the Electric Car cover above, it’s still only a minor component of the package.

Wired has been taking chances with it’s cover since its inception, and looking at the magazine’s content one can see why. When you contemplate the future of on-line media or the next ice age, there isn’t much to photograph that isn’t going to look trite. Powerful, surprising imagery may sometimes be possible when you’re writng about, oh, industrial applications for 380 digit prime numbers, but it’s not a sure thing.


It’s Pentlantic!

10.14.08 | Permalink | 1 Comment

Pentagram tells the story of The Atlantic’s excellent new redesign on their site.

Custom Publishing

TOCs of Mystery

09.29.08 | Permalink | 1 Comment

I wrote a while back about Fashion Rocks the Condé annual that’s packed up with every magazine the company ships in September. What is FR? Mostly it’s a long advertisement for a television special of the same name—but judging from the ads and all the product placement it probably makes a few bucks too. I’m glad it came with my Wired, a guy just can’t read too much about schmatas when the weather starts to turn.

You wouldn’t expect a magazine like this to innovate, and for the most part FR doesn’t—except in one area—it has no folios, but it does have a table of contents—a list of everything in the magazine in order but without any reference as to where.

The reasoning behind the inclusion of a TOC that is completely (instead of just mostly) useless (as is the case for most over-stuffed fashion books) isn’t hard to figure out—it provides a low-cost far-forward advertising position, just as that page does in most other magazines. But then, why not justify the inclusion to readers of the page by making it usable? It’s not as if FR’s design is austere or avant garde. There’s no “edgy” justification for the elimination of folios. A simple unobtrusive number would hardly have over-burdened pages that are otherwise competent, but will not be sweeping next year’s SPDs.

A guide that offers no guidance seems an overt exercise in contempt for the reader.

Pages, Trend Spotting

Tyrany of CMYK

09.23.08 | Permalink | 5 Comments

Back when I was a young magazine designer, folks used to talk about “builds” in between swiping at each other with their Xacto knives (all good fun of course). Now I know what you’re thinking, but there were no blocks or bricks involved—“build” is a color term. Say if you wanted a green, you’d build it out of cyan and yellow, maybe also throwing a little black or magenta in there to tone it down a bit. In this way, nearly any color could be simulated on the page, and magazines could develop “individual color schemes” that would help, along with “type” and “grid,” to “brand” a magazine. Lately CMYK (or the slightly tweaked CMYK look) has become so hot that it’s become hard to pick up a major newsstand magazine without seeing the printer’s primaries used unannealed on the page.

I would like to chalk the trend all up to Adobe’s difficult-to-use tools for defining colors, leaving inexperienced designer relying on program defaults, but the trend has afflicted the best, oldest and least compromising of magazine professionals. Top: Pentagram’s redesign of Radar, above: Fred Woodward’s GQ, immediately bellow: Janet Froelich’s T. The look certainly is vibrant and refreshing—but now so overused that it seems likely to burn itself out in the next couple of days.

And why this trend now? Maybe it’s the easy access to transparency effects (which Woodward in particular has made hay with) available in every program which has allowed anyone with the Creative Suite to channel Bradbury Thompson (below).

Art Direction, Pages, Process

When type won’t do

09.15.08 | Permalink | Comments Off on When type won’t do

SPD writes about this stunning Los Angeles cover on their blog. The piece is by illustrator/calligrapher Marian Bantjes—she inspired a lot of spectulation in my editorial design class last week, but for another one of her projects. The Vibe headline below, for a feature on Jay-Z  is just as eye-popping as an industrial LIghts and Magic film—and no one in class could figure out just how she did it. I thought the piece had been drawn in Elmer’s and then sprinkled with glitter, but no, apparently the little golden flakes are just sitting there. One sneeze and….

More of Bantjes’ projects can be found here.



Folio Madness

09.05.08 | Permalink | 3 Comments

As a magazine designer, I take no small comfort in the decisions I don’t have to make—the signage that stays the same issue to issue, the consistent margins, the grid that remains my stalwart companion through the months and the pages. Anyone who’s taken paint to canvas knows that it’s the first few strokes that can be the hardest. When you design a publication those first strokes are already made—and that’s a good thing.

I therefore find it a disturbing–nay–a terrifying trend that the folio, that tiny little workhorse of unobtrusive function is now, apparently, in some circles regarded as a “design opportunity.” While I disapprove, I also feel covetous. I now look shamefully on my pathetic unformatted plane-Jane page numbers as indicative of my personal failings and limitations as a visual journalist. Above, Wired’s Star Wars edition folio from the September issue. Below, some of GQ’s September folios and more from Wired. Damn them, damn them all.

GQ folios

GQ folios

Wired Folios

Wired Folios

On the racks, Redesigns

Love child

07.28.08 | Permalink | Comments Off on Love child

So, did you hear the one where Maxim and Yoga Journal have a baby.



In the Ether


07.22.08 | Permalink | Comments Off on Elecesquire

My brother wrote that he predicted another Esquire-related post on my blog. I took this as a great complement—he clearly believed that there would be another post on my blog. Unlike me, he isn’t as painfully aware of the lack of posts lately due to two huge projects in mundane life (as members of SFCA, (of which I am not) call it) coming due at once.

Apparently, Esquire is to have an electronically blinking cover, the article confidently predicts that, thanks to something called E-Ink, all newsstand covers will blink in the next few years. Oh sure, everyone is just fullllllll of predictions. Here’s mine: people will complain about their covers blinking on their bedside tables at night, a bunch of magazines will toy with it, just as the did with little talking inserts in the 80s, and like with those little talking inserts, the technology will, for the most part, be relegated to the greeting card industry where nonsense like this belongs.


Selling Scrips

07.18.08 | Permalink | Comments Off on Selling Scrips

I have never been visited by a teenager intent on selling me a magazine subscription (chocolate bars, yes) and I thought the practice was largely of historical interest only. But apparently it continues, it’s an even bigger racket than you’d think it is, and it has consequences that are sometimes tragic. The Houston Press tells the story in an excellent investigative piece. Thanks to my brother for passing this on to me.


We want information….

07.16.08 | Permalink | 1 Comment

Joining the blog roll today: Cool Infographics, a nice site about visualizing data. The perspective is not editorial, but I think that’s a good thing. There’s a lot inspiring work that takes forms other than what’s tried and true on magazine and newspaper pages.

Classics, Off the racks

Arms and the Glossy

07.15.08 | Permalink | Comments Off on Arms and the Glossy

I meant to write about this a few months ago, but as a wonderful resource for magazine designers, it’s still worth a post. Magazines and War 1936-1936 was an exhibit at Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Safia. Featuring pages published contemporaneously with the Spanish Civil War, the socialist, and socialism-inflected designs are, surprisingly, a visual delight, considering what what most radical magazines did and do look like. I’ve only grabbed pages from Economia, but there are lots more. The online gallery gives readers the unusual opportunity to see every spread from most of the books in the exhibit.

While the spread above speaks clearly of its time, the pages below could almost be modern. Even cult-of-inkist Edward Tufte would likely approve of the spare but attractive infographics below—uh except maybe for that bar chart, which could be expressed using quite a bit less of the gooey stuff.


The (lack of) passion….

07.11.08 | Permalink | 1 Comment

In this, the 75th anniversary year, Esquire remains intent on proving they aren’t as good as they used to me. Frankly, I wouldn’t hold it against them if they didn’t insist on rubbing in our faces. For part one of this series look here. George must be rolling in his spacious, well-appointed Manhattan apartment….


On Vacation

06.28.08 | Permalink | Comments Off on On Vacation

Designing Magazines is on break until July 6.

Art Direction

Fooled again

06.26.08 | Permalink | 4 Comments

I bought this magazine a few months ago at the B&N in Clarendon, Va., intending to write about the Australian business quarterly. Oh, I might have made one of my typical snotty comments—something along the lines of how fast can Fast be if it only publishes four times annually—but I generally thought the design was pretty strong. Then I noticed that this actual issue dates from nearly a year before I bought it, making it a bit musty to write about. I hadn’t credited the persistent rumors than Australia dumps its out-of-date publications on the U.S. market, now I have no doubt.

The cover is still worth a post, though because it falls into a small but venerable tradition in publishing—the Trompe-l’œili cover. This cover is meant to look as if it’s being ripped from a plain brown wrapper—the inside reveals nothing nearly racy enough to justify one (in fact the copy is rather stultifying) but the image is simple and effective.

Do Trompe-l’œili covers actually fool anyone—or are they just examples of designers walking the fine line between clever and stupid? I think my own humble addition to the genera from a jillion years ago was effective because the free weekly newspaper I worked for often looked as beat up as my phony (at least the topmost copies) by the time it was delivered. (Ok, at least I saw one woman at Olsson’s flipping through them trying to find a good one.) But, tricky or not, these 2D covers often offer a graphic impact that distinguishes them from neighboring publications on the rack. I’ll post any other examples in a later post that anyone cares to send in.

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