“Magazines are so much fun to design because they are so complex. They must have a distinctive personality while balancing special features with ordinary departments, distinguishing editorial from advertising, and maintaining good pacing throughout.”
Good editorial design is communicative design. Period. Communication is why editorial design exists in the first place. So what is communicative design? It is the presentation of information in a clear, un-self-conscious way. The reader shouldn’t be made aware of the act of reading. To produce good, communicative editorial design, you must put yourself in your readers’ shoes. What will make them want to read? They’ll want to read if you tell them clearly what is in the text. This is journalism and it means having well written, informative headlines and subheads. It means selecting the pictures that tell the story, not the ones that are the prettiest. It means having the self-discipline to not go overboard with typefaces to make the page look more interesting.
Magazine making is story telling and product development in roughly equal measure. The content must be delivered in an appetizing way, luring the browser to become a reader, offering a sense of being entertained while providing compelling material. But far from a mere collection of pages or spreads, a magazine is perceived by its reader as an object, and that objectness must be carefully considered.
Every magazine is a unique problem if it is sufficiently deconstructed. It’s design or redesign is determined by several factors: the editorial staff’s needs; the publisher’s preferences; the system by which it is planned (this is a mechanical process that has as much affect on the final issues as any other and it should be given full consideration); the financial wherewithal to pay for quality ingredients like writing, imagery, and bright, opaque paper; and the willingness to seek the truth about where the magazine is now: you can’t move on if you don’t know where you are.
My role as a magazine design consultant is to help the editorial staff do the hard work of deciding what doesn’t work, what needs to be made to work, what new material needs to be added, and what needs to be cut. This is journalism. As a designer, my job is to find the attributes that are most distinctive and emphasize them elsewhere, building the magazine’s personality and brand. I never lose sight of the fact that, as an outsider brought in for a specific task, it is the editorial staff’s magazine, not mine, and my role is to help them make it the readers’ and subscribers’ friend, a friend they look forward to spending time issue after issue.
Why redesign a magazine? Besides publicity, which is always a useful benefit, there are three reasons:
- Business A redesign gives ad salespeople something new to talk about to advertisers. Sometimes a redesign is dictated by a new trim size, which also points back to advertising space.
- Editing Magazines need to reposition their content to keep pace with a changing audience. With an evolution in editorial direction, it is especially important to use a designer who understands journalistic choices and knows the questions to ask to develop the new product-as-mirror. This reason also covers functional reasons that improve content excellence and service to the reader.
- Style Staying vibrant and of-the-moment. This reason is fraught with risks: updating for its own sake can turn off current subscribers if they perceive the change has fundamentally altered a valued friend. You can count on losses that have to be more than made up for in new subscribers. And a redesign at any time has a slight air of desperation: there is the feeling that a magazine that is on firm financial ground doesn’t suddenly veer off in a new direction.