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Redesign Diary #3: Under the covers

This Magazine Staff

This Magazine Redesign DiaryWe’re all pretty major magazine nerds around here. This Magazine‘s office subscribes to a lot of publications from all over the world, and individually, we all have personal subscriptions of our own. I recently totalled up all my own subscriptions and discovered that I’m getting 10 different magazines delivered, and I buy others at the newsstand.
So when the decision was made to overhaul This Magazine‘s design, everyone had an opinion, based on what we liked and disliked about our own magazine’s current look — and what we were finding stuck through our own mail-slots month after month.
I talked about our initial redesign meeting earlier this week, where we talked about the essential essence of the magazine we wanted to preserve throughout the redesign process. But we started from the premise that everything — everything — was on the table, at least in terms of the magazine’s appearance. So we all brought in some of our favourite publications to talk about their look, why we liked them, what their visual identity said about their content, and so on.
Here are some of the titles that people talked about:


Economist cover
Walrus cover
When you think about serious and august journals of contemporary news and commentary, there are a few that float to the top, and they all made appearances. The Economist is admired, and rightfully so, for its consistency, the no-nonsense clarity of its layout, and its emphasis on function over form. Everything about it says that it is made to be a reader’s magazine: it won’t knock you out graphically, but its look instantly tells you that it doesn’t expect to do that, or even desires to. OK, OK, so The Economist is the bible of capitalism, which doesn’t quite sync with our mandate around here, but in this new era of bipartisan understanding, we can at least appreciate their rock-solid three-column layout:
Economist inside
Walrus inside
Geist covers
In our own backyard, our friends at The Walrus and Geist have also traditionally embraced a style that emphasizes text, again mostly in three classic columns. There are magazines that you buy to flip through (more on that in a minute), and there are others, like The Walrus, that you buy to read. We’ve always belonged to the latter category, and that’s not likely to change.
Believer cover
A personal favourite of mine is The Believer, a strange and whimsical publication from the U.S. It’s the literary-criticism cousin to the influential McSweeney’s literary journal, and deals in lengthy, text-heavy articles with consistency, restraint, and a dash of ironical humour.
Guardian Weekly cover
Of course, the gold standard right now for attractive, accessible design in the progressive media landscape is The Guardian from the U.K. This paper is doing a lot of things right, from its design to its online presence to its robust international reportage, and its influence is much bigger than the size of its readership would lead you to believe.
Mother Jones cover
Other progressive magazines we like the look of lately include the venerable Mother Jones, which has always had such a talent for provocative covers like the one above. MoJo has recently renovated its website, too, (a trend we should be shortly joining them in).
Good cover
A younger upstart in the progressive media ecosystem is Good. A slick-looking number published out of New York, Good combines social conscience with high-production runway-model looks. Perhaps they could cut back on the info-graphs and charticles a bit, but their bouncing-puppy optimism and “let’s put on a show!” attitude is infectious.
Monocle cover
Another young entrant to the industry is Monocle, published out of the UK by former Wallpaper* editor Tyler Brule. Aimed at absurdly upper-class jet-setters who think nothing of dropping £600 on an engraved lapis lazuli business-card holder or some junk like that, well, it doesn’t apply directly to anyone around here. But Monocle is bucking the trend of miserablism and gloom that pervades the print industry right now, concentrating on putting together an assured and highly focused publication that isn’t scared to put ink on paper and sell it to you for $12. And as a magazine, it’s a beautiful object to hold in your hands and flip through, and the attention to detail is evident on every page. However, they also have a pretty squishy relationship with their advertisers, mixing up editorial and advertorial and advertisement in a way that I would say is not acceptable. I don’t think This Magazine is going to be facing an onslaught of corporations demanding that we endorse their products through ethically ambiguous advertisements in the near future, though, so I think I’ve dodged a bullet there. Just a hunch.
Travel + Leisure cover
Explore cover
Wired cover
Other titles that we find eye-catching, even if their content bears almost no resemblance to what we do, included Condé Nast Travel + Leisure, Explore, and Wired. All very pretty, beautifully art-directed, with some of the most stunning photography you’ll see in magazines today. On a relatively small budget like ours, we don’t get to do as much photography as we’d like, but we still have these magazines lying around the office for daydream purposes.
US cover
Hello! cover
Finally, the attention-grabbers. What, you think we only read wholesome, diligently researched, socially responsible stuff? Think again. Making a cover that screams “buy me!” on a newsstand is a strange and mysterious art, and titles like US Weekly sell, literally, hundreds of thousands of copies a week by harnessing that dark voodoo. I sincerely doubt This will be reeling in those numbers any time soon, but we still want to jump off the newsstand if possible, so we looked at how these kind of huge-sellers do their covers. Personally, I believe Hello! magazine is among the ugliest publications ever to stalk the land, but it gets read by more people per week than we get read by in a year. I can respect that: even if it doesn’t appeal to me, it’s doing something right.
What do you think? Does this work?
This! cover
OK, maybe not.
In the next blog entry I’ll show you some actual mock-ups that we made during the process, to demonstrate what our last few covers would have looked like under the new design. As always, leave a comment or email me at editor at this magazine dot ca.

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