I’ve long felt that non-profit organizations and private industry should work together more diligently to produce decent swag for graphic designers. A template for successful products that might emerge from such public/private partnerships is @issue: The Journal of Business and Design, which is written and designed by The Corporate Design Foundation and printed on paper donated by Sappi.
@issue is by no means a great magazine-I don’t miss it between the random issues I pick up at paper shows and ADC events, (and I haven’t bothered to subscribe to the free publication) but I always enjoy the unusually-tall glossy when one comes my way. CDF’s outlook on design, (which includes forays into product, packaging, branding and furniture) is refreshing and different from most of the designer magazines I read regularly. If the content is refreshing, the design is another matter.
In the old days, the inside format was positively retro. Perhaps this was due to CDF’s twin focuses on industrial and graphic design; or perhaps because the publication is half-magazine, half-brochure, but early on it had the vibe of a late-model International School marketing piece. With ruled off and tinted boxes, a simple two-column structure throughout, grid-trumps-all placement choices, and diminutive point-sizes for heads and decks and rubrification for emphasis, it’s easy to imagine they cribbed the look of a 1974 Knoll catalog when they did the initial design.
I caught @issue for the first time in almost six years last week, and was surprised by what had and what hadn’t changed visually. The color scheme, rules and boxes, along with the sales-piece quality are all the same, but the historically-appropriate Franklin Black Condensed signature sans has been replaced by the humanistic yet post-modern Meta, which is now used almost exclusively. The grid (which is still given god-like reverence) is slightly updated, but the color and overall aesthetic is much the same. The combination almost but doesn’t quite work.
The wispy heads in the new version make pages feel more open but at the expense of a textured and varied reading experience. I love Meta, but at light weights and small sizes it doesn’t have the pop on the page that the Franklin did. And, the font feels stylistically out-of-place in what is otherwise a strictly modernist design. (I know, the cover never quite went with the inside.) While there would be nothing wrong with redesigning the magazine the current incantation of the design feels half-done.