You don’t often think of a 114-year-old b-to-b magazine when looking for fresh design inspiration. But since its redesign four years ago, Nielsen’s Billboard, led by creative director Josh Klenert (who recently left the magazine to join Clearchannel), has garnered a reputation of pushing the design envelope, particularly with its innovative covers.
Using a mix of stock images, digital photography and creative approaches to logo presentation, Klenert and his team have incorporated the art of surprise—normally reserved for monthly consumer magazines—into each issue, even more impressive when you consider Billboard is a weekly.
All of which led FOLIO:’s Ozzie judges to select Billboard as its winner for overall design in the b-to-b category.
Image is (Almost) Everything
One of the keys to Billboard’s award-winning design has been its use of powerful images. Klenert will often select artwork “that can be boiled down and clearly convey” a message with few or no words. The magazine will sometimes rely on stock images from artists which—because Billboard covers music news well before albums are released—are inherently fresh and, moreover, save the magazine the cost of an expensive photo shoot. (For a recent issue, Billboard even used a stock image on a cover, albeit an arresting shot of hip-hop artist Lil’ Wayne.)
One thing Billboard doesn’t do is blow out its budget for any particular issue. “We can’t just throw money around,” Klenert said during a session at the 2008 FOLIO: Show in September. “We don’t have huge budgets. We work in advance as much as possible.”
A Break From Convention
Another key for Billboard is a willingness to break from convention. “I’ll sometimes push for a design that’s a dramatic departure from our normal style,” says Klenert. “My feeling iss that if you are going to go for it, you might as well go all the way.”
Examples of this include the creative use of the iconic logo. On the cover featuring Lil’ Wayne, for instance, Klenert had the logo float across the rapper’s forehead, recalling both modern design and the album covers that are often integrated into Billboard’s editorial.
Giving Staffers ‘The Cool Stuff’
Keeping things fresh, of course, is an art in itself. While Klenert admits that working for a music industry magazine has built-in team-building perks—such as a live music studio that gets nationally-touring acts dropping by to perform intimate sets—there are other simple things design directors can do to keep their staffs inspired. Klenert says he often gives the “fun” design jobs—like covers and spreads—to associate-level designers to keep them engaged and motivated. “A lot of times, I’ll do the work on blow-in cards and marketing materials just so my staff gets to do the ‘cool’ stuff.”
Judges’ Comments: “Original and consistent in terms of its branding, yet creative use of pictures to support the category … Nice use of call-outs within the spreadsheets … Busy design for a busy vertical.”