Redesign Effetive with: August 2010 Issue
Frequency: Monthly
Launched: 1986
Publishing Company:
Source Interlink Media
Creative Director:
Kelly Murphy

With Automobile’s 25th anniversary approaching in April 2011, president Jean Jennings is happy with the way the magazine’s readership has grown up alongside the publication. But at this time last year, Jennings was wary of the magazine not keeping up with its readers. The cars on the cover may have been updated, but Automobile itself hadn’t been tweaked or redesigned in two years.

Jennings saw the perfect opportunity for change in welcoming an entirely new art team to the publication, including creative director Kelly Murphy, who joined in November 2009. Murphy’s task was not only to envision a dramatic overhaul for the entire book, but to find a way to refresh and reinforce the Automobile brand.

“We didn’t want to scare away our readership—they needed to know that it’s still their magazine,” Murphy explains. “But we tried to freshen up the fonts and the layouts to something more refined.” Scrapping the old body copy—and switching from Performa to Mercury—went a long way in terms of adding that refinement. Cutting the navigational ribbons that had been running wild on the pages helped set the magazine apart from the competition. “We’d been using ribbons for two years, and suddenly these other magazines were also running ribbons everywhere,” he says. “It’s cleaner inside without them.”

The bold red nameplate behind the title was a brand mainstay, but Murphy took the chance to add a bit of shadowing to the title that, he says, “gave it some depth when stacked among the competition on the newsstand.”

When designing a cover, Murphy’s philosophy is simple: the image rules. Copy is placed where it does not detract from the photography, and something as simple as moving the UPC to either bottom corner of the cover helps eliminate distraction from the image.

Murphy’s non-automotive background has helped bring a fresh perspective. “Adding a secondary image to another story has piqued readers’ interest,” says Murphy. “I come from a women’s beauty and fashion background. One of the rules there was a face or body on every page. That’s impossible here, but when I do have access to personalities, I like to play it up to balance the metal.”


“Automobile’s cover redesign was minimal. The addition of the shadow and the angular lines behind the recycled logotype are both subtle touches that give the masthead dimension. Unfortunately, the kerning of the letters in the headline is spaced unevenly. The location of the bar code is an improvement from the pre-redesigned cover, but this ‘necessary evil’ remains a distraction.

While I do like the small photo of the driver, I would have liked to see new colors introduced instead of relying on the same red and yellow used pre-redesign. I would also rethink the all-caps on the cover. Overall, the minor redesign gave Automobile a modern look – nice job.”

Ana Paula Rodrigues, art director, Convenience Store News

“The cover overall has strong typography and many inviting entry points. The red banner is a great stabilizing element and the addition of subtle shadowing and faint diagonal lines add to its strength.

But this fantastic build-up of excitement through color and typographic tension is deflated by the over-designed center section. While the cars are racing towards the viewer, my eyes dart from car to car, and finally I realized there is a ‘v.’ in the middle of all this. I anticipate a wallop of a graphic image, maybe in the form of the cars on a stronger angle or a car in another color than white, which competes too much with the main type treatment. A potential newsstand winner held back by an image of two fast cars slowed down by a lackluster photo.”

Walter Saylor, design director, Merion Matters

Have a unique “cover” story? Contact executive editor Matt Kinsman at


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