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Jandos Rothstein

In Praise of the 'Free!'

Jandos Rothstein Design and Production - 10/23/2008-09:02 AM

So you’ve hired a Cadillac of a photographer and there’s a celebrity or maybe some high-strung supermodel. A few photo assistants are futzing with (rented) lighting in a (rented) space. An art director and assistant have flown in for the shoot, There’s a hair stylist, a makeup stylist, a fashion stylist, maybe someone’s built a set, maybe a couple of people styled that set. And god knows how many hours went into orchestrating the event—scheduling, catering, and putting out fires. No doubt, a high-end national magazine cover shoot can put you back quite a few more Benjamins than a fancy wedding or sporty car. Oh, jeez, did I forget about digital delivery fees, retouching and color correction? Did someone budget for any of that?

Considering how over-the-top it can all be, one has to admire a major glossy that routinely pays closer to 50 cents for its covers. Wired’s Scott Dadich is the current master of the all-type cover.

Of course, Wired’s covers must cost a bit more than 50 cents. They doubtlessly take a bit of time to pull off and Wired has a tradition of using multiple metallic and florescent inks, which all add a bit of cost. But considering that this magazine frequently goes to war on the newsstand with nothing but a few colors, shapes and words cobbled together, it’s all still pretty impressive. Even when there is an image, such as is the case with the Electric Car cover above, it’s still only a minor component of the package.

Wired has been taking chances with it’s cover since its inception, and looking at the magazine’s content one can see why. When you contemplate the future of online media or the next Ice Age, there isn’t much to photograph that isn’t going to look trite. Powerful, surprising imagery may sometimes be possible when you’re writng about, oh, industrial applications for 380 digit prime numbers, but it’s not a sure thing.

[EDITOR'S NOTE: Buy Jandos' new book!]

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Jandos Rothstein

Condé Nast Magazine Publishes Table of Contents—Without Page Numbers!

Jandos Rothstein Design and Production - 10/14/2008-13:22 PM

A while back I wrote about Fashion Rocks, the Condé Nast annual that’s packed up with every magazine the company ships in September. What is FR? Mostly it’s a long advertisement for a television special of the same name—but judging from the ads and all the product placement it probably makes a few bucks too.

You wouldn’t expect a magazine like this to innovate, and for the most part FR doesn’t. Except in one area—it has no folios, but it does have a table of contents [see below]—a list of everything in the magazine in order but without any page numbers or references as to where.

The reasoning behind the inclusion of a TOC that is completely (instead of just mostly) useless (as is the case for most over-stuffed fashion books) isn’t hard to figure out—it provides a low-cost far-forward advertising position, just as that page does in most other magazines.

But then, why not justify the inclusion to readers of the page by making it usable? It’s not as if FR’s design is austere or avant garde. There’s no “edgy” justification for the elimination of folios. A simple unobtrusive number would hardly have over-burdened pages that are otherwise competent, but will not be sweeping next year’s SPDs.

A guide that offers no guidance seems an overt exercise in contempt for the reader.

 

[EDITOR'S NOTE: Buy Jandos' new book!]

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Jandos Rothstein

The Tyranny of CMYK

Jandos Rothstein Design and Production - 10/13/2008-16:05 PM

Back when I was a young magazine designer, folks used to talk about “builds” in between swiping at each other with their Xacto knives (all good fun of course). Now I know what you’re thinking, but there were no blocks or bricks involved—“build” is a color term. Say if you wanted a green, you’d build it out of cyan and yellow, maybe also throwing a little black or magenta in there to tone it down a bit. In this way, nearly any color could be simulated on the page, and magazines could develop individual color schemes that would help, along with type and grid, to brand a magazine. Lately CMYK (or the slightly tweaked CMYK look) has become so hot that it’s become hard to pick up a major newsstand magazine without seeing the printer’s primaries used unannealed on the page.



I would like to chalk the trend all up to Adobe’s difficult-to-use tools for defining colors, leaving inexperienced designer relying on program defaults, but the trend has afflicted the best, oldest and least compromising of magazine professionals. Top: Pentagram’s redesign of Radar; above: Fred Woodward’s GQ; immediately bellow: Janet Froelich’s T. The look certainly is vibrant and refreshing—but now so overused that it seems likely to burn itself out in the next couple of days.



And why this trend now? Maybe it’s the easy access to transparency effects (which Woodward in particular has made hay with) available in every program which has allowed anyone with the Creative Suite to channel Bradbury Thompson (below).

 
[EDITOR'S NOTE: Buy Jandos' new book!]

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Jandos Rothstein

A Terrifying Design Trend

Jandos Rothstein Design and Production - 09/08/2008-09:34 AM

As a magazine designer, I take no small comfort in the decisions I don’t have to make—the signage that stays the same issue to issue, the consistent margins, the grid that remains my stalwart companion through the months and the pages. Anyone who’s taken paint to canvas knows that it’s the first few strokes that can be the hardest. When you design a publication those first strokes are already made—and that’s a good thing.

I therefore find it a disturbing–nay–a terrifying trend that the folio, that tiny little workhorse of unobtrusive function is now, apparently, in some circles regarded as a “design opportunity.” While I disapprove, I also feel covetous. I now look shamefully on my pathetic unformatted plain-Jane page numbers as indicative of my personal failings and limitations as a visual journalist. Above, Wired’s Star Wars edition folio from the September issue. Below, some of GQ’s September folios and more from Wired.

Damn them, damn them all.


[EDITOR'S NOTE: Buy Jandos' new book!]

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Jandos Rothstein

What You Can Learn From 1930s Wartime Magazine Design

Jandos Rothstein Design and Production - 07/16/2008-10:08 AM

I meant to write about this a few months ago, but as a wonderful resource for magazine designers, it’s still worth a post. Magazines and War 1936-1939 was an exhibit at Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Safia. Featuring pages published contemporaneously with the Spanish Civil War, the socialist, and socialism-inflected designs are, surprisingly, a visual delight, considering what most radical magazines did and do look like. I’ve only grabbed pages from Economia, but there are lots more. The online gallery gives readers the unusual opportunity to see every spread from most of the books in the exhibit.

While the spread above speaks clearly of its time, the pages below could almost be modern. Even cult-of-inkist Edward Tufte would likely approve of the spare but attractive infographics below—uh except maybe for that bar chart, which could be expressed using quite a bit less of the gooey stuff.

[EDITOR'S NOTE: Buy Jandos' new book!]

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Jandos Rothstein

Esquire's (Lack Of) Passion

Jandos Rothstein Design and Production - 07/14/2008-16:37 PM

In this, the 75th anniversary year, Esquire remains intent on proving they aren’t as good as they used to be. Frankly, I wouldn’t hold it against them if they didn’t insist on rubbing it in our faces. For part one of this series look here. George Lois must be rolling in his spacious, well-appointed Manhattan apartment….

[EDITOR'S NOTE: Buy Jandos' book!]

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Jandos Rothstein

The Fine Line Between Clever and Stupid

Jandos Rothstein Design and Production - 07/02/2008-09:43 AM

Fast Thinking

I bought this magazine a few months ago at the Barnes & Noble in Clarendon, Virginia, intending to write about the Australian business quarterly. Oh, I might have made one of my typical snotty comments—something along the lines of how fast can Fast be if it only publishes four times annually—but I thought the design was pretty strong. Then I noticed that this actual issue dates from nearly a year before I bought it, making it a bit musty to write about. I hadn’t credited the persistent rumors that Australia dumps its out-of-date publications on the U.S. market. Now I have no doubt.

The cover is still worth a post, though because it falls into a small but venerable tradition in publishing—the Trompe-l'oeili cover. This cover is meant to look as if it’s being ripped from a plain brown wrapper—the inside reveals nothing nearly racy enough to justify one, but the image is simple and effective.

Do Trompe-l’oeili covers actually fool anyone—or are they just examples of designers walking the fine line between clever and stupid? I think my own humble addition to the genera from a jillion years ago was effective because the free weekly newspaper I worked for often looked as beat up as my phony (at least the top-most copies) by the time it was delivered. (OK, at least I saw one woman at Olsson’s flipping through them trying to find a good one.) But, tricky or not, these 2D covers often offer a graphic impact that distinguishes them from neighboring publications on the rack. I’ll post any other examples in a later post that anyone cares to send in.

[EDITOR'S NOTE: Buy Jandos' new book!]

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Jandos Rothstein

Hollywood Life: Artfully Artless, Both Elegant and NaĂŻve

Jandos Rothstein Design and Production - 06/26/2008-13:06 PM

HL, or Hollywood Life is a hybrid celebrity/fashion magazine—two topics that leave me colder than a mafia hit man doing wet work in Anchorage—but it’s hard not to be seduced by HL’s stunning redesign, which premiered this month.

What makes HL so spectacular is the photography, and what makes the photography so good, is lie upon lie upon lie. Most images are shot in a lush black and white, the lighting is self-consciously film noir, the fashion is distinctly classic, and the hair styles and makeup are vintage Ingrid Bergman—making HL feel like an artifact from the 30s or 40s.

Now, some would feel that a modern magazine should trade in the vocabulary of its own era—that a look back is an attempt to paint pages with an unearned authority, and anyway, isn’t the whole retro thing played? HL deserves to be excused from all such quibbles. This baby is so well done, and the pages are so beautiful I found myself just looking moon-eyed at spectacular spread after spread.

While there are some color pages, I love that the rich vocabulary of black and white is explored so thoroughly and its use is so intrinsic to the publication’s voice. I love that the tawdry celebrity culture a la the Sun, Star, and Us that we expect from anything with a whiff of fame is vanquished in favor of not just retro style but with the whole 40s studio-system attitude. It’s hard to believe these photos weren’t shot under the supervision of image-cops, as they once would have been.

I also love the large two-color newsprint section, in which the magazine runs meaty articles, and that the art director can pull off pages that are a bit more contemporary too. A jittery comic strip runs for several pages but would never have seen print back in the day. It still seems part of the HL whole.

The typography breaks one of my tenants—don’t set italics all caps. Italics were originally designed when capitols and meniscuses were not used together, and the original italic fonts did not include an upper case. Italic majuscules have always been a retrofitted and somewhat awkward addition to modern italic typefaces. Strained in design, most are just obliqued versions of Roman forms even when the l.c. letters themselves are quite cursive. And, there is no historical president for setting Italics that way. Now, I admit that insisting that you can’t use a typeface a certain way because people didn’t used to use it that was is a bit like insisting that flammable is not a word (which, by the way, it isn’t). Times change and usage and style change along with it, but that doesn’t make it right. Not in my book, anyway.

Nevertheless, I can’t hate HL’s typography, even though there’s lots of italics all-cap, and too much all-cap, period. Instead, the design comes off as artfully artless, both elegant and naïve, as if McSweeney’s typography was superimposed on a fashion book. Except for the reliance on caps, the type is quite understated. There are few designed headlines and none that aren’t either black or reversed. HL could have been set in lead.

HL has never met an opportunity for product placement it didn’t like, which may be necessary to fund the imagery for this relatively low-circulation glossy. For example, if you read the caption for the photo below, you learn that Christina Ricci is wearing a Givenchy black and taupe cotton jersey and silk top. Looks nice, where can I get some of those?



[EDITOR'S NOTE: Buy Jandos' new book!]

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Jandos Rothstein

'Hey Kids, Let’s Set Up a Business Magazine in the Old Barn!'

Jandos Rothstein Design and Production - 06/18/2008-08:58 AM

Premiere Business, which I panned last summer, is now back with a second volume, which also happens to be a second issue. The good news? They decided to commission some real photography for this one rather than relying on stock. The bad news? It still has an editorial mission along the lines of, “Hey kids, let’s set up a business magazine in the old barn.” Oh, and the Web site still isn’t.

[EDITOR'S NOTE: Buy Jandos' new book!]

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Jandos Rothstein

Design Review: What is Glimpse?

Jandos Rothstein Design and Production - 06/17/2008-08:42 AM
Glimpse

What is Glimpse? I’ve been trying to figure that out. At first, I thought it was the clearest evidence that Good had been certified big league—having spawned this knockoff from the deep-pocketed National Geographic Association. But, Glimpse is not quite Good (in more ways than one, actually). Nor is it quite a knock-off of Co-Op America’s quarterly, although both have much the same focus on international sustainability and travel, and both are aimed at the college-aged.

Whatever they’re up to, the result is an odd, almost random mix of stuff. Who would guess that behind the screaming jackal of a head on the cover would lie multiple foodie pieces, reviews of boy bands, and a step-by-step pictorial on how to Rumba? Oh, the promised democracy package is there, too, but articles about working with activists oversees, the underside of democratic transformation, and the military coup that brought Pinochet to power are combined with benign snapshots of scenic foreign locales and colorful natives, relevant to the text only in that they are probably from the same country. It’s packaged up with a typeface so cuddly you could sleep with it, and decorated with cheerful Reds and Yellows. The whole magazine is kind of like the travel section of your local paper and a high school social studies text were thrown together and set to purée.

And, will it blend? Yes, but don’t breath in the smoke. Robert Hughes once described the East Wing of the National Gallery—in his estimation a more effective architectural statement than an art museum—as being like a church where one has the option not to pray. Glimpse also provides an easy opt-out, it’s the magazine for international activists with sunny, optimistic dispositions, and other, more pressing priorities.

None of this is to say that serious topics and amusements can’t be combined—nearly all serious magazines do it to some degree and there are lots of models for doing it effectively—Harper’s Good, and Wired all come to mind. But the Glimpse take seems to be that serious news should be delivered with a smirk and wink, and that doesn’t work nearly as well.

Glimpse, and the Glimpse site had a life before NatGeo’s involvement—the current “vol1 issue1″ is just the first under the new partnership, with the requisite new branding and enhanced newsstand presence. It will be interesting to see how this magazine evolves—whether the confused result is the product of blended corporate cultures, and if so, which set of values will win out.

The front section reprieves grunge typography.

The Fire and Rice article came out of the organization’s community Web site, as did much of the other content.

[EDITOR'S NOTE: Buy Jandos' new book!]

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Jandos Rothstein

Penny Pinching at Budget Travel

Jandos Rothstein Design and Production - 06/09/2008-15:51 PM

The editors at Budget Travel are awfully proud of their just-published 10th anniversary issue. In a statement in the June issue, they congratulate themselves heartily on their forward thinking. And, a flack from the magazine sent me a free copy along with an offer to speak to one of the self-satisfied editors myself.

If Budget Travel is looking ahead, they are looking ahead to last January, and the launch of Everywhere. Like that magazine, BT is now the business end of an online community, which will continue to generate text and pictures for the magazine, once even the Tin Jubilee has passed.

I have a history of being cynical about community-generated content. What, one might ask, makes the freelance writers and photographers that have produced the content of magazines like BT in the past different from members of the magical “community” that are poised to create a revolution on the page? If the only answers are “a paycheck,” and “expertise,” then cynicism is the only reasonable response.

However, from what I’ve gathered, BT, unlike EW, is paying their citizen-senators somewhat decently, and the magazine will continue to underwrite travel expenses for major articles. People who contribute something of value deserve value in return and this level is probably about right for this magazine. Despite the imagined glamour of travel writing, travel sections of newspapers and smaller magazines have always been partially underwritten by journalists hoping to break even on their recent vacations.

Being dubious of the motives of social late bloomers like BT, though, is not the same thing as being dubious of community. Readers, whether they are involved through online tools or not, are a good thing at a publication. As bigger newsstand glossies have become increasingly slick, increasingly expensive, and increasingly dependent on product placement, they have forfeited the once taken-for-granted link between readership and collective. While today one might read the New Yorker, I doubt many New Yorker readers feel like a member of a society by virtue of having a subscription, as once they surely did. Encouraging involvement through reader submissions is good, and if an online portal seems more available than a brown paper envelope and a transom that’s also fine. (Though it might be worth a try to print the editorial office address at sizes larger than 4 pt and in places more obvious than in a column of boilerplate.)

But of course, when you publish, it doesn’t just matter what you do, it also matters what results are. As of now, EW is coming closer to that communal ideal than BT, which seems just a bit too self-aware, still a bit too slick, and a bit too editor-controlled to really pull off the neighborhood-newspaper feel that one would guess both (at least claim to be) after. A real community organ offers a chorus of discordant voices. That beautiful cacophony still eludes both of these magazines.

[EDITOR'S NOTE:Buy Jandos' new book!]

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Jandos Rothstein

Pass the Kool-Aid

Jandos Rothstein Design and Production - 06/02/2008-11:36 AM

Empowering Women

The name of the magazine is Empowering Women, but empowering them to do what, exactly? Read unedited press releases in the form of articles? Lede: “Covering almost 70% of the earth, [the ocean] is full of minerals and nutrients. Wouldn’t it be great to start each day by diving into sparkling blue surf and taking in all the natural nutrients the ocean has to offer. Now with Arbonne’s SeaSource Detox Spa you can….” or maybe your prefer: ”I don’t know of another job that would allow you this kind of choice ... Arbonne gives a woman a chance to live her life the way she chooses and to be more in control of her life, to set boundries on her time to be more present with her family.” Or again: “At 24, Jennifer Townsley is one of the youngest National Vice Presidents in Arbonne. The busy young mother is overwhelmed by the amazing impact Arbonne has had on her family’s life ...” Or you might just admire the lovely spreads. The image below—creams and all—appears on Arbonne’s web site—who knew it could also be such an effective editorial photo?

Mind you, the quotes above are all from separate articles, of the dozens of pieces in EW most orbit around a single cosmetic company sold through a pyramid scheme through network marketing.

Reading Empowering Women, it would seem inconceivable that it does not share ownership with Aubonne. But no, the magazine promises to provide a 128-page blowjob to a different marketer every issue, for what one can only assume is a princely albeit undisclosed sum. The unrelenting nature of the pitch (”Her friend switched tactics, she convinced Jennifer to go to a gathering where she promised she would meet a prominent Executive National Vice President ... Jennifer met doctors, lawyers, and other people ... who all believed in Aubonne”) makes this magazine close to a paper version of what one would imagine being programmed by a cult is like. Pass the Kool-Aid.



[EDITOR'S NOTE:Buy Jandos' new book!]

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