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Robert Newman

Face Up Online: Essence

Robert Newman Design and Production - 07/17/2014-14:58 PM

Michelle Obama has become a top magazine cover celebrity, arguably the top celebrity in terms of breadth and frequency of appearance. I can't think of anyone else who makes such a stylish splash every time she appears on a cover, and who also appears on so many different types of covers. I'm sure Baby Boomers who still adore Jackie Kennedy will disagree, but for my money Obama is by far the all-time leading First Lady in terms of iconic magazine cover appearances.

The August 2014 cover of Essence features Obama on what is her fifth cover for the magazine. The photograph is by Kwaku Alston, who has shot a number of her covers for various magazines, including the October 2011 issue of Essence, which is one of my favorites of the First Lady. On this cover, designed by Essence creative director Erika Perry, Obama is wearing a dress by the young American designer Azede Jean-Pierre. Alston's experience photographing Obama shows; she is relaxed, engaging and her smile jumps off the cover. Magazines struggle to get the kind of relaxed intimacy from celebrities that Obama consistently exudes in her cover shoots. And this cover exemplifies that.

I was part of a team that photographed her for the cover of Reader's Digest back in 2011. I've talked with a number of art directors who have photographed her for covers, and their experience seems to be universal. You get the option of setting up in a handful of rooms in the White House, including the First Lady's office. There's no advance notice of what she is going to wear, and her personal team handles her styling and makeup. No one gets more than a half hour with her (and often less). In fact, during the Reader's Digest shoot I kept a stopwatch running on my phone that I kept flashing at her assistant every time they tried to wrap up the shoot before our promised half hour. Still, within those parameters she's a gracious, cooperative subject who definitely knows how to work the camera and create brilliant cover images. That's one of the big reasons she's had so many smart and diverse magazine cover shoots. Obama's list of magazine covers in the past five years includes Vogue (twice), People, Reader's Digest, Parade, Parents, Good Housekeeping, AARP, Condé Nast Traveler, More, Glamour, Ladies' Home Journal, Prevention, Ebony and Better Homes and Gardens. The list is nearly endless. She's even been illustrated on the cover of The New Yorker. And she rarely seems to repeat the same clothing designer, which is quite a feat!

The most challenging part of the Essence cover is that it was shot in front of a brightly backlit window. The result, as anyone who has worked in this kind of situation knows, is uneven lighting, false colors and shadows in the wrong places. On this cover the photo ends up with an oddly faded-out section on Obama's lower arms and hands–just compare them to the rich color and texture of her upper arms. That said, while the blown-out background does not help Obama, it provides the perfect backdrop for a set of nicely articulated cover lines, all of which work to good effect. The editors and creative director manage to cram in a healthy amount of cover lines without overwhelming the photo. Arguably the very elegant thinness of the type in the "Head to Toe Skin Care Guide!" circle is a little too delicate for its usage here, and I would have avoided the unfortunate collision created where the "Education Special" pink nugget that appears to be poking the First Lady in the back and creating unnecessary visual tension. Still, those are minor quibbles. This is a tight, bold, modern, engaging-looking cover that works well both on newsstand (I bought a copy) and online (where it first grabbed my attention). Like its subject, this cover has an incredible sense of style.

Essence deserves credit for referencing children so directly on this cover. Cover lines about children are rare on women's magazines. When I was the creative director at Real Simple we had a guiding principle that children were rarely mentioned and pictured, and certainly never on the cover. I think the feeling was that it would take away from the escapist and aspirational aspects of the magazine. I haven't done a scientific survey of contemporary women's magazines on this subject, but my casual surveillance at the newsstand this week corroborates this.

Obama has mastered the art of creating iconic magazine cover images. There's not another person in politics who conveys such a sense of power, style, grace, beauty, intelligence and sex appeal, except of course, her husband Barack. While Barack Obama, as with other Presidents, has aged considerably with the job, Michelle looks even better and more energetic than she did in 2008. I would go so far as to say that I don't see any celebrities of any kind who have been able to create such a powerful set of cover images in such a short period of time.

Obama has dozens of solo magazine covers to her credit, and that doesn't even include the ones she's been on with Barack, or teamed up with other people, including her mother and Jill Biden. Even more impressive is that this unbroken string of successful covers has come during a time of fierce and heated political opposition to the politics of the Obama Administration, and by extension, to Michelle Obama. This cover shows, once again, that no one commands a magazine cover like Michelle Obama.

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Robert Newman

Face Up Online: Mother Jones

Robert Newman Design and Production - 07/01/2014-12:37 PM

When I was just starting out in publication design, I worked at a small monthly left-wing newspaper in Washington, D.C. We used to joke that we wanted the paper to be the National Enquirer of progressive politics, and even designed a tabloid-style logo. Years later in the early 1990s, when I became art director at The Village Voice, I played those ideas out further, using big screaming headlines, loud primary colors and graphic photo treatments. So it warmed my heart when I saw the July/August cover of Mother Jones, which gives a jagged, shouting tabloid treatment to a story about right-wing bogeymen the Koch Brothers.

The parody, designed by creative director Ivylise Simones, is spot on, with just the right mix of funkiness and visual chaos. The design holds nothing back, right down to the Mother Jones logo, which was redesigned for this issue to reflect a tabloid feel. The result is a cover that is fun, engaging, provocative and viral-ready. It takes a strong partnership between the editors and the visual team to create this kind of high-level, sophisticated cover design and it works brilliantly, crafting a set of images that work on so many levels.

Conventional wisdom is that a magazine's logo is sacrosanct, a critical part of the brand that should never be messed with, and I'm sure the Mother Jones logo change will confuse a few readers. Yet, what the magazine gains is a dynamic, comprehensive graphic approach that not only jumps off the page, but is destined to work quite effectively online and across the magazine's multiple platforms. Apparently altering logos to fit stylized covers has become a trend, because it's been done recently to great effect by both Bloomberg Businessweek (who have done it at least three times over the past year) and The New Republic.

For a recent cover story on Jeopardy TV host Alex Trebek, The New Republic designed itself to look like the famous Jeopardy game board, altering its logo to mimic the show's distinctive trademark. In early June, Bloomberg Businessweek published a story on progressive economist-of-the-moment Thomas Piketty designed to look like a teen fan magazine, complete with a bubble gum logo and small photos of both Justin Bieber and Karl Marx. Both covers take complicated, unsexy topics, but with graphic stylization they turned them into dynamic, pulsating covers, and the same is true with this Mother Jones cover. Of course, there's a long history of magazines designing covers to look like LP covers, posters, books, product packaging and more. It's very exciting that magazines that cover topics that are generally not considered flashy and cool (politics and business) are creating some of the liveliest, hip and memorable covers.

Lately there has been a true renaissance of cover design at some of the most notable liberal magazines. In addition to Mother Jones, The New Republic (creative director Dirk Barnett) and The Nation (creative director Robert Best) have all been turning out exceptional covers. Each have their own unique style: Mother Jones is polished and provocative, perfectly designed to be spread around on the internet; The New Republic is thoughtful, stylish, cutting edge, and very contemporary; The Nation, with its limited budget and weekly publishing schedule, has a funky, homemade, gonzo feel like many of the altweekly newspapers. There's a powerful energy and passion that runs through all three designs.

That raises this question: Why do liberal magazine covers look so much better and smarter than their conservative counterparts? While many liberal mags are having a design renaissance, two of the most prominent conservative publications, the National Review and The Weekly Standard, look dated and uninspired. The lefties have enthusiastically embraced a wide array of graphic techniques, modern illustration and typography and just flat out coolness, whereas the conservative magazines tend towards very crude and sophomoric illustrations–stuff that often looks one step above what you would see in a college newspaper (and sometimes not even that good!). The design of the National Review and The Weekly Standard covers looks straight out of the 1980s. Given that both publications wax nostalgic for the days when Ronald Reagan was President, there's certain logic to their resistance to enter the 21st Century in terms of cover design. The irony is that the National Review created brilliant covers in the 1960s and 70s; smart, edgy, graphic, nicely illustrated and very cool for their time. Also, given the fact that the National Review has a very vibrant, up-to-the-minute website and social media presence, their lack of a modern cover design is even more baffling.

Good cover design does not stem inherently from any particular political ideology, although I think it's safe to say that the vast majority of art directors, illustrators and creative magazine makers in the New York/Washington publishing scene lean to the left. Still, there are several conservative publications (most notably The American Conservative) that have crafted some smart looking covers. (Full disclosure: I helped create the initial design of The American Conservative when it launched in 2002). Political blogger Andrew Sullivan has popularized the concept of epistemic closure to describe the bubble that the right-wing media and many of its supporters operate within, shielded from other opinions and data-based facts that might upset their belief system. What's notable about the Mother Jones tabloid-styled cover is that's it's an attempt to expand the magazine's voice and reach beyond its traditional readership, and also an acknowledgement that there's a place for modern approaches in cover design for political publications.

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Robert Newman

Face Up Online: Lucky Peach

Robert Newman Design and Production - 06/09/2014-09:32 AM

The Spring 2014 cover of Lucky Peach magazine is a tasty, illustrated concoction that highlights its "All You Can Eat" issue. It's a very unusual and very creative cover with a 3D illustration by Jordan Speer that looks straight out of an old Gumby claymation cartoon. I think this is a brilliant cover, very different and unique compared to most other food magazines. And it's simply one of the most fun covers I've seen this year. Not only did this delightful cover illustration convince me to buy the magazine, but everyone who has seen my copy has grabbed it away and started reading.

"I was a chef for 10 years," says Caysey Welton, associate editor at Folio:. "So I'm bored by a lot of food covers these days. But this one is fresh and cool." He is spot on with his analysis. At my local Whole Foods, this cover jumped out at me, amidst a wall of food and health magazines, all of them featuring beautiful, sensual, refined photographs, very sophisticated and well-polished in their design and styling. By comparison, Lucky Peach looks like a funky homemade dish that cares less about being perfect and pristine in its presentation, but with a much greater sense of passion, delight and soul.
Lucky Peach is the quarterly food and eating magazine brainchild of Momofuku restaurant owner and chef David Chang. Originally published in partnership with McSweeney's, Lucky Peach ended the relationship late last year; this is the second issue published as a completely independent operation.

This cover, art directed by Walter Green, is a big departure from Lucky Peach's first few independent issues. Those covers were raw, punky, graphic and somewhat off-putting, with photographs of big slabs of raw meat, knives, and burly tattooed arms and hands. The typography and headlines were aggressive, and the overall feel was very masculine and almost fatally hip. Honestly, I didn't like it and thought it was the wrong approach, although it was certainly effective in getting attention.

After six or seven issues, the Lucky Peach cover direction changed dramatically. Recent covers have boasted colorful, playful illustrations, like something you'd see in a children's book. Headlines have been minimized and, the original hand-drawn logo remains, which in the context of the lighter illustrations looks charming and homespun. The covers are now accurate reflections of the inside pages of the magazine, which are a lush, visual treat. It's a rich, diverse, multi-textured look, with very little of the "food porn" photography that fills most epicurean magazines these days.

Fun is really the key to this cover, and that's what makes it so unique. It's rare to see a magazine cover that looks like it was actually fun to make, while also keeping it representative of the richness and quality of the material inside. For a sense of what Lucky Peach looks like, visit their Tumblr page, which is an explosion of exciting graphics and visual inspiration.

Lucky Peach is somewhat of a throwback to the illustrated Gourmet magazine covers of the 1940s and 50s. Those covers were artful but zany and quirky. Often illustrated by Henry Stahlhut, the illustrated Gourmet covers were the total opposite of the perfectly styled plates of food and gourmet dishes on magazine covers today. The "All You Can Eat" cover reminds me of Bloomberg Businessweek, with its pure disregard for any of the standard operating techniques of its genre.

I took my daughter to the Momofuku Noodle Bar in the East Village of New York City over the past weekend to celebrate her 14th birthday. She's a big fan of the Momofuku Milk Bar on the Upper West Side, where she favors strawberry milkshakes and pork buns. At the Noodle Bar she ordered Momofuku Ramen, while I gave up my meatless diet for a bowl of Spicy Miso Ramen (with chicken and pork broth). The food was hearty and delicious, and sitting in the restaurant at one of the long communal tables, I was reminded why the Lucky Peach cover is so perfect. It's a lot like the Momofuku restaurants: funky, uncompromising, hip (but not hipster), downhome and totally delightful and tasty. Like any great cover, it engages the readers in a visual conversation and invites them inside to discover a world of wonders, while at the same time maintaining the essence of its brand.

 

 

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Robert Newman

Face Up Online: High Times

Robert Newman Design and Production - 05/20/2014-13:04 PM

"What were they smoking?" is a common joking criticism used by editors and art directors when referring to badly executed magazine covers. Well, in the case of the June 2014 cover of High Times, we know exactly what they were smoking. But the herb definitely helped with some wonderful creativity, because this is one of my favorite magazine covers of the year. I think a few more magazines could use what High Times is smoking; this cover is powerful, engaging, memorable and just plain fun (and funny).

The "Mount Kushmore" cover of High Times features a photo illustration of four top hip-hop artists, Snoop (Lion these days?), B-Real, Redman, and Method Man, all of whom are well-known weed enthusiasts. For FOLIO: readers who don't fully get the reference of the headline, the Urban Dictionary describes "kush" as "a high-grade strain of marijuana."

This is a gonzo cover that reminds me of some of the best altweekly newspaper covers, with an image that is very high conceptually, and somewhat funky (in a good way) in execution. But the idea and the passion behind it are what gives this cover such a great buzz and makes it a standout. Editor Chris Simunek explains that the idea originated with Snoop, who has been a regular cover subject–most notably as 2007's "Stoner of the Year." The original idea was to have the four heads carved out of hash. When that didn't work out (for obvious reasons), photographer Mark Mann was called in, along with creative director Bianca Barnhill, who organized the entire session. Additional tweaks to the cover came from art directors Roxanna Allen and Frank Max.

Speaking of Snoop, back in the 1990s I worked as the design director of Vibe. We were all hard at work one afternoon when a buzz went through the office because Snoop had arrived for an interview and was in the upstairs conference room. Within five minutes of his arrival, the sweet sticky smell of the most potent weed imaginable came drifting through the walls and floors. Needles to say, there wasn't any more work done that day (although the interview turned out great!).

This cover of High Times feels like it was crafted by people who love making magazines and who have an intimate connection with their readers . As editor Simunek says, "We definitely enjoyed doing this cover!" It's bright and refreshing, and the image mixes perfectly with the bold cover lines. The cover headlines are all winners: "40 Best Stoner Movies," "Pot in the NFL," and "Growing for Maximum Flavor." It's also a change from the regular High Times covers, which tend to feature beautifully photographed exotic strains of pot or a still life of a bong.

High Times has a rich history of cover design, stretching back to its launch in the early 1970s. Over the years they've had a series of talented art directors, and while the magazine has had its ups and downs, it's overall design has never been stronger than it is under the guidance of art director Frank Max, who has given it a structured, lively format with strong, engaging imagery and, of course, lots of beautiful weed pictorials.

When I was in college in the 70s, my friends and I would get High Times from the local head shop every month and rush home to read the heady (to us) mix of dope, rock ‘n' roll, politics and counterculture news. We would scour the Trans High Market drug price quotations every month, hoping to find our little town in the list (it never was) and marveling at what was available for purchase in other locations.

Years later I visited a friend who was working at the High Times office in New York City. After getting through an elaborate multi-lock security system (it was the 80s), I was ushered into a dark, heavily smoke-filled room. This was the office of the legendary High Times typesetter, who banged out endless galleys of type surrounded by piles of the most potent herb I had ever "seen." Perhaps it goes without saying, but I don't remember much else about my visit.

Those days are long gone, though, and High Times today is a much more professional operation. The magazine's ads are booming thanks to medical marijuana and the movement to legalize or decriminalize pot smoking. Celebrities like Oliver Stone have been on the cover, celebrating their sticky love. And the editorial content is a potent and polished blend of service, news and strong opinion.

I was worried that I was being too uncritical about this cover, so I reached out for a second opinion from Dan Zedek, a former High Times art director (in the mid-80s), and now the design director of the Boston Globe. He confirmed my opinion of it: "Two words for this cover: not shy," he said. "It has attitude to spare! It helps that the illustration is a little crude, the type colors a little loud. It's a perfect match for the subject matter: fun, noisy, and a bit bratty. For a magazine about not working hard, this cover works hard in the right ways."

So, I guess the obvious question here is: What was I smoking when I wrote this review? This answer is: nothing, or it wouldn't have been finished! Still, I hope High Times invites me to their next cover shoot.

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Robert Newman

Face Up Online: Politico

Robert Newman Design and Production - 05/06/2014-12:54 PM

I first saw this Politico cover the way it was meant to be seen: in a tweet that teased one of the inside features, "How to Lose $100 Million: The Undoing of Tina Brown." You can bet that I read that story, but it was the very cool, all-type cover that initially hooked me.

All-type covers are a tricky business. They work best with a provocative message like "Is God Dead?" or "You Idiots!" But as Politico creative director Janet Michaud explains, the magazine covers politics and Washington "in a non-partisan, non-ideological way." That means that they don't have a mandate to craft a headline that is going to antagonize or provoke readers.

Politico did the next best thing, which was to craft a solid, label-like headline into an engaging, stylish image--a perfect fusion of text and graphics. With its stop sign-like white logo on red, and a headline made up of letters taken from major newspapers and media outlets, this is a seamless graphic delight that works on multiple levels. It's the perfect cover image to propel the extensive hype that Politico has received for the stories in this issue.

I like the simple, unadorned design of this cover a lot. It's stripped down the basics: red, black, and white color (why does this seem to be the color scheme of choice for all-type covers?), with understated secondary cover lines under the main heading. The headline type, by Post Typography, is bold and refined and is obsessively engaging. Once you realize that the letters are taken from actual newspaper, magazine, and TV logos, it becomes a puzzle to figure out where they came from (you can play along; we've included the source logos for all the letters below).

I was actually disappointed with the first two Politico covers (The Media Issue is the third; it's published on a bi-monthly schedule). They were nice enough, but somewhat generic, without a sense of immediacy and failing to fully reflect the dynamic content inside. That disconnect is even more apparent when you view the interior page designs, which are powerful, elegant and very distinctive. However, this new cover changes all that. Part newsweekly, part opinion journal, part poster, the type channels covers of New York magazine, The New York Times Magazine and Time, with a nod to the 1950s Blue Note LP cover design of Reid Miles that Michaud cites as an influence.

There's a hip, stark, modern feel to this cover that I think eludes many other political magazines and journals. A lot of publications would have taken a more involved, illustrative approach to the topic (and according to Michaud, Politico tried a number of those approaches but weren't satisfied with any of them); the spare, graphic treatment here is what makes it so unique and effective. I feel like this is the issue (and cover) of Politico where the magazine has been fully realized for the first time and we truly get a sense of the potential of this publishing project.

Michaud came to Politico after a stint as design director at the Washington Post, and an earlier stretch as an art director at Time. She describes the overall look of the magazine as "visually confident, bold and surprising, simple and classic." She goes on to say, "We're not on the newsstand, but we're competing for the reader's attention. With the cover, we want to grab as much of that attention (and time) as possible." The Media Issue cover of Politico accomplishes that task brilliantly. I hope we see more creative covers like this in the future from the Politico team!

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Robert Newman

Face Up Online: Billboard

Robert Newman Design and Production - 04/23/2014-09:16 AM

You wouldn't expect something as simple as the April 26, 2014 cover of Billboard to be groundbreaking and envelope pushing, but that's exactly what it is. The cover features a cool photograph of singer Enrique Iglesias, sleek, minimal cover typography and a bold, poster-like logo; it's highly original, extremely artful and a crowd-pleaser all at the same time (I know because I checked with my 13-year-old daughter who is a big Enrique fan).

Most magazine covers, and especially trade publications, tend towards a standard formula with lots of typographic and graphic devices to grab the readers' attention, and crisp, sharp photographs with riveting eye contact. This cover has none of that; it even flaunts a big green logo in stark contradiction to the magazine urban legend that "green is death on the newsstand."

Since their cover redesign earlier this year, led by creative director Shanti Marlar, Billboard has been aggressively pursuing more creative photography, with very sensual color tones and poster-like framings. This is their eighth cover since the format change, the second under new design director Rob Hewitt and, to my eye, it's the strongest to date.

The photograph of Iglesisas by David Needleman is dark and moody, with his face in shadow and his eyes looking down away from the reader. It's a powerful portrait, intimate and sexy. And the cover typography is very sparse and understated, letting the strength of the overall design rest on the photograph and the graphic logo.

Just 10 years ago, Billboard still lived up to its trade magazine reputation on the cover, with a newspaper-like design that was occassionally broken up with special large photo designs. For much of the time since then, the covers have featured creative, aggressive, rock ‘n' roll design, with a heavy nod to the look of magazines like Rolling Stone and Entertainment Weekly. The design exploded off the pages, bursting with distorted typography and huge amounts of cover lines. They were pop, and they popped! A cover redesign in early 2013 led by then-art director Andrew Horton eliminated the classic, multi-colored logo for a new, smaller treatment, combined with more subdued cover typography and sophisticated photography.

See examples of those covers here.

When the vertical Billboard logo was introduced earlier this year I was dubious about its long-term status. My first reaction was that it was a nice gimmick that wouldn't last. Plenty of magazines have added nontraditional tilts and positionings to their logos, and about 99.99 percent of them revert back to "normal" in short order after readers, marketers and subscription mavens amply complain. But now, I love it. The logo frames the cover like a poster; it's an acknowledgement that for a magazine like Billboard, the image on the cover is most important–especially as it travels across multiple platforms. The concept of newsstand sales as the driver for the cover design is no longer valid; the most effective covers work as images on Twitter, iPads, Facebook, etc. And the new Billboard logo, its very modern and distinctive design along with its photography are perfectly suited for this new cover paradigm.

I watched this cover get pushed on Twitter over the past weekend and noone cared that the logo was sideways or that there weren't a lot of cover lines. It was a memorable cover of Enrique Iglesias, fans loved it, and that's what sent it flying around the internet. It's great publicity and drives interest and traffic to the brand, as opposed to selling a couple extra copies on a newsstand.

What this cover and the overall Billboard design strategy says is that the old school approach to cover making, where tiny bits of magazine material are shoehorned into every corner of the cover, stuffing it to overflowing with photos and teasers, is no longer applicable. This is a cover design that recognizes the multiplatform, viral, instantaneous nature of the times, and that's what makes it so successful and so exciting. Other magazines should take note: an original, distinctive, contemporary cover design is the best way to visually revitalize your brand. There was a time back in the 1950s, when trade magazines were art directed by some of the most talented folks in the business (Walter Allner and Bradbury Thompson are just two), who approached the publication covers as part of the overall corporate packaging branding and design. This new set of Billboard covers is firmly in that tradition.

My enthusiasm for the big-picture aspects of the Billboard design should not obscure the good work that went into this particular cover, both in terms of the crafting and creation of the photograph and the detailing of the typography. It's a refreshing and energizing graphic step forward, and as my daughter Lillian says, "it looks so cool!"

UPDATE: Thanks to art director/illustrator Andrew Skwish for pointing out the similarities in overall tone between the current Billboard cover and covers of The Face in the 1980s, when it was designed by Neville Brody. The Face even had a short-lived experiment with a vertical logo! This era of The Face (the cover pictured is from 1985) was one of my favorites, and a huge influence on me and many other art directors. This makes me like the new Billboard design even more. 

 

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Robert Newman

Face Up Online: Petersen's Hunting

Robert Newman Design and Production - 04/08/2014-15:05 PM

The April/May 2014 cover of Petersen's Hunting magazine is a big departure for the popular outdoor publication. It features a striking photograph by Lee Thomas Kjos that is a sleek, graphic image of a raw slab of game meat stuck with a hunting knife, held by a manly, blood-covered hand. There's so much testosterone on this cover that I can feel the hair growing on my chest (and other places). I love it! For added graphic effect the meat is dripping blood, and the hand is covered with hair from the kill. I have to admit upfront that I don't eat meat, so the cover holds no emotional or tasty appeal for me. But it certainly is one of the more memorable, provocative and ground-breaking outdoor magazine covers in recent memory.

The cover headline is "Join the Meat Eater Revolution," with a smart and effective underline that highlights a very interesting story about how foodies, chefs and TV food shows are expanding hunting to a new, younger audience. Like the story inside, the cover seems designed to expand Hunting's reach to a new group of readers. Traditional Hunting covers fall into three categories: 1. a portrait of a high-tech hunting rifle; 2. a photo of a wild animal, generally a buck, bear or wolf; 3. a rugged dude with a gun and dead game. In fact, as I looked back at past issues, I couldn't find another cover of Hunting that didn't feature a gun or an animal.

The April/May cover created by art director Tim Neher is very modern and artful, the kind of design and image one would expect to see on one of the "intellectual foodie" magazines that are mentioned in the cover story, or even someplace like New York magazine. The white background, the shiny, high-detail photograph, and the sophisticated typography all combine for an arresting cover that jumps off every platform. I do question to what extent the bulk of Hunting's readers will appreciate this very contemporary design. My own experience with enthusiast magazines is that their readers tend towards very traditional approaches to content and imagery. I assume that the guns and game style of previous Hunting magazines is popular with their readers, and I'll be very curious to hear the response to this cover.

I have a couple criticisms of the cover typography. First and foremost, Hunting has an unorthodox habit of using the cover image to obscure a good chunk of their cover headlines. They do it here, and have done it previously on the March 2014 "Predator Rifle" and September 2013 "Big Game Forecast" issues. Now, I'm all for pushing the envelope on covers, but I tend to want to see the headlines full and complete for the most effective reading. I also have some beef with one of the secondary headlines, "Grilling Skills That Will Kill in Camp." Generally I think it's never a good idea to reference cooked meat and dying in the same thought, but a bigger problem is that the story is actually a gear guide, with the much funnier and better headline inside "Grills Gone Wild." There may be a grilling tip or two, but to be accurate, as the editors say in the story's subhead, they "field-tested the hottest grills on the market."

More importantly, I think that the typography and design on the cover, separate from the brilliant image, is a little too delicate and under-baked. The light, thin type seems at odds with the overall message of the magazine. I'd prefer to see some bolder, huskier, aggressive typography to match the cover photograph. For that matter, I really miss the old Hunting logo, which was replaced by the current one several years ago. It was very distinctive, had a lot of character and it bounded off the cover. The new logo looks out of place and to my eye would fit better on one of those "intellectual foodie" magazines.

Interestingly, recent covers from competitors also feature close-up still life photographs. The April 2014 Field & Stream shows a huge fish head ("Catch Giant Fish" is the cover headline), and the May 2014 Outdoor Life features a large ax, accompanied by a headline that reads "Great Blade Skills." Both covers have a nice mix of headline styles, color and supporting graphics that are much more energetic and engaging that those on the Hunting cover.

All that said, I really like this cover a lot, and congratulate the editors and visual team for creating such a smart, remarkable departure from their previous work. Regardless of any flaws, this cover is imaginative and graphic, and shows a passion both for rugged magazine-making and the content inside.

Regular readers of Face Up know that I'm obsessed by old school magazine design. Any discussion of outdoors and hunting magazines would not be complete without a mention of the covers of Outdoor Life, Sports Afield, Field & Stream and others from the early days of the 1900s up to about 1960. During that time the covers of those magazines usually featured beautiful, elegant illustrations, done in a suitable-for-framing style. And then there were the men's adventure magazines, which featured heart-stopping images of real men battling nature. There are numerous websites out there now that display these vintage covers, and offer reproductions for sale. Two that I spend way too much time visiting are Magazine Art and Classic Outdoor Magazines.

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Robert Newman

Face Up Online: Who's Who in Baseball

Robert Newman Design and Production - 03/28/2014-12:50 PM

March 31 is opening day for Major League Baseball, so I thought it would be appropriate to review the cover of a baseball magazine. And there isn't a better publication to look at than Who's Who in Baseball. It's a thick, 360-page digest-sized annual. It describes itself as "a handy reference guide to batting & pitching stats," and the inside is packed with obsessive line-by-line and team-by-team listings of over 775 major league players.

I may be stretching the definition of a magazine cover this time around, since Who's Who in Baseball is really more of a bookazine, given that it's an annual publication sold at newsstands and bookstores. Like a mini-phonebook, it's printed on cheap newsprint, but the cover paper stock is slick, glossy and heavy. First appearing in 1912, and every year since 1916, this year it will celebrate its 99th anniversary.

Many years ago I worked at Harris Publications, the magazine factory that publishes Who's Who in Baseball. I was given free access to help myself to back issues, and delighted my baseball friends by giving them a series of presents of those very-collectible vintage copies. Ever since, I've been aware of the strong affinity baseball fans have for this little publication, and how it evokes both a passionate love for the game and the heart-tugs of nostalgia.

And nostalgia is the most important component of the Who's Who in Baseball cover design. The basic format of red cover background and black type has been used since the 1940s and the current logo is an iteration of one developed in the early 50s. The present cover design has been static for at least 20 years, save for a little tightening of the logo. In fact, the only basic difference between this year's cover and the 2013 edition are the pictures of the players. The format is so recognizable to readers that the editors feel comfortable covering up most of the word BASEBALL in the logo.

That said, this cover design is clean and well balanced, with a highly efficient organization of material, instantly identifiable photos, and a pop-off-the-newsstand graphic sensibility. There are a lot of lessons here for small (and not-so-small) publications that are looking to develop a consistent graphic brand on a limited budget. One could describe this cover as retro, or a more critical analysis might call it old fashioned. Still, I think it's brilliant and I never get tired of looking at it (they got my $9.95, I might add!).

Nevertheless, as much as we love a good retro cover design, this is a publication begging for a visual branding update. Perhaps Who's Who in Baseball could draw some inspiration from their extensive archives, which are a treasure trove of baseball graphic delights. A little more playfulness, a diversity of graphic elements and a small nod to the 21st Century might not be a bad thing for this cover.

And speaking of nostalgia, Tom Hoffarth at the Farther off the Wall blog smartly pointed out that the current Who's Who in Baseball cover mirrors another cover the publication did 50 years ago, in 1964. The 2014 cover features Los Angeles Dodgers pitching ace and Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw, while the 1964 cover highlighted Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax, another Dodgers pitching star and Cy Young winner. Of course as a New York Yankees fan, I would have rather seen Derek Jeter and Tony Kubek on those covers!

Fans of classic baseball visuals will also enjoy these vintage covers of Baseball Digest, another obsessive sports publication that has been in existence since the 1940s. Actually, there might also be some inspiration there for the editors of Who's Who in Baseball as they gear up to design the cover for the 100th anniversary issue.

 

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Robert Newman

Face Up Online: Newsweek

Robert Newman Consumer - 03/14/2014-08:31 AM

The cover of the relaunched Newsweek is one of the best debuts in recent memory (to the extent that a cover for a magazine founded in 1933 can be called a "debut"), with a stunning illustration, bold, simple design, and an elegant printed format that creates a distinctive, memorable look. There has been much hype about Newsweek's return to print, and a good deal of controversy about the Bitcoin cover story, but from both a creative and a brand perspective this cover stands as a highly-successful work, one that hopefully lays the groundwork for continued success for the publication.

This Newsweek cover is built on tradition. The logo is basically a mix of the late 1980s version drawn by Jim Parkinson (which was part of a redesign by Roger Black), and the iteration used on the magazine's last redesign in 2009, before it was sold to IAC. But the type has been tweaked (and improved), and the red background panel made more graphic and modern. The striking illustration by Ben Wiseman is cool and contemporary, but the understated simplicity of the cover headline is reminiscent of the covers of Newsweek (and Time) from the 1960s and early 70s.

The cover design is by the team of Priest + Grace, who are the creative force behind the exciting new Eight By Eight soccer (or football if you live outside the U.S.) magazine, and have previously given creative direction to O, the Oprah Magazine and numerous other publications. For Face Up we usually base our reviews on digital copies of the cover, but for this issue I actually went out and bought a copy. I will say that I searched literally dozens of magazine stands and stores (there still are a couple) in Manhattan before finally finding a big stash at Grand Central Terminal in a beautiful display. I'm glad I got a printed copy, because it comes on an elegant, thick matte cover stock with beautiful, crisp printing that is so rich it almost looks silkscreened.

This is a strong, smart look with lots of character that definitely sets the magazine apart from other weeklies (apparently they're identifying The Economist as their "role model" and chief competitor). Newsweek has been doing a series of weekly covers for their online edition that were very traditional and undistinguished. This is a sharp break from that. Over the years Newsweek tried to differentiate itself from Time by running more photos and less illustration on their covers. Let's hope that this debut illustration is the beginning of a new direction for the magazine's cover look, because it helps gives shape to a very forward-looking design aesthetic.

If there's any hesitation in giving total love to this cover, it's because I wish they had broken more from the traditional Newsweek name and logo and gone for something completely new and different (there was a period in the Jon Meacham-edited era when there was actually a prototype developed with a new format and a name along the lines of NW). It also might have been nice if there was some nod on the cover to the "return of print." Newsweek ended their print edition with the #LASTPRINTISSUE hashtag on the cover, and it would have been fun to see them play with the flip of that somewhere on this one. That seems like a missed opportunity.

I asked Arthur Hochstein, the former Time art director (he created close to 1000 covers for the magazine) what he thought about this Newsweek relaunch. Arthur has also done covers for Businessweek and even did a short stint with Newsweek a few years ago.

Hochstein says, "It's an auspicious debut: the flat, vector-graphic style evokes the posters and graphics of Mad Men. The effect is well done. It cleverly uses the Bitcoin symbol to make a mask; the darker black of the shadow against the slightly-lighter black of the background enhances the effect of the mask being pulled back, to reveal the ‘mystery man.'"

Newsweek's past covers are woefully hard to find online. When it was owned by the IAC they started a Newsweek Archivist Tumblr page that briefly collected a good series of covers dating back to the 1930s. The page isn't active, but it's still available for viewing online, and contains many choice cover treats.

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Robert Newman

Face Up Online: Mad

Robert Newman Design and Production - 02/28/2014-14:03 PM

Mad magazine's April 2014 cover parody of The Lego Movie is bright, fun, engaging, and perfectly executed, with a smart illustration. This cover not only fits right in with Mad's snarky, wacko cover legacy, but would also feel at home on the front of Entertainment Weekly or Time (without the Alfred E. Neuman character, of course!). It's a grown-up cover on a young person's magazine.

Like many folks my age, I grew up reading Mad, and of course my parents thought it was a corrupting influence and threw out as many copies as they could find. Somehow I kept buying issues and sneaking them into the house, hiding them under my bed. When I look at those issues from the 60s now, they seem very tame compared to the current edition, which is much more risqué in terms of sex and general raunchiness. That level of provocative offensiveness is exactly what appeals to a younger audience!

The basic Mad cover hasn't changed much since the late 60s. They still heavily rely on parodies of popular TV shows and movies combined with the antics of Alfred E. Neuman. The April issue, illustrated by Mark Frederickson and art direction by Sam Viviano, is something of a departure. Recent covers have been rawer, somewhat gross and more juvenile. Mad's February 2014 cover, also illustrated by Frederickson, featured a nasty image of Miley Cyrus and her now infamous twerk. Another cover from last year depicted, in a very rough, cartoony style,  Alfred E. Neuman peeing on an amusement park water slide (this is Mad, after all). Frederickson is a frequent cover illustrator for Mad, essentially taking the place occupied by Norman Mingo on the classic covers of the 1960s and 70s. He's a highly skilled artist who works in multiple styles and who has a great sense of humor.

I love the artwork on this cover, and I love the way it works as a stylistic whole, parodying both The Lego Movie poster and Lego packaging in general. Rather than just being a funny illustration slapped on to a Mad cover, this is a brilliant, holistically-designed package, complete with Lego logo and integrated typography. It's highly-sophisticated conceptual work. I wish more magazines took this kind of overall care, both with imagery and design.

But wait a minute! Is that a good thing for a magazine like Mad? I called on my resident expert, my daughter Lillian, to get her opinion. Lillian is 13 and a regular Mad reader (I confess to throwing out more than a couple of her copies when I thought they were inappropriate). She's also the daughter of two art directors (her mother, Chris Curry, is the illustration editor at The New Yorker), so she has a good graphic sensibility.

I showed Lillian the Mad cover and her first response was "It's so cute! It looks like the instruction booklet for the Lego sets." However, she then said that she liked last issue's Miley Cyrus cover, because "It's funnier and I get it right away."

If a parent likes a Mad cover, does that make it uncool? I'm curious to see how Mad's audience responds to this gentler, more parent-friendly approach, or whether they prefer the cruder (and admittedly funnier) covers.

If this critique has got you thinking about past covers, be sure to visit Doug Gilford's Mad Cover, which is the essential destination for fans of all ages. Gilford has an archive of every Mad cover from 1952, including illustrator credits and in some cases, back cover artwork (the archival covers included in this story are via Gilford's site). And you can see more of Mark Frederickson's illustration work, including a good number of Mad images.

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Robert Newman

Face Up Online: Dr. Oz The Good Life

Robert Newman Design and Production - 02/14/2014-12:09 PM

The latest entry in TV celebrity publishing debuted in early February with the launch of Dr. Oz The Good Life. Dr. Oz is a ubiquitous presence on women's and self-help magazine covers, and has generally been very successful in selling copies on the newsstand. The Good Life's publisher, Hearst, has done very well with previous TV-related magazine launches, including HGTV and Food Network magazines (not to mention Oprah Winfrey's O, The Oprah Magazine), and they assembled a talented edit and design team for this debut issue. However, the March/April cover is very disappointing and is one of the weakest covers of a major magazine launch in recent memory.

When I first saw this cover I actually thought it was a prototype instead of the debut issue. There's a generic look to the cover photograph, a flat, by-the-numbers quality to the headlines, and most importantly, an underdeveloped logo that does nothing to create and build a dynamic brand. The result is a cover that looks more like a low-budget, one-shot newsstand special rather than the exciting debut of a powerful new media entry. Other similar Hearst magazines like HGTV, The Food Network, and O have modern, engaging, energy-packed covers that leap off the newsstand and give a sense of the rich multi-faceted content inside. This cover lacks that sense of excitement.

There's nothing special about the image. It feels like countless other images of Dr. Oz that are used to promote any of his numerous projects. When I worked at O I attended a photo shoot with Dr. Oz and saw how incredibly warm and charismatic he is--both in person and in front of the camera. And while this is certainly one of his more handsome photographs (and I like that they left in a few wrinkles around his eyes!), I don't see much of that magnetic personality coming through. I think it's partly a matter of scale. It might have been nice to see Dr. Oz's face a little bigger so his smile and the twinkle in his eyes could have been more evident.

The cover lines also feel prototype-ish to me. They're generic in the sense that they could appear on any women's magazine. There's nothing that seems unique to Dr. Oz, or original and exciting. They read more like the dummy headlines that art directors throw on covers when they start designing, waiting for editors to develop perfectly-crafted blurbs that reach out and grab the readers. And most importantly, the cover typography overwhelms the logo.

The logo is baffling to me, and is definitely the biggest problem on the cover. I'm confused by the structure of the title. Is it Dr. Oz The Good Life, or The Good Life, with a Dr. Oz kicker? There's nothing distinctive about this logo, and it's lost among the jumble of other type and colors. It almost looks like just another headline on the page instead of the name and brand of the magazine. Compare this logo to HGTV and Food Network (which were based on pre-existing network logos), or to the custom logo design of O, The Oprah Magazine, all of which are unique and instantly recognizable. Interestingly, in the initial cover that was used to promote the magazine in its prototype stages, The Good Life logo was bigger, filling edge to edge, and designed in multiple colors to give it more flavor and character. I like that version much better.

According to recent press reports the launch issue design director and photo editor have left The Good Life, and a new art team is being brought in to reconfigure the magazine's look for the second issue. I'm guessing that Hearst recognized the less-than-stellar results of this first cover and that the next one is going to be much stronger and more memorable. Incidentally, there was a very nice Dr. Oz cover for Hearst's Good Housekeeping published last April. It featured a very warm, fun photograph (Dr. Oz loves those blue sweaters!) and a nifty set of headlines, smartly designed with lots of texture and excitement. I hope the next cover of The Good Life looks as good as that one.

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Robert Newman

Examining The Atlantic and The New Republic Redesigns

Robert Newman Design and Production - 03/12/2013-13:22 PM

 

Several years ago the American Society of Magazine Editors held a panel discussion that talked about the role of design and art direction in magazines. The general consensus was that it was important, but not essential. The evening ended with one of the participants rattling off a list of magazines that were considered great (and at the time, successful), but that basically looked bad.

It’s doubtful you could have that discussion today. Case in point: The Atlantic and The New Republic, two traditional, text-heavy magazines not historically known for strong visual identities, recently hired young creative director stars, with extensive consumer magazine experience, who have redesigned and visually energized both publications.

For past redesigns, both magazines hired outside design studios to revamp their looks, then handed them over to in-house art directors who were given limited scope in what they could accomplish visually. Not anymore. The Atlantic and New Republic redesigns were both done by their new creative directors, and the magazines’ visually-savvy editors have given them the directive to make the visuals and the design an integral part of the brand across multiple platforms.

Darhil Crooks is the new creative director at The Atlantic, hired in August after crafting a masterful redesign at Ebony. Crooks has extensive experience at consumer magazines like Esquire, and he’s brought that sensibility to his work at The Atlantic.

Meanwhile, The New Republic reached out to Dirk Barnett, the former creative director at Newsweek, who has a lengthy pedigree with Maxim, Blender, The New York Times’s Key and Play magazines, Premiere, and more. Working out of the New York office of the DC-based biweekly, Barnett helmed February’s complete visual transformation, changing everything from the logo to the paper stock.

Previous New Republic art directors Joseph Heroun and Christine Car produced some memorable covers and brought some strong illustration into the magazine over the past decade, but it always felt like they lacked the commitment from the editors to extend their talents to the magazine’s overall design and format.

From 2000-05, when The Atlantic was based in Boston, that magazine’s art director Mary Parsons (now at The American Prospect) helped build its reputation as a home for powerful, well-crafted illustration. A redesign by Michael Beirut and Pentagram in 2008 brought some much-needed modernizing and impact to the magazine’s design, but it never felt fully realized and executed after the initial excitement of the new look wore off.

Enter Crooks and Barnett, who with the support of smart, forward-looking editors (James Bennet at The Atlantic, new owner Chris Hughes and editor Franklin Foer at The New Republic) have brought new visual visions to their magazines that are crisp, energetic, holistic, and very 21st Century.

For The Atlantic redesign, Crooks tweaked the logo and inside typography, and added and revamped a number of columns and departments. There are new, visually-driven sections: By Design, a design solution column, and Chartist, “an infographic explanation of a seemingly complicated problem.”

The Atlantic’s new look is bright, engaging, modern, and very accessible. There are lots of graphic points of entry, elegant use of typography, rules, and white space, and smart illustrations. Most importantly, it’s all highly readable; there’s no doubt, even with the heightened design, that the text and imagery are given primacy.

Crooks says, “We wanted to do something that was energetic and had more visual impact, that was more reader-friendly, with added entry points and color. At the same time, I wanted to do something that was on brand. I didn’t want the design to be a distraction or too trendy.”

The new design of The Atlantic references consumer magazines like Rolling Stone and Esquire, and Crooks readily acknowledges the influence. “Both those magazines cover such a range of topics and visual approaches, and it all seems to work together. They are also examples of magazines that are able to take complicated, serious topics and make them visually entertaining.”

Crooks also reworked and reintroduced the The Atlantic’s Poseidon colophon, which was something he resurrected from earlier issues of the magazine. He describes it as “A new sexy god of the sea for the social media age.” (For those not familiar with the term, a colophon is an old-school term for a logo, or what used to be called a “printer’s mark,” that would appear on the title page or contents of a book or magazine.)

“What makes The Atlantic great is the writing and the ideas,” say Crooks. “I’ve tried to make the art as visually interesting as the text it illustrates, and the design to keep the readers in the story and turning the pages. It’s something most magazines do, but it’s a new approach for The Atlantic. My goal is to make each issue a unique experience.”

Crooks has just begun to apply the new look of The Atlantic to the magazine’s other platforms. He’s working on digital projects for the websites, and of course, the iPad app. The print redesign debuted with The Atlantic’s March 2013 issue, which is out now.

A Dual Challenge at TNR


Over at The New Republic, Dirk Barnett had a dual challenge. Not only did he need to completely overhaul the magazine’s look, but he had to do it with a format that accommodated a bi-weekly production schedule and a small staff. (The New Republic comes out 20 times a year—twice as often as The Atlantic.)

“The New Republic has never had a creative director in its entire 99-year history,” explains Barnett, “so it’s exciting to have this opportunity to bring a strong visual language to the brand. Frank Foer and Chris Hughes understand that smart design equals great business. Chris started Facebook, and that has one of the most iconic design voices in recent history. Our focus right now is building up a memorable brand experience.”

Most notable of the changes to the magazine is the heavier cover stock and inside paper (not to mention a liberal use of metallic ink). Gone is the dry, dutiful old feel of The New Republic, replaced with a look that is contemporary, engaging, and sometimes even fun.

The design is modern and digital-feeling, and the new logo is bold, built to work well across platforms large and small.

Barnett mixes this very contemporary design style with analog imagery, like the calligraphy for The Mall section opener, and many illustrations with a hand-drawn feel. He’s added white space, texture, and variety to the front of the book. There are nods to some of the things that Bloomberg Businessweek has done so well, most notably on a recent double-page chart devoted to Charles Schumer, with what seems like hundreds of little black and white headshots. The senior U.S. Senator from New York has never looked cooler, or more interesting.

Barnett explains the new design: “The New Republic has extremely rich, smart content, and our overall goal was to meet that with very smart design and art direction. We are just trying to have some fun, and do some great work when we can.”

The New Republic’s back section is highly formatted to deal with accelerated publishing deadlines (Barnett points out that this section closes before the rest of the magazine). The section begins with a splash page that features a beautiful full-page illustration of an ampersand, done with a handcrafted feel, in the way that The New York Times’s T magazine used to open its feature well each month with a variation of the distinctive black letter T. Many of the back-of-book pages are full text with no entry points; it’s a testimony to the strength and elegance of Barnett’s new design that even those pages look graceful and inviting.

The feature design is much more freeform and expansive, a place where graphic statements are being made. The almost all-white two-page spread opener of the cover story in the February 25 issue (the second of the redesign) features a giant two-word headline (“Original Sin”), a very short subhead and byline, and no image. Through pull quotes, sidebars, timelines, and photos, Barnett moves the reader through the features, even the very text-heavy ones, with expert precision.

There’s a new approach to the cover design, too. In the past The New Republic covers have been strongly illustration-based. But the first three issues of the new look featured a powerful, intimate portrait of Barack Obama by photographer Chris Buck, an all-white homage to The Beatles White Album LP (“The Republicans”), and a gorgeous, futuristic type treatment by typographic illustrator Sean Freeman.

Like Crooks at The Atlantic, Barnett has redesigned and reintroduced a colophon to The New Republic. The magazine’s classic sailing ship logo has been brought up to date and appears as an accent throughout the magazine. I sense a battle of the magazine colophons in the near future, or perhaps a new category in the publication design competitions.

The New Republic website redesign was done by Hard Candy Shell, with some input from Barnett (he calls their work “inspiring”). But moving forward, he’s got his hands on the entire brand: “The four of us in the art department really operate as an in-house design studio. We design the magazine, the tablet, maintain the look and design of the website, the signage and collateral for our events, etc.”

According to Barnett, the design of the iPad version of the magazine heavily influenced the print edition: “We kept asking, ‘How will this look on the tablet?’, and many of the design elements we cooked up were driven by the answer to that question.”

That’s something I found to be true when I was working at Reader’s Digest: the iPad app oftentimes informs the print edition, both in design and in the general way that the magazine is put together. The Atlantic and The New Republic have both made smart moves by hiring creative directors who not only have been able to completely overhaul their respective magazine’s visual identity, but who also understand the new nature of graphic branding, and who can extend those new visual identities across multiple platforms in an exciting way.

 

 

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