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Jandos Rothstein

Poultry in Motion

Jandos Rothstein Design and Production - 02/19/2008-12:16 PM

Jessica Helfand takes on farming magazines, from 1878 to DJ Stout’s redesign of Dairy Today, on Design Observer.

Jandos Rothstein

Was Wig Wag as Influential as Spy?

Jandos Rothstein Design and Production - 02/11/2008-14:22 PM

Wig Wag's 1988 launch came within a month of Spy's, but the latter is better remembered. Spy is memorialized in books and on Web sites, it's editors have gone on to successful publishing careers, and you still hear its name mentioned in magazine and design circles. Wig Wag has (arguably been) nearly as influential, but it lives on (as far as I can tell) only as a brief Wikipedia entry and a few other scattered web references.

There are lots of reasons for this. Spy was the louder and brasher magazine—it cheerfully went about making enemies among New York's rich and powerful. Spy's editorial and design influences were more varied and harder to pin down than Wig Wag's (which was clearly directly influenced by the New Yorker where the editor and many of the staff had worked). And, Wig Wag's post-modern pages have not aged nearly so well as Spy's. The specific visual language Spy pioneered live on in dozens of magazines including New York, Vanity Fair and Radar. Wig Wag's impact is not seen in a few easily identified tropes such as Spy's disembodied floating heads.

But, Wig Wag was equally ahead of its time. It took the New Yorker's sophisticated news and and literary approach and used it to create a visual magazine in the contemporary sense-it used infographic conventions for literary storytelling, achieving an integration of imagery and text that was rare for its day, but has since become expected. Wig Wag's methods are now visible in most large newsstand magazines—Wired, New York (again) Maxim and lots more.

Editor Lex Kaplen and Art Director Paul Davis saw graphic possibilities for a literary magazine that are still unequaled by the graphically fumbling New Yorker—which has successfully updated its art direction and writing but now seems awkwardly stuck between its storied typographical tradition and current fashion—publishing a design that is neither classic nor engaging to a contemporary reader.

Check out images of the interior sections—including the T.O.C. and fiction layouts—here.

[Editor's note: For more intelligent design talk, buy Jandos' new book.]

Jandos Rothstein

'Times' Ten

Jandos Rothstein Design and Production - 01/30/2008-14:14 PM

I’ve been reluctant to write about Janet Froelich for fear of coming off like a freshman painting student conceding some small admiration for the work of Picasso. Her art direction of the New York Times magazine is legendary, as well as a continuous source of inspiration to the publishing design community. So, I won’t blubber on much.

Nevertheless, I thought Sunday’s cover package was spectacular. Using a relatively restrictive vocabulary of well-worn iconography (maps, globes) She and photo illustrator Kevin Van Aelst push the language in all kinds of unexpected and innovative ways to talk about waning U.S. influence. There are a couple of other stunning spreads in the issue as well. First, the opener and a subsequent spread…

Style section, with blurry photograph by Julian Schnabel ...

... and a gentle typographical homage to art deco.

Jandos Rothstein

Golfweek's Bland Rage

Jandos Rothstein Design and Production - 01/24/2008-14:50 PM

Lots of buzz online about the termination of editor Dave Seanor over this cover, which refers to a thoughtlessly stupid remark by golf anchor Kelly Tighman.

It’s worth noting that the controversy over this cover is inextricably wrapped up in its conceptual quality. The insipid stock image brings nothing to the package that isn’t explicit in the headline. The noose may be a loaded cliché, but that doesn’t mean it’s not just as tiresome on a magazine cover as any other over-used icon.

Now, clichés have their place, and all visual communicators must rely on them (at least once in a while) because they provide a shared visual language. But the trouble with using them unthinkingly and without a context that makes them story-specific is that either they’re boring and obvious–or they convey unintended meanings—or both.

If the noose (or better yet a net—”Caught in a Net” works just as well, once you aren’t relying on the noose to provide a link to Tighman’s quote) was clearly catching a television set showing Tighman on the golf channel—it might not have been wonderful (especially if the new cover maintained the phony small caps and clunky outlining on the headline), but it’s hard to imagine it getting the same strongly negative reaction as the generic “ominous noose” pictured here. And, if nothing else, a reader would have known—just by looking—that this is a media story.

[Editor's note: For more intelligent design talk, buy Jandos' new book.]

Jandos Rothstein

New York's New Section Design Explained

Jandos Rothstein Design and Production - 01/15/2008-12:17 PM

Print has a short behind-the-scenes look at New York’s recent section reshuffling:

There’s been some sadness around this office that New York decided to get rid of their High Priority feature, a half-page graphic that opened their listings section each week. Created by a different designer every issue, High Priority showed off the talents of designers new and established, with the only restriction being that the design be done in red, black, and white.* Chris Dixon, the magazine’s design director, jokes that they “ran out of typographers” after three years, but adds on a more serious note that High Priority had a tendency to be “a little removed [from what the magazine was actually recommending] for the reader’s good.”


Dixon and his team also bumped the crossword puzzle a few pages and introduced a new back page infographic, Artifact, which the magazine's editors describes as “pure observation, a moment grabbed and preserved.” Dixon adds that they “had been looking for the perfect end note to the magazine for a year or so,” and that “this seemed to be the best way to finish off the experience of the issue.”

More here ...

[Editor's note: For more intelligent design talk, buy Jandos' new book.]

Jandos Rothstein

Time and Der Spiegel: Suspiciously Similar?

Jandos Rothstein Design and Production - 01/07/2008-10:46 AM

We closed up Germanica week at Designing Magazines with a look at a 1965 Der Spiegel which has a design suspiciously similar to the look Time sported through the earlier half of the last decade.

Linear layout throughout—with one story flowing into the next, diminutive Futura headlines, and identically unwavering three-column grids, as in these spreads from 1965 (Der) and 1964 (Time). And of course, both magazines use a cheerful red frame on their covers, a device that remains constant to this day.

I guess I shouldn't say it's suspicious—I really don't know who's cribbing whom, if anyone. To be fair, there were only four or five typefaces before 1974, so occasional overlap was inevitable. And, as both were letterpressed news magazines, form is following function and all that in both cases. Still, the two pubs seem remarkably close.

This does raise the question, however of how close the current versions of Der S and Time are—not much, since Time’s celebrated redesign a while back. But Spiegel doesn’t look much different than Time looked in the mid-90s—although DS doesn’t use Time’s signature Franklin #2 for headlines, they use heads in a similar way, and the font they do employ has a similar presence on the page.

If Der Spiegel's next redesign is all clean, austere and stripped down—we’ll know for sure something is up with these two. Though I doubt that Time would ever run that monospaced typewriter font DS uses on this cover—a particularly sour note on an otherwise merely uninspired photo illustration cover. In contrast Time's contemporary covers are often brilliant pieces of spare visual haiku.

[Editor's note: For more intelligent design talk, buy Jandos' new book.]

Jandos Rothstein

The Opposite of an In-Flight Magazine?

Jandos Rothstein Design and Production - 12/14/2007-11:30 AM

Every once in a while you come across a magazine so specialized that it just takes your breath away—how wonderful when it’s a consumer title to boot.

Airports of the World, which sits on the old stump at the crossroad of airplane and architecture geekdom, is one such glossy, which I couldn’t bring myself to buy but photographed with my cell phone at B. Dalton’s. To me, the British magazine promises all the excitement of a 14-hour layover, and very nearly delivers it, with sleepy-time articles and layouts as constipated as you’d be after three consecutive concourse meals, but clearly someone is reading it and more power to them. Airports of the World is this week’s proof certain that magazines are alive and well.

More here ...

Jandos Rothstein

Finding Design Ideas, And Shameless Self-Promotion, In New Annual Mag

Jandos Rothstein Design and Production - 12/10/2007-18:54 PM

4c is a new English-language annual from Belgium dedicated to the proposition that what’s important in life is only skin-deep. This is appropriate I suppose—the glossy, a new foray into publishing from Techni-Coat International, a manufacturer of plastic coatings knows the value of the superficial. If there is no there there in 4c—the magazine bounces from travel to fashion to industrial design to self-promotion (The first feature—and there’s no FOB to speak of—profiles the company’s vice president), at least it’s all done quite stylishly. 4c fits into the class of new magazines doggedly determined to prove the value of print by doing things with varnishes, coatings, foldouts and die cuts that cannot be simulated on the (as it happens, really incredibly filthy) screen of my computer.

If 4c knows color, and all those expensive printing techniques that I, for one, am really jealous of (though for the life of me, I can’t think how they would benefit readers of the political magazine I call home) their type handling is another matter. body copy is in Gill Sans and headlines are in various weights of Helvetica Neue, creating a bit of a clash of cultures on the page. The humanist sans, basically Garamond without the tips and ticks, and the grand old Swiss Miss just do not play well together.

Beyond the joy in surface, gloss, and the tactile (and there’s pleasure to be found here, little of which translate to jpeg), there seems little glue holding the publication together, as it flips from topic to topic, except possibly really grandiose text. (Sample: Since forever it seems, beauty has been spoken of as being skin deep, a shallow conceit, a facade. The surface, while meaningful, is hardly of importance. If anything, it remains a superficial trait. Not so to the plastic surgeons among us, the building resurfacers; ditto to those in the business of plastic coatings...)

But, as with many new glossies, 4c is meant to be seen (and touched) and not heard. And it gratifies those senses a bit more pleasurably than Antenna and some of the other empty shells launched recently.

More here ...

[EDITOR'S NOTE: For more intelligent talk on magazine design, check out Jandos' brand-new book, Designing Magazines]

Jandos Rothstein

It's My 'Magazine in a Box'

Jandos Rothstein Design and Production - 12/05/2007-11:14 AM

Most magazine designers have come across references to the legendary Aspen—a multimedia-filled “magazine in a box” published between 1965 and 1971—though few have actually seen a copy. In addition to articles, Aspen included phonograph records and several issues came with Super-8’s. (For our younger readers, Super-8 was kind of an early Quicktime.) Well, the folks at Ubu have provided a tantalizing look at some of those Aspen pages. The images are not as large as a designer would ask for, and some of Ubu’s attempts at recreating the magazine as Web pages fall flat, but they do provide mp3s and streaming video for all of the publication’s multimedia content.

Read more here ...

Jandos Rothstein

Review: Esopus

Jandos Rothstein - 11/21/2007-12:15 PM

The arrival of a new Esopus is always cause for celebration. The current issue, which arrived on my doorstep on a recent afternoon, is no exception. What makes this magazine so remarkable?

Esopus uses-really uses-the tools of mass-production printing to create a publication that is a carefully orchestrated experience: a delight for mind, eyes and fingers. Subscribing to Esopus is a bit like receiving a quarterly artist's book with pockets, pullouts, changes in paper quality, gloss and translucency. These methods don't seem tacked-on, but are integral to the way the magazine tells stories-which are only occasionally traditional columnar narratives. Words and jpegs do not do the results justice.

Not everything in Esopus is brilliant (an inevitable artifact of an experimental and chance-taking approach), but it's never boring or predictable. From children's elaborate pictures of war scenes, to a look at beauty and social pressure through magazine covers, to the sense of artifact on every page, the magazine at once feels personal and topical. Editor Tod Lippy talks eloquently about what it takes to put an issue in AIGA's Fresh Dialogue 7.

Jandos Rothstein

Review: @issue: The Journal of Business and Design

Jandos Rothstein Design and Production - 11/21/2007-12:08 PM

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.

Jandos Rothstein

Brass Tacky

Jandos Rothstein Design and Production - 11/21/2007-12:00 PM

NPR's Marketplace did an intriguing piece on Brass magazine recently. Their report made the magazine sound like a sophisticated and sincere version of Young Money, which I wrote about a while back. (I had used the example of YM to look at how fuzzy editorial goals can result in a design that's equally unfocused.) My post inspired spirited debate, so I wanted to take a look at Brass for a bit of contrast. While Marketplace was very positive about the magazine, they were more interested in the success of the business than its editorial or design virtues.

Brass features have a one-page opener.

Actually, Brass is a bit better written than YM, but it too has a design that's all over the map, including the feature above which looks like a brochure for a overpriced and pretentious nightclub. Brass pages rely on goopy Photoshop and typographic gimmicks rather than a focused and appropriate design voice, and the weak images often have only a tenuous connection to articles. Like YM, Brass anneals its message of frugality and financial responsibility with the fantasy lifestyles of the rich, young and famous. Of course, part of the problem with both magazines may be that the personal finances of the young, unsung, and impoverished is just too boring a topic to build an exciting magazine out of. How desirable is a hard, realistic look at cash when your problem is you don't have any of it?