Trends in magazine design

by SIMON BROWN, &&& CREATIVE

September 2015

Some trends are inspired by pure design aesthetic, others are being formed by designers who are reflecting on the changing reading and purchasing habits of their audiences. These trends are challenging the idea ‘what is a magazine.’

Trends in their truest form are a development or change. If we, as designers, are to appreciate or even recognise a trend we are required to understand the prerequisite for change. Yes, in magazine design it has typically been spearheaded by visionary art directors or at best a collaborative synergy between an art director and editor that inspires something magical. The current ‘post print is dead’ climate has invigorated magazine design, returning it to its roots. As magazine makers we now have audiences who are consuming content differently and in new ways. We are now able to think the unthinkable with the design we produce having a far wider reach.

 

Some trends are inspired by pure design aesthetic, others are being formed by designers who are reflecting on the changing reading and purchasing habits of their audiences. These trends are challenging the idea ‘what is a magazine.’

This new era is punctuated by publications like Print Isn’t Dead, Element #003, emphatically debunking the concept that the iPad, or latterly the phablet, killed print. It embraces the digital world and changing print technology by offering bespoke personalised covers that are produced when ordering your copy online. Something that Wallpaper started back in 2010 with design your own cover for the super special August Handmade issue.

We have seen an upsurge in the importance of the physicality of a magazine. Back in 2010 Creative Review launched a “redesign with a new size, new paper, new typography and, yes, a new logo”. It set a new understanding that the tactile nature of print can and does set a tone, promoting and enriching the virtues of the printed magazine.

In essence physicality can be a differentiator, but when it’s right it not only makes you want to keep it, it compliments the message tone and value of a magazine and a brand. This understanding was previously reserved to fanzines that playfully used physicality to their advantage. From size, to stock, to print finish physicality is a trend that has real momentum.

Now printers, paper manufactures, art directors appreciate and recognise the value that physicality offers. This is ever so apparent in the newly launched The Escapist by the editors and bureaux of Monocle magazine whose contents page reads; ‘Contents, Key to Writers, Paper Partners.’ A quick look through the shelves of a well known London magazine shop highlights this trend. The elongated A4 format of Dash, the illustrated fashion magazine, with its altering stock that aids navigation and content type to Kin by Mama&Papas whose smaller size format and uncoated stock connects with the lives of busy modern parents. There are plenty more magazines which are now embracing different paper stocks and finishes. We are now seeing the rise of uncoated or matt paper stocks across all genres. With some content agencies pushing the boundaries of a conventional magazine into something special.

The fall and now rise of the magazine art director is a fundamental trend in a new era of magazine design. The fall was set by the rise of digital, coupled by the downscaling of print production crafts within the publishing sector. The rise has seen a new type of art director, one who understands print, digital, the changing landscape and most importantly where they fit in. Some like Tony Chambers at Wallpaper have transformed into editors. Others like Matt Willey have been able to re-invigorate magazine design, notable through his redesign of the RIBA journal and most recently the New York Times Magazine. Rob Boynes' print knowledge and foresight has improved digital, which he shares in his lecture ‘Why the page is preventing innovation in magazine user experience.’

Art Directors are now addressing the demands on a magazine cover, which has to now work not purely as a window to content but also a navigational tool and brand messenger. Art has come back to the cover with artists like Hattie Stewart’s defacing of Interview, Vogue, The Face, Playboy and iD not only bringing humour to magazine covers but also bringing an awareness of how wonderful editorially-led communication covers can, and should, be. This trend sees a wider diversity of cover designs, in some instances this sees a move away from the singular image, in others it sees a move away from cover lines. What it does show is that there is a now a diversification in magazine cover design from illustration to photography to, sometimes, just colour or sophisticated use of typography.

We now see a trend for information graphics to do more. With people like David McCandless who produced the book Information is Beautiful, are inspiring art directors to produce information graphics that visualise complex editor data into wonderfully illustrated articles. There has been a return to typography and the fundamentals of a grid. Which is now starting to translate to digital. You will see the resurgence of the drop cap, the impact of opening features and magazines that challenge the conventions of the order of a magazine.

Not all trends are good and one such trend is the globalised trend of adopting English-language magazine grid structures. We see languages with longer than average word lengths adopting what they preserve to be a magazine’s look and feel. However this is of a concern as the grid should be appropriate not only for content but also language. The question it raises for designers, brands and audiences is: How do we produce appropriate localised design in a magazine format?

There is sometimes an inkling of a trend, one such is the definition and use of a masthead (for those reading this in the US I’m referring to the name plate). Historically the position of the masthead is at the top of a magazine. This was due to the way magazines where stacked on newsstands: typically displayed in front of each other on a staggered shelving system.  Today we have a diverse set of distribution outlets and are starting to see magazines that challenge this convention. The importance of the masthead to symbolically deliver a brand and be an identifier is not in question. It is the subsequent print digital usage where we will see a new trend start. With digitally friendly mastheads or adaptable sequences of mastheads that are instantly recognisable.

Another inkling is that magazines will diversify and produce offshoots based on their success. Much like newspapers started to produce weekly magazines we will see a niche for smaller more dedicated magazine hybrids like the ‘mook’ (a magazine combined with a book), the ‘maguide’ (a magazine combined with a guide),  and possibly the ‘magmanac’ (a magazine combined with an almanac).

In essence the trends in magazine design have made magazine better at visually communicating great stories, as people expect more from the print magazine.