A Pretty Good Spoon

A magazine is a product. It's a tactile object. It's designed for a purpose. The organization of a magazine is predicated on the form to some extent, and short pieces are up front because advertisers want prime adjacencies. The meat is in the middle. The experience of sitting with a magazine and going through that sandwich structure can't really be replicated outside of a book format yet. Thought of as a spoon, a magazine is a pretty good spoon, we posited, and asked some influential designers how magazines can keep doing what magazines do best. -JC

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"I think, overall, print magazine design has changed for the better. Most major publications understand the value of good art direction and good design. I do lament the loss of illustration as a major design element."

"But the current circulation and advertising problems in the print media are no longer solvable by redesign and editorial repositioning. The new generation of potential readers has moved on."

Walter Bernard
Former art director, New York magazine and Time; and, as a consultant with his business partner Milton Glaser, has designed or redesigned dozens of newspapers and magazines

"They try jam words and pictures on every square-inch of the page like they're working on a Web site, and say, 'People buy the magazine to read, for information.' Well, you buy a magazine not only for that but so you can have an exciting visual experience. Very few magazines do you look through and you open a spread and it takes your breath away a little bit."

"Even a great magazine like Vanity Fair, which every month I have to read, I don't read for a visual experience. Most people don't even attempt to get that visceral feeling."

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"You've got editors and publishers that are just saying 'Fill the fucking page up with stuff.' It's as simple as that. I mean I heard Grayden Carter say, 'People are paying five bucks; get some stuff in there.'"

"I see this as an effect of the Internet, by the fact that you got information all over the place. And you've got to have as much information in the magazine as when you go to the Internet. It can't happen. That's not the name of the game anyway."

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"When I did the Esquire covers you picked it up and said, "Holy shit. I've got to get inside this magazine. All I was trying to do was say to the world, 'Hey this magazine is hot stuff.' And to prove it, look at this statement about what the issue was about. All I was doing was package design for the magazine."

"The design was the idea. You're knocked down by the idea, and it's got complete clarity visually."

"Why do you put all those cover lines on? They say, 'Well, if I don't get somebody interested in this, I'll get somebody interested in that one.' I'll never understand how editors and publishers think - showing just a famous person with blurbs all over their face. I'll never understand why that would be something people would want to buy. I don't get it."

George Lois
Legendary art director, designer and ad man; in 2008 the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan installed 38 of the iconic Esquire covers Lois created in its permanent collection

"Designers, with editors, have a fine control of the visual experience and narrative on static pages. In the hands of a good team, a directed narrative will be compelling and useful: order out of chaos."

"This control exists within the layout of a page, across a story and a complete issue. And the reader can choose to submit to this control or not; they can browse or skip ahead if they like."

"Yes, there are advantages to the Web but designers do not have near the level of visual control of the experience. Page widths change, fonts are limited and size relationships fluid. More often than not readers don't see an introduction or even a front cover: They jump in via search right to page 63. Of course there's sound and motion on the web. And it's faster - less throat clearing - but it's also less elegant. Perhaps the Apple tablet will change some of this."

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"In print magazines, the ads are a much more comfortable part of the mix. In fashion and design publications, the ads can be as important as editorial. The famous Vogue September Issue is a good example. The other extreme is specialist or hobbyist titles where the small ads provide utility and pleasure. A reader will spend time with these ads; it's part of the experience and there's simply no resentment factor."

Luke Hayman
Partner, Pentagram; Former design director at New York magazine; responsible for redesigns of Time, Consumer Reports and The Atlantic Monthly
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