Magazine article Communication World

Tracing the Circuitous Route of Publication Design

Magazine article Communication World

Tracing the Circuitous Route of Publication Design

Article excerpt

Two technological advances and a competing medium greatly altered the appearance of magazines after World War II, and, at the beginning of the 1990s, their impact continues to be felt. The medium, of course, is television, and to fight off its impact, magazines, including company and organizational magazines, have given more of their space over to art, shortened their articles, and enlivened their design.

While almost every magazine in every category adjusted to the television age and the short attention spans it fostered, The New Yorker moved blithely through the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s with its un-art-directed look, providing visual relief only through occasional spot illustrations and its celebrated gag cartoons (which the magazine has always called, simply, "drawings") and, of course, its collectible covers unmarred by cover lines or blurbs. Delighted to be able to stand out so dramatically from editorial matter, advertisers provided the only design flair and color. While the magazine, under new ownership, used some editorial color and dressed the front-of-the-book listings with innovative drawings or entertainers, it has nevertheless lost some of its luster from its Harold Ross and William Shawn days. As Hendrick Hertzberg observes in Gannett Center Journal, "...The New Yorker is no longer a kind of secular religion, as it once was. It is merely a magazine."

Offset Printing and Computers Changed Magazines

The technical advances that changed the look of magazines were offset lithography and the computer. Art directors welcomed offset lithography because, through pasteups, they enjoyed absolute control of placement, something not possible with letterpress. The pamphleteers of the 1960s carried offset's flexibility to its extremes, and some of what they did with type, art, and design influenced the establishment magazines.

Art directors less readily accepted the computer because they didn't want to abandon traditional tools that had served them well and because so much of what they saw coming from computers was in the form of design cliches: inevitable shadow boxes, excessive textures, intrusive geometric shapes, showboat typography. Gradually, art directors and designers took over from computer freaks, and the design and even the typography improved with these machines. Now it is the rare art director who doesn't do some work with a Mac or IBM PC if not a main-frame computer.

The art movements of the times, along with fashion, also affected the design of magazines. In their recently published Graphic Style (Abrams, New York), Steven Heller and Seymour Chwast catalog the various movements and show how they have affected graphic design in this century.

Designer Greg Paul sees magazine design now as having entered a postmodern period, citing Metropolitan Home, Savvy, New York, and Spy as examples. "In the tradition established by postmodern architects, the building materials are up-to-the-minute, but the facade is often decorated with antique design flourishes." Postmodern design, he notes in Magazine Design & Production, "substitutes anachronistic combinations of nostalgic design elements for the more formal, modern design elements."

Formats that magazines, newspapers, and books developed over the years lost some of their distinctions in the 1970s and 1980s as each medium borrowed from the other. The newsletter became a popular format, in some cases incorporating itself into magazines to help them departmentalize. In the 1980s, the frequent catalogs issued by Lands' End looked more and more like magazines, sometimes with bylined articles carried up front. The various stores issuing catalogs develop unique graphic styles. L. L. Bean's catalogs enjoyed such familiarity that a book publisher brought out a couple of parody versions. The first of this genre, perhaps, was the Whole Earth Catalog published in the early '70s.

Many Magazines of the '70s Died Looking Good

The past two decades brought a restlessness to magazines that encouraged a variety of design approaches. …

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