Will Hopkins: More Than Pretty Pages; American Health Designer Merges Art and Editorial in High-Impact Spreads

By Frichtl, Paul | Folio: the Magazine for Magazine Management, October 1987 | Go to article overview

Will Hopkins: More Than Pretty Pages; American Health Designer Merges Art and Editorial in High-Impact Spreads


Frichtl, Paul, Folio: the Magazine for Magazine Management


Will Hopkins: More than pretty pages

Art for art's sake has little place in consumer magazines, contends magazine designer Will Hopkins. Readers, he says, aren't looking for pretty pictures or for the ultimate in health or fashion prose--they're looking for information. In his view, communication is paramount to art direction.

This through understanding of readers and magazines makes Hopkins more than a page designer. He is, according to his peers, who recently awarded him the Society of Publication Designers' Herb Lubalin Award, one of the great graphic communicators of the magazine business.

At the same time, Hopkins is an entrepreneur. As founder of a design firm, the Hopkins Group, he is one of only a handful of major art directors working independently and exclusively on publications. He has been a founding partner in the launches of American Photographer and American Health and is currently on the mastheads of American Health and Mother Earth News. But at any given time he and his partner Ira Friedlander may be involved in several other consumer magazine designs and redesigns. Past redesigns include Food & Wine, Sports Afield, Geo, Horizon, Money, World Tennis and Dun's Business Month.

Throughout it all, Hopkins, soft-spoken and unpretentious, has been a leading champion of the art director as editor. Peers and associates credit him with giving art directors a voice that extends beyond typography and photo cropping, and into editorial planning.

"Will's been at the forefront of changing editors' perceptions of what an art director does,' says Robert Ciano, art director at Travel & Leisure, and formerly of Life. "He has demanded active involvement in all editorial aspects of the magazines he has worked on, and has been very out-spoken about the art director's role.'

Pared to the essence

Hopkins' style of art direction is simple and direct--dramatic, but with little adornment. Many art directors, by contrast, work hard at cultivating a style, which ends up stamped on every design they create, notes Melissa Tardiff, art director at Town & Country. "Will doesn't over-direct,' she says. "He doesn't get in the way of the presentation of his work.'

"He's pared it down to the essence of communicating information,' adds Ciano. "Too many designers think drama lies in obscure manipulations and a lot of overdesign. Will almost strips away the decorative aspects of the design. You can strip things away and come up with boredom, or you can strip things away and make the product so direct and finely tuned that it communicates much faster.'

A typical American Health opening spread, for example, carries a single-subject photo on the right--so large, it often bleeds across the spread. Heads-- "Tension Relief,' "Pasta Primer,' "About Cabbage'--are large, concise and direct. And on each page, text is broken out into sidebars, converted to call-out captions, or punctuated with frequent subheads and bullets.

Hopkins is a firm believer in a meaty editorial well--in pushing ads to the front and back of the magazine to give features room to run full length. This strategy, he says, establishes order and creates a stable, comfortable environment for the reader. Moreover, his pages, based on a grid of 12 vertical columns, have, he says, a consistent basic structure, flexible enough to accommodate all magazine work. Once that firm, structured layout is in place, he notes, "you can decide what is going to step into that environment and change things to make the article more interesting and exciting.'

Frequently, Hopkins prefers graphics to "step in'--even to the point of replacing text--if the picture is, indeed, worth more than 1,000 words. For instance, an American Health feature, "Journey down the digestive tract,' began as a two-part series with 16 pages of text alone. Working with editor T. George Harris, Hopkins transformed the piece to a double gatefold illustration with a half-dozen call-out captions, a sidebar and only two pages of text. …

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