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Tracing the circuitous route of publication design.

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. A couple of years before the 1970s began, Bernard Quint, then art director of Life, observed that "The use of design for its own sake has increased in contemporary magazines in direct ratio to the lack of content." Moreover, the scramble to redesign became most evident among those magazines on the verge of collapse. By the 1970s, some editors had assigned to design magical properties that, alas, it did not have. Many magazines died looking good.

Lithopinion, the defunct graphic arts and public affairs quarterly of Local One, Amalgamated Lithographers of America, changed its size and format from issue to issue "to illuminate the versatility of lithography by example." Kaiser News, a trend setter from the corporate world, kept to a standard size (8 1/2 " x 11 " ) but, under the inspired art direction of Bob Conover, constantly tried new design approaches. Readers could look forward to variety not unlike that art directors find in the inventive brochures put out by the paper manufacturers. The magazine also constantly switched printers and publication frequency. "What we are striving for is continuity through change," said the late Don Fabun, who was editor. Selected issues of Kaiser News were republished in book form, titled "The Dynamics of Change."

Among general magazines, if not corporate publications, the 1970s saw a moving away from the grid and ubiquitous Helvetica typefaces. A reaction against Helvetica was bound to set in. Peter Rauch, once art director of Money, said he would never specify Helvetica outside the borders of Switzerland." He pointed out that Roman faces are "more humanistic." For a poster announcing the availability of ITC's version of Garamond at Typographics, a typesetting firm, designer jack Summerford featured a giant "Helvetica"-set, of course, in Garamond.

New Type Faces, a Mixed Blessing

Because new technology made new typefaces relatively easy to design, art directors during the past two decades faced a bewildering variety of choices, A new face came out nearly every week. And some faces duplicated existing faces. It was impossible to keep track of the faces and remember their names. Many of the new faces were variations of the classic faces. Some were self-conscious and destined for a short life.

Souvenir, a kind of bow-legged Roman, gained a lot of converts when it was introduced. It has character, but its popularity waned, In his biweekly column "Frank Talk" in TypeWorld, Frank Romano often includes snide comments about Souvenir. When the Baltimore Orioles made a dismal start for the 1988 baseball season, he wrote: "The Orioles have selected Souvenir as their official typeface." Earlier he suggested that the face was tacky enough to fit a Madonna album.

Typeface choice can make a difference. In the last days of the New York Herald Tribune , art director Peter Palazzo talked editors into moving from Bodoni Bold, the ever present newspaper headline face, to Caslon by lettering a four-letter word in both. In Caslon, the four-letter word actually looked classy.

Dugold Stermer as art director of Ramparts used Times Roman for headlines and body copy because "It's a pretty typeface." He proved that a magazine could be radical without resorting to black, urgent typography. He wanted a book look for the magazine. "We pick type and art that, like the articles, will last," he said in a 1968 interview.

Not many magazines were willing to take the dramatic step The New Republic took in 1959 when it hired Noel Martin, associated with the Cincinnati Art Museum, for a redesign job that used a single typeface, the then new Palatino, for everything in the book: titles, body copy, captions. Nor has The New Republic over the years been willing to stay with the classic format Martin introduced. (It's worth a library trip to compare the handsome New Republic of the early 1960s with current issues.)

Mags Move to Bigger, but Fewer Photos

The past two decades saw a new respect for art. Editors and art directors ran larger photographs than before, and in many magazines they appeared in ROP full color. Sports Illustrated stands in as a good example of the move to large photographs. Of course, on many magazines large photographs came with a penalty: fewer photographs. This made the selection process all the more crucial.

Unfortunately, captions going with the photographs did not always get the attention from magazines that other editorial matter got. Too often caption writing became a last-minute chore, the photographer not being around to aid in identification. National Review in 1981 spotted a caption correction in Community Life and reprinted it as a filler; "Mai Thai Finn is one of the students in the program and was in the center of the photo. We incorrectly listed her as one of the items on the menu."

Color Graphics Proliferate in the Eighties

Illustrations, taking a cue from op-ed-page art in the New York Times and other major newspapers, became more devoted to concept, less to decoration. David Suter, with his double-meaning woodcut style, and Guy Billout, with his flat and moody abstractions, best exemplify the new approach. The memorable covers George Lois did for Esquire in the 1960s changed the way art directors approached their cover-art assignments.

With USA Today providing the impetus, the 1980s brought a proliferation of art pieces designed to put information, especially statistical information, into more manageable, more dramatic form than what was possible in text matter alone. Better than mere words, they showed, among other things, sizes, quantities, qualities, divisions, structure, organization, movement, processes, trends, areas, and locations. Known generally now as "information graphics," the pieces took the form of charts and graphs, maps, and diagrams.

The big problem in chartmaking was that, for company magazines at least, the creators were designers or artists with little or no familiarity with statistics. An artist who had to make a chart could identify with Charles Lamb, the English essayist. "In everything that relates to science, I am a whole encyclopedia behind the rest of the world." Fortunately, there was the computer with all kinds of software to make charts visually accurate if not aesthetically satisfying.

"New Wave" design with its overuse of lines and dots, mortises, diagonal as well as scattered thrusts, and nose-thumbing letterspacing-in short, its celebration of amateurism-subsided somewhat in the 1980s, but the fashion magazines continued on a design binge. Always trendy, they were also experimental. What you saw done with type and photographs in, say Mademoiselle, you were not likely to see done in Scientific American, Audubon, or Smithsonian. Elle, which originated in France and made its debut in the United States in 1985, showed that a fashion magazine could be bold and spritely and still have an elegance about it.

Some of the most exciting design of the 1980s could be seen in specialized publications. The editors of specialized magazines, realizing that their readers were accustomed to visual stimulation from sources other than magazines, attempted to make their magazines as interesting to look at as the new films, the new products, the new paintings. These editors didn't have to buck tradition. They served homogeneous audiences. They had less to lose.

One of the most instructive groups of magazines to watch were the company magazines. Some of the very best graphic design could be found in this group-and some of the very worst. In one respect, these magazines were an art director's dream. They carried no advertising around which editorial matter had to wrap. The design theme could run through without interruption. That many company magazines had no flair could be attributed to the fact that their budgets precluded hiring art directors. Herb Lubalin, who designed a number of beautiful magazines, said in an interview that he didn't think it was possible for editors to do their own designing. "They're bad enough as editors."

Many art directors seemed no longer content merely to lay out pages. They argued that for a magazine to be effective both verbally and visually, its art director must be involved in planning as well as production stages. Some art directors said that if they couldn't play a policy role, they would quit.

Of course, someone had to have the final say, and that someone had to be the editor. When Michael Parrish resigned in 1975 as editor of the weekly City Magazine of San Francisco, the San Francisco Sunday Examiner and Chronicle quoted a pleased art director, Mike Salisbury, as saying, "It's a really beautiful thing. We are all taking pictures, writing articles, and contributing in various ways. We don't have the traditional editorial hierarchy anymore." City Magazine didn't last long.

Much of the beauty of the printed page rested with printing quality and paper stock. Company magazines like Access, published by Northern Telecom Inc., and JD Journal, published by Deere and Company, excelled in these areas, but they were also well designed.

Adopting a book look, some magazines found that properly set classic typefaces, centered art, generous concentrations of white space, consistent ink impression, and the feel and even the smell of coated stock were a combination difficult to improve upon. A publication with these qualities commands respect if not attention. Former US Surgeon General C. Everett Koop reported in 1989 that he used such design for his controversial preliminary report on AIDS in order to get it past a first-level, hard-nosed committee. The tactic worked. The wording looked too chiseled-in-stone for committee members to change.

More design styles coexist today than ever before, and each cries out for attention. A certain hysteria seems to have gripped designers and art directors as they set out to capture the attention of badly distracted readers.

The new freedom brings some intriguing configurations to magazine pages, but at some expense to readability. Joan Wilking, president of Cartouche, a design firm, tells of overhearing two young design students at a design show. They were talking about type, paper, and color used in an annual report that was on display. The combination resulted in type that was almost impossible to read. One student wondered about the lack of regard shown the reader. "Who cares whether you can read it or not?" the second student said. "It's just boring financial stuff."

Some new designers need to face up to editorial restrictions. The late Charles Eames, who designed the much imitated Eames lounge chair and ottoman which look as contemporary today as when they were introduced in 1955, is quoted in The Conrad Directory of Design (Stephen Bayley, editor) as saying that Affluence offers the kind of freedom I am deeply suspicious of. It offers freedom from restraint, and virtually it is impossible to do something without restraints ... when somebody is on the ball he eliminates choices and establishes limits for himself ... We have to rediscover limitations."
COPYRIGHT 1990 International Association of Business Communicators
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1990, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:International Association of Business Communicators: 1970 - 1990: Section 1: Vision to reality
Author:Nelson, Roy Paul
Publication:Communication World
Date:May 1, 1990
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