Reader's Digest Gets a Fresh New Redesign

Reader's Digest Gets a Fresh New Redesign
Reader's Digest recently completed a fantastic new redesign of the classic American brand.  Starting with an updated look for the cover, Design Director Dean Abatemarco and crew redesigned virtually every page of the magazine and its website, tablet, and iphone editions.  
SPD recently spoke with Dean about this major design update.  He gives us some insight into the process and a peek at some of his team's work on the January issue.  

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The seeds for this latest redesign of Reader's Digest magazine were sown almost two years ago, when the former creative director, Bob Newman, and I were working on a project for our 90th anniversary. We were going through the RD archives and were both struck by how simple and elegant the design of RD was in its glory days of the '30s, '40s, and '50s. So when the redesign began in earnest earlier this year, part of the mission we had in mind was to return to the spirit of the classic RD look, but through a modern lens. 


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This was much more than just a magazine redesign, however, as we were interested in remaking the entire RD brand. We contracted with the agency DiMassimo Goldstein (DIGO) for help in that effort. Working in concert with DIGO, we came up with the basic elements (fonts, color palettes, logos, etc.) of the new look. The biggest challenge was creating the new logo and cover look. We knew we wanted a modern take on the old table-of-contents covers and a logo that was reminiscent of the classic logo. The "flap" design, with its modular blocks of cover lines, struck the right chord. On the subscriber editions, the flap is a removable bookmark with the full cover image beneath. The new logo--with the emphasis once again on the word Reader's and its subtle nod to the beautiful sweeping R of the classic logo--also felt right. 

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The next big challenge was to adapt all the best new design ideas into a workable magazine format. One of the inspirations in creating the new format was a redesign that Roger Black's studio did for RD in the late '90s. There was a simplicity in that design that helped to inform our new direction. In addition to a visual makeover, this new RD also represents a major editorial restructuring. There are new sections, columns, and departments, as well as revisited and revived classics, with less emphasis on bite-sized content and more emphasis on straight reads, some short, some long. We evaluated the illustration and photography, as well, and by working with inspiration boards, we honed and defined specific guardrails for each new section, column, department, etc. We refined and limited our color palette and font families throughout, as well, and changed our paper to a thicker, whiter, matte-finish stock. The overall effect is a much more reader-friendly, quieter magazine experience. Our intention was to create an experience that is a haven from the onslaught of visual media rather than to try to compete with it. So far, our readers have responded with overwhelmingly positive comments about the changes. 

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But the print magazine redesign is only half the story! We also rebuilt all of our tablet editions from the ground up. Again with an eye toward a simpler reading experience, we abandoned our old snap-page, stack format in favor of a new "single page" format with scrolling text blocks. By scrolling within the page, we are able to maintain the pinch-and-zoom feature that is very important to our readers. We have also unveiled a brand-new app for the iPhone. This was developed in conjunction with the Brothers Mueller and Studio Mercury. Based on a WordPress platform, the idea was to take the same simple structure we created for the print magazine and translate it to this new format in a way that would require the least amount of effort. Studio Mercury developed a plugin for WordPress for us that utilizes HTML tagging to automatically translate each issue into the new iPhone format. 

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The last part of the puzzle was the rd.com website and all our social media outlets, which all got a refresh as well. All this work was done concurrently, and there was a lot of experimentation, with one format influencing the development of the others. We are very pleased with the final result: a simple, easy-to-use, easy-to-read user experience that is consistent in design and function across all platforms. 
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Fonts
Display: Leitura News and Leitura Display
Secondary sans: Gotham
Body Text: Utopia Standard
 
Reader's Digest Art staff:
Design Director: Dean Abatemarco
Art Director: Marti Golon
Photo Director: Rebecca Simpson Steele
Photo Editor: Emilie Harjes
Associate Art Director: Lauren Stine
Assistant Art Director: Jennifer Klein
Art & Photo Assistant: Alexa Speyer
Digital Production Director: Jeff Nesmith
Digital Designer (rd.com): Michael Hipwell
Digital Design Associate: Jonah Schrogin
Digital Design & Photo Assistant: Emma Kapotes

Additional Contributors:
Designer: Jay Dea
Template Specialist: Sharon Eng
DiMassimo Goldstein (DIGO), Creative Director: Ty Wong
Studio Mercury, Creative Directors: The Brothers Mueller 



  • Alex Probst Pruneda

    Looks amazing, fresh... love it

  • Roger_Black

    Congratulations to Dean Abatemarco and the whole team on this redesign. And thanks for the hat tip. Of course my inspiration back in the 90s was the design of the great Bradbury Thompson in the 60, with its Baskerville text and bookish layout.

    • Love it that “Reader’s” is the big word in the logo again. What fool threw out the longtime logo, and made “Digest” big?!

    • Good solution to put the contents on the cover as a transparent “flap.”

    • Haunting to see a firefighter on the first cover. We put a (female) firefighter on the first redesign cover in 90s—with the intention of using real people covers going forward.

    This work proves that a great old magazine has some design DNA that you can work with—even exploit.Readers own a magazine, not publishers. They pay for it every issue. Thus, publication designers' clients should be the readers.

    The core memory of Readers Digest has been summoned up here. DeWitt Wallace would be pleased. The question is: Do the current editors and business folk have the nerve to restore the original idea of the magazine—a quick-read collection of the 30 most interesting stories of the last month? It can still work, even after 20 years of self-dismemberment.

    Let's wish them the best for 2014.

  • Neil Jamieson

    "Readers own a magazine, not publishers. They pay for it every issue. Thus, publication designers' clients should be the readers."- Thats going on the wall! Wise words Roger, and thanks for your insight on the redesign

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