The Reader Comes First

The Reader Comes First POST_ICON_BENSON.jpgBy Robin Benson / Editor, Past Print
The spreads below are from publications that I think were designed with the reader in mind. I've seen too many pages where it's clear that the words and images have been handled in a bland and uninspiring way which doesn't pull the reader into the story. Open any magazine and it's the images the reader looks at first, photos, art or graphics, then the headline and intro. If these elements work the reader starts on the text.
      Look at these spreads and see how the ingredients work; in the case of Writer's Digest there isn't even color. They all show clean, unfussy typography, partly because (apart from the Radio Times) they were all produced pre-PC, where design changes were more complex than just keystroking and looking at the changes on a monitor.


Instant Cookery (art director Christopher Lumgair) was a clever editorial idea. Using packaged food and photographing the packs with the recipe might have convinced the publisher that this would pull in product advertisers but the magazine only last nine issues. I liked the layouts for their simplicity. Three columns for the recipe pages; the rest of the magazine used two, four and five columns with lots of pack shot cutouts.

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03 Instant Cookery.png04 Instant Cookery.png05 Instant Cookery.pngLook's issue for August 25, 1970 was a music special, and the spreads here are typical of the clean page design the magazine developed under the Art Director Allen Hurlburt and later Will Hopkins (who worked with Willy Fleckhaus on the German magazine twen). The large drop caps were used throughout the music section to tie the pages together and the use of white space was very unusual for a consumer title back then.
 
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The Potlatch Story from June 1985, designed by Kit Hinrichs for the Potlatch Paper Company was a house magazine, where the art folk didn't have to worry about ads spoiling the look of the pages. The paper forgery spread is just perfect with the right amount of text and images both cleverly interlocking because of the cutouts. Times Roman was the headline face used throughout the pages.
 
16 Potlach.png17 Potlach.png18 Potlach.png19 Potlach.pngWriter's Digest (art director Carol Buchanan) always appealed to me because it showed what is possible using black only and on paper just a bit better than newsprint. The cover for this March 1987 issue uses a semi-matte paper to carry four-color images to help it stand out on the newsstands. The interesting layout in the feature pages is the very narrow floating column, which gives a lot of flexibility and helps provide some space among all the text columns. The department pages use breakout boxes as the design feature. Heavy black and tone rules with a bold Futura provide plenty of contrast to the pages. Despite a low art budget the title is full of visual interest.
 
26 Writer's.png27 Writer's.png28 Writer's.png29 Writer's.pngLiving (art directors Bryan Austin and Robin Benson) originally appeared in supermarkets. I've included this dummy issue from 1967 because all the ad pages were designed to promote the magazine. Dummies usually include real ads to give a fairly accurate impression to the ad trade of what the title would look like. The Art Editor wanted more control over the look of the dummy pages and created the ads and copy to reflect the editorial feel of magazine. Pistilli Roman was used for the majority of the headlines on the editorial pages.

06 Living.png07 Living.png08 Living.png09 Living.pngRadio Times (art director David Driver) is the main TV listings weekly magazine in the UK.  Started back in the 1920s, it retained the name because when commercial TV started in the 50s their weekly was naturally called TV Times. I think it's worth studying these spreads to see how a huge amount of information is presented using a four-column page. The radio pages, always at the back, use six columns and four and two columns on one page. Various weights and sizes of Franklin Gothic brilliantly solve the legibility problem.

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Related Stories:
Otto Storch: The Man Who Made Pictures Out of Type
The Best Designed Magazine I Ever Saw
twen: Big, Bold and Very Black (and White)

Many more samples of vintage and contemporary magazine design can be found on Robin Benson's Past Print blog


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