Inside the Entertainment Weekly Redesign

Inside the Entertainment Weekly Redesign
With Entertainment Weekly approaching its 25th anniversary, a lot has changed for the magazine over the years. Editors, Design Directors, fonts, and subject matter--try explaining "streaming" to someone 25 years ago. Most recently, it underwent a fantastic redesign. We spoke with EW Design Director Tim Leong about the origins, process, and why Green Arrow is a name in their color palette.


What was the motivation behind the design?
Early this year we got a great new Editor (Henry Goldblatt) and one of the first things he said was that he wanted update the look a little bit. And I said, how about we update the look a lot?

How did that work?
To kick things off I put together a lookbook filled with a bunch of images and fonts. They hinted at the different directions I thought the magazine could go. Very little in the book was editorial design; I included mostly graphics, painted signs, fun design elements, fonts. It was a mixture of things I had in my archives and stuff I found online (thanks, Pinterest). And then Henry went through and marked things he liked and didn't like, which was extremely helpful.

The elements he liked influenced the design team's approach to the redesign. Actually, the things he didn't like were more helpful. It was a really valuable guide for things to avoid. But there was still ample space to find engaging solutions.

And, I have to say, I was ecstatic. I've been reading (and loving) EW since I was in high school. I've been dreaming about working at this magazine my entire career. I couldn't wait to play--to freshen up the look while also staying true to its history. So those notes gave me a good set of parameters.

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What was the process like?
We wanted to move quickly. I did something that was a little unorthodox from every other redesign I've been a part of. I took one page in the magazine and designed it five different ways--each one born from the lookbook. I then took each design and subbed in five different font sets. (I actually designed quite a bit more than that but narrowed it down.) And then I spread them out in this five-by-five grid for my editor--the five different designs with the five different fonts.  Then he picked one. It was that simple. The hard part was then building an entire redesign around that one page.

What was the page?
It was the books section opener. I wanted to start with a page that typically had less impact. Look, I love books and our books editor is one of the smartest people I've ever met, but the art for the page is always a book cover, not a crazy movie scene or anything really dynamic. The idea was if we could come up with a cool design for a more quiet page, we'd be in business.

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What were the big changes?
One thing that's been in EW since the beginning is the color bar for the sections: red for Movies, green for TV, etc. These color bars are an integral piece of EW's DNA. I wanted to figure out a new approach to maintaining that history.

We moved the bar a few inches down on the page, made it thinner, bumped it below the section title, which opened up this empty space at the top. All of a sudden we had a new and immediately visible space to work with. We've utilized new blank spaces throughout the whole mag to convey additional info that wasn't there before--especially through the front of book and the back review sections. In the back review sections, you'll now see brief "News Flash" box that's filled with tiny ticker headlines.

We also took recurring sidebars (like one where we print the opening line of a book) and put it in a strip across the bottom. The effect is that it simplifies the main part of the page for a more dynamic layout. But the biggest change for the section openers was that we took the little details of a project--the author, page count, genre, who reviewed it, etc.--and we put it into an organized nutrition-type label. We also added twitter handles next to all of the bylines so readers can interact directly with our writers. We took something that was visually stagnant and made it clearer. Instead of feeling stuffed in out of necessity, these details hold their own.

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What were some of the bigger design goals for the magazine?
My editor's main mantra is Smart. Funny. First. Those were the core tenets as we approached every decision. These values obviously reflect the text, but they also reflect how we wanted the design to feel. Whether it's little jokes on the cover or adding those news bits I just mentioned--those are the philosophies that drive us. 

We also wanted to show off that we improved our paper stock with the launch of this issue. It's heavier quality and whiter. The pages pop so much more--the colors look better, the negative space looks cleaner. It's a massive improvement and a real testament to Time Inc.'s investment in the EW brand.

Another big thing we wanted to focus on was scale. Our editor likes when there's a super clear hierarchy on the page. That was a real driving factor for us. We set up a new rule with the editors--who were completely onboard, btw--that we weren't going to do half-page stories any more. The problem with two half-page stories is that there's no scale. We really wanted to push stories to occupy ⅓ or ⅔ of a page to really emphasize guide the reader through the page. Finding a hierarchy became very important.

I also made a big push for us to design for the spread. The last full top-to-bottom redesign of EW was in 2008--when most were single pages paired with ads. In today's industry, magazines are running a lot more editorial spreads, especially in the front of book and back of book. Instead of sticking two single pages next to each other, I really wanted to design with the spread in mind, which means figuring out (again) the hierarchy and letting stories extend past the gutter. This change better reflects our current realities and adds a real connective thread that wasn't there before. You can see this especially in News and Notes and the back of book, where there are a lot of multi-item pages.

We wanted the pages to feel more minimalist and modern, so we tightened up our grid structure and rethought our separative devices. Previously, everything was separated with rules. A lot of rules. We wanted to go in the other direction so we use negative space to separate each story. It was a little shift that had a big effect--the pages feel much more open now.

Because the overall design is much more scaled back--more minimalist and modern--we wanted to make sure the mag had a lot of punch and a lot of voice. We are talking about entertainment after all! The pages should be fun. So during every issue, we have meetings to figure out how to add extra layers of visuals that will punch up each page. (Getting back to that mantra). For example, EW interviewed Ernest Kline timed to his new novel Armada, which is about '80s video games for the Books section. We designed this whole Space Invaders theme on top of the page and had aliens shooting down throughout the design. You might've also noticed a bunch of ants crawling over the Ant-Man review. We don't want to just make "fun" an afterthought--we want to really bake it into the pages. This goes for the cover, too. I like to try and add little easter eggs when we can. For our Star Wars cover we replaced the dot in the "i" of of Fall Movie Preview with the head of a stormtrooper. The pattern in the top right corner is based on Chewbacca's strap and there's a little TIE fighter in one of the buttons. Not everyone is going to notice those little details, but the people that do are going to come back looking for more next week.

When I got here, all the color swatches were named after foods. So when we redid all of our color palettes, we--and I promise it was WE--decided to name all the colors after comic book characters. Remembering that our gray is called "Jean Grey" is pretty easy, but let's see how it goes with less obvious color characters.

The bottom line, though, is that we're a weekly. That means we have to surprise people. Every week. We have to give the readers what they want, and also give them something they didn't know they wanted. The goal isn't to make a great magazine...for a weekly. That's ridiculous. The goal is to make a great magazine. Period. And we're getting there. My team is really, really fantastic. The work they're producing continues to surprise and impress me every week. The stuff they're doing in a week? Pfft, get out of here. It's incredible. They're incredible.

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Tim Leong, Design Director
Keir Novesky, Deputy Design Director
Dragos Lemnei, Senior Art Direector
Jennie Chang, Managing Art Director
Aaron Morales, Senior Associate Art Director
Faith Stafford, Senior Associate Art Director
Emem Offong, Senior Designer
Ruby Parra, Designer
Alison Wild, Art Assistant

Lisa Berman, Photography Director
Sarah Czeladnicki, Managing Photography Director
Richard Maltz, Deputy Photography Director (West Coast)
Aeriel Brown, Photo Editor
Michele Romero, Photo Editor
Ahmed Fakhr, Senior Associate Photography Editor
Natalie Gialluca, Senior Associate Photography Editor

Daniel C. Thompson, Assistant Manager--Premedia

  • DonDiego5s

    these interviews where all the team is always like awesome... so boring... anyway some pages are great, someother just regular stuff, and the opening page for the single movie is just not on the piece

  • dbltruck

    Looks fantastic! Great approach to establishing an initial direction. Cheers!

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