Vocab Lesson 2: SPINE

Vocab Lesson 2: SPINE

Over on our "Grids" blog on the homepage of www.SPD.org, Josh Klenert wrote a post about GQ magazine's recent attention to detail. The photo he posted is shown here (but feel free to check out his post here). So, aside from Michael Jackson, what is that a picture of? Think you know? Find out for sure after the jump.

So our post title probably gave us away, but the correct answer is: the spine.

Magazines are typically bound in one of 2 ways:
They can be saddle-stitched which is what you're seeing in magazines like Entertainment Weekly, Time, ESPN magazine and the like, where the pages are 1 large sheet of paper folded and held together by staples down the middle. In that case, if you put the magazine on your shelf, what you see is the fold of a piece of paper with some staples.

When a magazine is perfect-bound, the pages are glued together on one side and then wrapped with the cover paper, creating a squared-off edge at the glued edge, aka binding. This edge is called the spine. It can also be referred to as the backbone. So when you have perfect-bound magazines on your shelf, you see a thin vertical rectangle, much like any book. That is what you see here below.

What you'll also notice in this photo is the variety of spine designs. Most magazines use it as a simple reader-reference ... it often shows the magazine name, the issue date and a listing of the main topics. Sometimes the website and/or the magazine's tagline is included. Some magazines choose to include a different piece of copy, such as the quotes used on Good magazine's spines (5th from left).

There's obviously also a design element involved. It could be a simple use of the magazine logo or a logo element. Some magazines print cropped versions of their cover photos, like you see on the GQ (4th from left) and Condé Nast Portfolio* (the neon green in the middle) spines.

Other magazines use various rules and blocks of color to create a consistent look when multiple issues are lined up: picture a year's worth of the Bon Appetit (7th from left) or Men's Health (center) issues lined up in a row, all the color bars aligning issue to issue.

Some publications use a varying pattern that either is taken from inside the issue -- such as the Country Home* spine (the short red & orange one in the middle) -- or somehow reflects the cover design -- such as Wired's constantly changing pattern of color blocks (the last 3 spines on the right). Some magazines even use additional art, such as the flip-flops on Cargo's* spine (4th from the right), or such as GQ's illustrated man (that's his usual look, the Michael Jackson version was a special treat), which brings us back to the photo at the top of the post...

Spines technically are for construction purposes, to hold the magazine together. But as a designer, it's your job to realize that the spine is also used by readers to gather information. How do you do that so that the spine gives the readers what they need but also stays true to the essence of your magazine? Whether it's clean and simple or includes fun design elements, it's a piece of the magazine puzzle that cannot be ignored.

*Editors' Note: Sadly some of the magazines pictured above (Condé Nast Portfolio, Country Home and Cargo) are no longer being published, but they're still providing great inspiration.

"Vocab Lesson" is a recurring feature on our SPD Student Blog. Tune in every Wednesday for a new word of the week. And if you come across a term you can't quite figure out, email it to us at spdstudentoutreach@gmail.com and we'll define it in a future post.

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