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Designing Magazines


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Jandos Rothstein, Assistant Professor of Graphic Information Design

George Mason University, Department of Art and Visual Technology

College Hall, Room C218, 4400 University Drive, MS 1C3, Fairfax, Va., 22030

Copyright 2005–2010, Jandos Rothstein

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For part one of our kickoff project, you’ll be doing an oral report on your two randomly assigned magazines. During your report, you should expect to accomplish two goalsfirst tell the class a bit about your magazines—what they do and who reads them; and second discuss how the design of your magazines supports the overarching goal of informing, entertaining and appealing to this specific readership. (While all glossies share a family resemblance—they are all magazines—well-designed publications are unique in how they approach, apply and break editorial design conventions.)

To accomplish your task will need to both look at your magazines and read several articles from both. It would also be helpful as you do your research to briefly compare your assigned periodicals to other magazines which you may regularly read, and also, particularly, magazines in the same class. For example if one of your magazines is Inc., a business magazine, it would pay to look at other business magazines for comparison while you’re visiting the newsstand.

Here are some questions to start your thinking process. Note that these questions will not be equally relevant for every magazine, but are meant to help jump start your thinking about editorial design.

For Part one: Some of the questions you should expect to have considered:

Who reads your magazines?

Why do they read the magazine—what are they interested in that the magazine gives them? (The more specific you can be, the better. Obviously, the readers of Yoga Journal are interested in Yoga—but what else connects them?)

How old are readers (Note that most readerships span 10 years or even less—consider where in life a reader would be to find the information in the magazine most valuable)?

Looking at both advertisements and the sort of goods or activities discussed in articles, how wealthy would you guess readers are? Do ads seem like they are aimed at readers in the same financial circumstances as articles? If not, which (ads or editorial content) do you think is a more accurate way to judge the spending habits of your readers?

Note: some magazines have readership data online (Search under your magazine's name, and "media kit" or if that doesn't work, "investor relations") How accurate are your guesses about readers? What surprised you about the magazine’s real audience?

For part two, discuss how design is used to appeal to readers.

How do the designs of the two magazines differ?

Would you describe the designs as busy or clean? Cluttered or open? How do these qualities serve content?

As on the internet, text can be linear, but it can also take on other forms. What are the variety of formats the magazine uses to present information (quizzes, informational graphics, side bars, short pieces, photo-essays, conceptual illustration)?

How “lavish” is the design—does it (and photographs and illustration) look expensive to you compared to other magazines youve seen? Do you think design is a priority for the magazine? (For a hint check the staff box—how big an art staff do they have—Art Directors, Design Directors (and assistants) designers, and photo editors? Which of your two magazine devotes the most resources to visuals?

In your judgement, how, specifically, do design decisions appeal to readers—how does white space, colors, margins, type style, ornamentation (rules, boxes decorative elements and doodads) support the editorial voice of the magazine? (I recognize that this question is tough, it can help to put yourself in the shoes of the reader and answer based on what you know or can guess about him or her. For example if you have guessed (or have learned) that Martha Stewart Living readers are women aged 30-40 who are interested in elegant entertaining (I don’t know that this is true), you can make an intelligent guess as to why an open, airy layout with photographs of country life and rich earthy colors might appeal to them.

Bring your magazines, with bookmarks, to class so you can use them to illustrate your points.