For some time now the imminent end of publishing as we know it has been predicted by cultural commentators. New technology, in particular the web, was supposedly about to decimate the magazine publishing industry. Instead, the reverse has happened: the number of magazines produced has continued to increase. There have never been so many magazines available to buy and read.
David Carson's Raygun, published under the slogan "The End of Print" [a term first coined to describe Carson's work by Neville Brody in CR May 94], attempted to find a way forward while marking the medium's end, but instead of being the swansong of magazine design, it rapidly lost its relevance as it became another spray-on style cliche. Instead, the very technology Carson used to deconstruct editorial design and content has been at the centre of the medium s growth.
At one end of the scale, more and more titles are printed in greater and greater print runs. Last year there were over 3000 new launches in the US alone, approaching ten per day. The corporations publishing them are able to take advantage of modern marketing techniques to create niche titles aimed at very specific markets. Along the way they have also been able to benefit from new standards of design made possible by the computerisation of the production process.
The initial glitches and conflicts caused by the introduction of what was then called DTP are now history. An Apple Mac running QuarkXpress sits on every magazine designer's desk and the relevant skills and experience are a given.
The use of the computer for layout and design has become transparent, no longer a gimmick to be emphasised or wittily referred to in the design. The control over type and image that the technology has given the designer has in a general sense improved the quality of magazine design.
At the other end of the scale, the same technological advances have dramatically reduced the costs of small-scale publishing. Thus it is not only easier for individuals to attempt to publish a magazine, but that magazine will also be better produced and able to compete at a higher level. Previously, self-published magazines such as i-D, Blow and ABeSea "used their inability to achieve" professional standards as an alternative aesthetic to the glossies; now i-D has become one of those glossies, and new titles such as Tank and SleazeNation are produced in full colour and perfect-bound, immediately setting out to compete with the glossies. Blow co-founder Michael Oliveira-Salac admits that if the magazine, which folded after 12 issues, returned it would have to do so "as a grown-up; it's had its year off between school and university".
Nonetheless it is in such independent projects that we find proof of the current vitality of magazine design. A situation comparable to the music industry exists. While the major publishers continue with their industry approach to magazine publishing, where format, size and content are subject to formalised rules dictated by issues of production and distribution the small, independent publisher can experiment with exactly what a magazine can and should be.
Two German projects exemplify this approach. Statements is a unique art magazine published by Dornbracht, a bathroom equipment manufacturer. Aiming to set Dornbracht apart from its rivals, each issue contains a selection of especially commissioned images celebrating "bathroom culture" by leading artists and photographers, ranging from Nick Knight to Rachel Whiteread. "The client didn't want to talk about product, they wanted to look at bathroom rituals," explains Art Director Mike Meire. To date there have been three issues, each one taking a different form. Issue one was in tabloid format, while issue two was smaller and spiral bound. The most recent issue consisted of a videotape of performance art. What unites the different issues is the quality and style of presentation, a result of the project being a part of a company marketing strategy and therefore able to ignore the normal financial models that publishing works to.
Berlin-based Shift! asks similar questions of magazines. Each issue takes its format from its theme; issues have appeared as CD-Roms, playing cards, even seed trays. Such freedom is created by being self-funded, as art director and co-founder Anja Lutz explains, "We fund it by selling it, which only works because no one involved in Shift! receives any payment. We also receive some support from printers and other suppliers."
Other independent publishers take less liberties with form, preferring to play with content and design. Here, new technology has added a second benefit: in addition to improved production quality, a web-inspired cultural globalisation has created bigger markets for small publishers. Whereas once a small scale magazine may have been distributed throughout but not beyond a capital city, it will now be available in a series of capital cities which share an interest in the content. Trailblazers in creating this global audience have been i-D, whose editor-in-chief and founder Terry Jones has cleverly turned a small style title into a leading voice of global fashion and culture, the Benetton-sponsored Colors, and Wallpaper*.
Journalist Tyler Brule launched Wallpaper* and quickly saw it succeed in linking together a global audience of design-, fashion- and media-conscious twenty somethings looking for an alternative to the existing style press. The result was a ground-breaking title for which image was everything. All visual elements - typography, photography and illustration (Wallpaper* can be single-handedly credited with the return of illustration to magazines) - were combined to create an addictive mixture of retro and futuristic references. The latest gadgets, fashions and hotels were featured in a context that referred back to an imaginary era when air travel was an elite luxury yet cheap and easily available. Its success, leading to its sale to Time Inc, has inspired others to attempt to self-publish their own big idea for a magazine.
However, as can happen when a project launches with such a defined visual identity, Wallpaper* currently seems to be stuck in a visual rut and urgently needs to reinvent itself.
i-D, however, is enjoying its latest and arguably most successful incarnation. It has developed a simple, clean look that is the exact opposite of its original design. "David Carson was inspired by the early issues of i-D, the ones in the early 80s where we used layering," explains Terry Jones. "At the moment we want to be global, so legibility and communication are most important. We re no longer trying to slow the reader down, instead we re trying to make them think about what is being said visually and verbally."
As such it heads a new development in magazine design that pushes aside the typographical expressionism that has led independent magazine design over the past 15 years. Type-orientated art directors such as Neville Brody and more recently David Carson have seen their efforts endlessly copied and watered down as their experiments became the latest style.
Consequently, just as Brody was forced to follow his groundbreaking type games at The Face with his rigorous Swiss-inspired Arena designs, so designers now are reacting in turn to the stylistic excesses of Carson. Suddenly type is calm and legible, partly as a natural response to Raygun but also as an attempt to create space between themselves and the web, which remains unused to such graphic simplicity.
Thus magazines as different as Flaunt (US), Econy (Germany) and Self Service (France) exhibit a Swiss-like adherence to grids, style-sheets and font families.
Flaunt features standard style-mag
celebrity fare but eschews over-designed type, drawing attention to itself through photography and the cute use of die-cutting and different types of paper. Econy is an attempt to produce a modern business magazine for the dot.com generation of entrepreneurs. It sets itself apart from the traditional business market through the use of music and fashion photographers. Typographically it is ruthlessly simple, using Univers throughout in black and white ("Sometimes now there are so many options that its good to place limitations", explains art director Mike Meire.) Playful French fashion magazine Self Service, on the other hand, is entirely picture-led, type being confined to a low key use of Helvetica.
What these three magazines have in common is that image rules over type. Examining the reason for such domination takes us back to technology.
The combination of the ever-present Apple Mac and QuarkXpress gave the designer full control over typography. We now accept that and have got used to it. New versions of the programs add little to what is already available. Now the technological emphasis has shifted to image creation and manipulation, as the computer itself and programs such as Adobe Photoshop become more powerful.
Art directors and the photographers and illustrators they commission are increasingly working with digital files, magazines such as Dazed & Confused rarely publish fashion stories without some form of post-production treatment of the images - so the line between photography and illustration is increasingly blurred. Christophe Gowans, art director of Esquire explains, "The whole process of image-creation has become more collaborative as it has become easier to make alterations to a piece of work, be it illustration or photograph."
This process of digitalisation is set to completely alter the production process. Already, repro houses are being sidestepped as publishers take advantage of straight-to-plate technology that remove the need for film; small-run publications can easily be produced in full colour on Indigo digital printers. Again its the small magazines that are setting the pace: when Creative Camera recently relaunched itself as Dpict it collaborated with IBM, taking advantage of a new digital web press. Using sophisticated database technology the press was able to not only produce over 5000 alternate covers featuring pictures of readers, but also personally address them to those same readers. Such innovative use of technology directly challenges the notion that the web magazine will replace the print magazine.
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Creative Review Editor
Jeremy Leslie is creative director of John Brown Publishing and the author of Issues: New magazine design, to be published this month by Laurence King. His other books include Bored: surf, skate, snow board graphics (with Patrick Burgoyne, Laurence King) and FC: football graphics (also with Patrick Burgoyne, Thames & Hudson).
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