Looks great, does some good


I’m fairly new to this designing game but it seems to me that the pinnacle of a graphic designer’s career is when they are asked to design a magazine. There’s even a title to go with it; the rather grandiose one of ‘Art Director’. The designer in charge of a magazine must marry in scintillating combinations typography and imagery that lead the viewer breathlessly from one page to the next, whilst balancing the need for the ads that almost all magazines rely on for revenue. It’s all about flow and rhythm, mixing it up.

As you may have gathered I do love editorial design. Some of the designers I most revered when I was at university (not really that long ago) were best known for their “revolutionary” work on magazines, Alexey Brodovitch (Harper’s Bazaar), Neville Brody (ID), Tibor Kalman (Colors), David Carson (Raygun). All exciting, boundary-pushing, stuff. Nowadays there are the ultra-cool agencies, like M+M and Non-Format, who are at the cutting edge. A fellow graduate sent me this link to CR positively drooling over the new Very Elle magazine (indeed it was his message that got me brain thinking along this subject). To be fair the type is incredibly sexy but I’m not sure I agree with the claim that the design has “a distinct voice”; clever type does not a redesign make. At least in my book and I’m definitely entitled to my own opinion (I checked).

I remember reading a while back in CR (so I get all my information about the design world from one magazine, I don’t have a job, cut me some slack), about a crisis in the magazine industry caused by environmental concerns and the rise of the internet. There is a big concern that people will stop buying printed matter, magazines, books, newspapers, because tv and the web brings information to them so much more immediately. On the other hand there’s something really nice about a magazine, idly flipping through page after page of well crafted type and image layouts. According to CR, 57% of its issues that were bought in 2006 ended up in landfill (424,000 tonnes of waste). Stats are wonderfully vague sometimes. Really it’s on us, the purchaser, to recycle once we’ve finished with a magazine, but the industry could do us all a favour by not turning out so much shit to start with.

My big issue (I’ll come back to that one) with magazines today is not just how they look, and there are some really horrible tabloid vomits of design out there, I’m talking Hello, OK, Take A Break (apparently the best selling weekly in the UK), in terms of wasting ink and paper they’re right up their with the London Lite. I’m mostly really bothered by content or lack there of. For me, and I’m taking advantage of how subjective design can be sometimes, there’s no way I’m going to read those rags.

So instead of continuing down the preachy road, which leads only to me sounding more pompous and you stopping reading, I want to look fondly at two magazines that I do really like; the aforementioned Big Issue and first GOOD magazine.


GOOD is “a magazine for people who give a damn” and has caused quite a stir in America (where it’s based) and online with loads of people applauding the design as much as the magazine’s sentiments. The design is done by Open, a New York design agency. This issue is a ‘China Special’ which features an info pullout including statistics about Chinese cities and basic Mandarin phrases (“They’re just like us! They like hip-hop!”)



Apologies for the poor quality photos, I will buy a scanner but then I might be infringing copyright, so if you want a closer look go buy it! Although that may be tricky as it isn’t sold in the UK (I bought this copy in Norway) and they don’t seem to do UK subscriptions. Instead go to the website, which is also a triumph of design, here.

Everyone knows what the Big Issue looks like, or at least what a Big Issue Vendor looks like. If you’ve never bought one I highly recommend it for the high quality of it’s writing. It’s also pretty easy on the eye, cue more low res photos…


The Big Issue has an in-house design team, Art Director Sam Price. The journalists are professionals and they attract big names to be on the front cover. Far from being a charity case I eagerly look forward to flicking though the latest issue. Website for more info here.

These two mags are great not just for their design, not just for their actual articles, which most designers consider very secondary to the pages looking beautiful, but that you also get that wonderful self righteous glow when you’re buying it (like Fairtrade tea or coffee “tastes like equality”). GOOD gives 100% of your subscription fee to charity (you choose from a list)! The Big Issue helps get the gentleman you’ve bought it from back on his feet through “working not begging”. It’s a pretty obvious choice when I’m faced with a dozen look-a-like rags on the news agents counter. And of course their both printed on recycled paper.

I always want a little bit more from my magazines, not just some aesthetic jollies, but some decent content, an article that challenges my perceptions and challenges me to read it. Although if we go by sales of Heat alone it looks like I’m on my own.


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