Redbook Redesign: New Content, And A Few Design Tweaks

Posted: October 9, 2010 in Magazine: Lifestyle, Magazine: Women's, Redesigns, Reviews
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Excerpt from Jill Herzig’s editor’s note, October 2010 issue of Redbook:

“Have you ever arrived home after making what you think is a major beauty change … only to have your husband look straight at you, open a beer, and notice nothing? In this way, husbands and magazine readers can be similar. … We editors think we’ve rocked our pages with some momentous transformation, but readers often take a look and shrug.”

Dear Mrs. Herzig, I am here for you.

I too have been on the editing end of a redesign and heard very little from our readers. I feel your pain. I am here to save you. I will show you that I paid attention to Redbook’s redesign. Below, you will see that I broke it down, section by section, with highlights and lowlights of the transformation. (I live for this!)

So, here goes! In all photos, the prior issue (September) is on the left, and the redesign issue (October) is on the right. You can click on any photo to make it larger. Each section below is ruled a Fail, Pass or Win.

Cover

Fonts, colors and styles are the same from September to October. The only difference I detected was the removal of “Love Your Life” from Redbook’s nameplate. It was actually removed throughout the magazine, from the cover to the spine to the masthead. I wonder … should we stop loving our lives? Or was loving our lives just a phase that we were meant to work through, and now we’re on the other side? Either way, it appears the powers that be added this phrase in its redesign in 2007 and is taking it away now. I’m positive this makes Jezebel happy. (If you don’t mind harsh language and super-tacky commentary, read Jezebel’s diatribe about Redbook adding this phrase in 2007 here.)

If Herzig and staff wanted to get comments from readers on the redesign, they should have done something new with the cover. It’s only an OCD like me who would notice the “Live Your Life” removal; the cover would have been a great opportunity to kick off the big change and guarantee notice by more readers. However, the newsstand is a fragile animal, and if Redbook’s staff members felt that their combination was magical as it was, then I get it.

The cover was good before and it’s good now. But it definitely does not signal a major redesign.

Cover Ruling: Pass

Contents

Redbook condensed its contents from 2 2/3 pages to 2 pages. The emphasis is now off the article titles and on the page numbers, which makes it hard to find articles that are of interest to reader — it’s more work to go through the contents. The font is harder to read in the redesign, too, from the section names to the article titles. It’s so much work, in fact, to get through these contents pages, that many readers will just skip it and opt to flip around until they find what they want.

Contents Ruling: Fail

Editor’s Note

The new design brings the poor editor out of a hidden corner of a page to her own page with a few accessories added (in this case, they’re Insider Secrets). The photo is light-years better (I think the original photo was taken in 1982), and the design is open, welcoming and eye-catching.

Editor’s Note Ruling: Win

Departments

Lots of magazines say they “re-imagined” their issue in a redesign. Most don’t really. It’s not a safe strategy to re-imagine too much because you might alienate your readers. It remains to be seen if Redbook will alienate its readers because its sections have completely changed. Here’s the breakdown:

  • Old: Style Scoop; Your Love Life; Body & Mind; Making It Work; Living; Downtime
  • New: Beauty & Health; Men, Love & Family; Make It Work; What To Wear; Features; Good To Eat

The Good To Eat section is completely new; the old magazine included a couple of recipes, but not a cooking/dining section. The opening short-item department, Just In Time, was replaced by Spill Vent Gossip Go!, changing the content from quick fixes (cook chicken in 15 minutes, give yourself a makeover) to a more interactive reader polls section.

Departments Ruling: Pass

 

Before Redesign

 

 

After Redesign

 

Features

My familiarity with Redbook is admittedly low, so it’s not easy to judge the features based on these two issues. I don’t know how similar all the previous issues’ cover stories resembled the Julianna Margulies spread, and how similar the upcoming ones will be to the Lauren Graham spread. But the Margulies spread is clearly more dramatic, with only the deckhead on the opener, whereas the Graham spread introduces the first two paragraphs. The inside of the features is the same, though.

Features Ruling: Pass

Overall

The taglines at the top of most pages morphed from feminine and delicate to chunky and edgy. The design overall looks less like it appeals to teenage girls and more like it appeals to women in their late 20 or early 30s. The new food section is appetizing, useful and creative — and now that everyone is a foodie, this section needed to be added. One other great change is the back page: The old version had “I love my ____ life,” where readers filled in the blank. It was a very plain design. The new back page is a spunky, funny chart to help the reader determine, in this case, if she’s “in the mood” enough to go all the way or go to sleep. Here’s the comparison:

There were a lot of good changes throughout, but there wasn’t anything that blew me away. Redbook’s readers will surely be pleased — at least, the ones who notice will!

Overall Ruling: Pass

What do you think? Have you seen the new design? If you’d like to keep reading, check out what two other websites have had to say about it: MediaWeek and MagaScene.

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Comments
  1. I don’t read Redbook (I hasten to point out), but I’ve never understood why magazines, companies, etc. need to change their ‘look’ from time to time. It seems like a big waste of money and makes the recognizable suddenly unrecognizable. No amount of fancy form can make up for lousy substance.

    • Wow! I think every company and magazine should freshen up every few years. A redesign keeps a magazine relevant and current. Certainly you agree that 1980s design is very different from present-day design; now, imagine if a magazine looked the same now as it did in 1980! No one would buy it.

      I agree that a magazine shouldn’t be unrecognizable and that a shift in the look shouldn’t try to mask unworthy content. Most editors and designers worth their salt know that, although not all of them execute the changes that well.

  2. Joe Clark says:

    Taylor, I concur. Things have to look fresh, or the buyer is not pulling out his or her wallet. Could you imagine walking into the produce section of your grocery store and buying last month’s fruit that did not sell?

  3. I think we’ve been conditioned (probably the auto industry) to expect new and shiny and innovative all the time and have come to equate that with quality. But the auto industry has shown that glitz and quality aren’t the same thing. With media it’s even more important. Is To Kill a Mockingbird a better book if it comes out with a new and fancy cover?

    • Ah, To Kill A Mockingbird. My husband’s favorite! Note the difference, though, between a classic novel and a recurring publication. Every issue of a magazine is new, and because magazines reach niche audiences, the content that fills it should reflect the readers. Magazines that speak to old, stodgy people who never change their minds about anything should also not change their designs or content; magazines that speak to teenagers, though, should shift constantly to keep up with their readers. Most magazines are somewhere between those two extremes.

      You talk about this passionately, Thomas. Have you been burned by a redesign? Did you switch magazines because of one or feel turned off by the changes? I would love to hear what redesigns you have disliked.

  4. You raise a good point–there is a continuum of “freshness” I guess from Joe’s fresh vegetables to my example of a classic book. Clearly a fashion magazine needs to look fresh and if it is keeping up with the topic. But the reason I sound passionate is because I’m convinced that too much “innovation” is for it’s own sake and adds no value and is designed to keep the consumer’s eye off the ball. Like a fancy new wrapper conceals the fact that the candy bar has shrunk. People seem to have come to value new and different more than intelligent and useful. Our telephone company (which everyone hates for good reason) delivers third world broadband and is overpriced. To improve their image they spent $3million designing a new logo and image. I think it may have fooled some people.

    Anyway, sorry for the rants.

    • Now I see! Corporate image improvement campaigns designed to trick people into thinking things like their products aren’t overpriced, their production process isn’t killing millions of animals and fish, and their oil isn’t polluting our oceans — those are bad! They depend on people’s short memories to forgive, forget and move on, and a fresh logo and advertising campaign sometimes do exactly what they wanted them to do. I’m happy to see where you’re coming from on this, and I’m with you.

  5. […] I got another such acknowledgement. I opened the newest issue of Redbook to find a snippet of my review of the magazine’s redesign right on page 22! (See photo below — squint to see me at the bottom center of the page!) It […]

  6. […] that I was super proud of. I littered my dining room table with tons of magazines: Jet, Baltimore, Redbook, Playboy, Yoga Journal, Esquire, Bitch. I spent an hour or two every night reading and reviewing […]

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