Archive for the ‘Magazine: National’ Category

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Every Day With Rachael Ray (www.rachaelraymag.com)

Issue reviewed: March 2011

Audience

  • median age: 42.6
  • median HHI: $71,166
  • 91% women
  • spends an average of 53 minutes reading each issue

Editorial

If you’re not hungry when you pick up Every Day With Rachael Ray, you will be by the time you finish. Fluffy eggs, drizzled gravies, plump shrimp and juicy tomatoes are pictured on nearly every page — trust me, you’ll want to eat something afterward. The editor, Liz Vaccariello, said the Rachael Ray brand is about “taste, ease and value” and that her personal tenets are being “fun, easy and real.” The reader can sense these principles: Throughout the magazine are fun photos, bite-size articles, whimsical fonts and colors, and budget-friendly price tags. This is not a stuffy cookbook for culinary students; rather, it is a pocket guide for a busy mom who fancies serving her family real meals.

Design

The design is excellent. The photos are great — but really, what kind of cooking magazine would have crappy photography? Other design elements stand on their own, such as font choices, type colors, icons and sidebar treatments. One consistent design element, though, that is unattractive is the colored bar striped across the top of many of the pages. It’s a section header, made to let the reader know what the conversation on the page is about, but the color on the Talk section (a bright green) is really kind of gross, and the bar takes up too much space (that is, it goes all the way across and detracts too much from the page).

What’s Best

  • Features: In this issue, Every Day went searching for the country’s best hot dog in Go Away: Your Ticket to a Great Escape. The whole feature was so clever: Three hot dog tasters from the blog Serious Eats traveled across America and stopped in hot dog joints of all shapes and sizes. In a basketball bracket style of competition, the doggers pitted 64 hot dog joints against each other, narrowed them down to The Sweet Sixteen, profiled The Final Four with mouth-watering photography, and then named the winner with a story about Gene & Jude’s (the best dog maker) and with a follow-up story about Chicago hot dogs in general. In all, Every Day dedicated a generous nine pages to this feature. That is the type of in-depth coverage readers appreciate about magazines, and I love that Every Day gives that to its fans.
  • Fun ideas: Every Day dedicated four pages to a how-to on Family Movie Night, including creating invitations or “press releases” for the kids, recipes for the family and movie-appropriate menus (such as pizzas for Ratatouille).
  • Photos: Did I mention the photos? All I know is, I’m super-hungry right now.

What’s Worst

  • Font craziness: On a couple of occasions (most notably in the feature “Batter Up”), the headline type is so, er …. creative, that it’s difficult to read. Vertical type is generally a no-no, but especially so when you let the letters float in a non-line and stick another word inside one of the letters. I’m all for having fun with headlines, but they should always be easy to read. Sometimes, though, the designers get it right, as they did with “You’re Gonna Need a Steak Knife,” which was carved into wood with — you guessed it — a steak knife.

Overall Opinion

Every Day With Rachael Ray is very much like the character of Rachael herself — a little all over the place, a fan of easy and fun, and always looking for a party. The magazine does a great job of capturing her tone, as well, with words like “faves” and “delish” and “cool.” It feels like Rachael put together every page, and for fans of her work, that’s amazing. That, along with some of the creative concepts and recipes, earn Every Day an A.

I invite your comments! Check out the magazine or its website and tell me what you think of it.

–Tyler Reed

Editor, The Sidebar Review

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Fortune (http://money.cnn.com/magazines/fortune/)

Issue reviewed: September 27, 2010, Vol. 162, No. 5

  • Published in New York, N.Y., by Time Inc.
  • Circulation: 830,000
  • 142 pages, perfect-bound

Audience

  • median age: 46
  • median HHI: $108,440
  • 57% male
  • top managers and executives

Editorial

Fortune is blessed with good writers and good story concepts. The writing is satisfying and the sidebars are relevant. Fortune dares to take on some of the big companies, even including an article on why you shouldn’t buy Apple stock.

Design

The design of Fortune is a little clunky occasionally. In general, the color palette is simple, masculine and bold. The illustrations are good, and the sidebar/chart treatment is pleasing. The photography throughout is very strong. But the clunkiness of the headlines is distracting. That font wasn’t cool decades ago and it isn’t cool now.

What’s Best

  • Chunky nuggets: Fortune capitalizes on readers’ short amount of time to read by breaking the copy into bite-size morsels that still actually tell you something or mean something. The charts are attractively simple, the stats are interesting, and the information is concise.
  • Content: The storytelling in Fortune is very human. Even though the audience is businesspeople, the stories are relatable to a broader group of readers. The editorial ranges from interviewing skills to stock prices to leadership to answering questions like “Should I accept my employee’s friend request?”
  • Corrections: I love a good correction. We all jack stuff up sometimes, and it’s how we handle it when we do that matters. I enjoyed Allan Sloan’s correction: “In my last column I wrote that President Obama wants to increase taxes on dividends for the ‘rich’ to 39.6% from the current 15%. That’s wrong … Sorry for the mistake. But I stand by my original point that tax rates don’t drive the market.”

What’s Worst

  • Headline font: Many of the headlines are typed in a thick, black Italic font that reminds me of magazines from the ’70s. It’s heavy and hard to read.

Overall Opinion

This magazine is a good read and could hold my attention for a solid hour. Its online component adds even more value, with video and searchable content. But the business magazine market is saturated, and other contenders, like Forbes, BusinessWeek and Inc., are more visually breathtaking and have a better online presence. I give Fortune a B for its good content but lack of a wow factor.

I invite your comments! Check out the magazine or its website and tell me what you think of it.

–Tyler Reed

Editor, The Sidebar Review

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Family Circle (www.familycircle.com)

Issue reviewed: Oct. 1, 2010

  • Published in New York, N.Y., by Meredith Corp.
  • Circulation: 3.8 million
  • 132 pages, perfect bound

Audience

  • median HHI: $52,516
  • median age: 50.5
  • 100% female
  • moms, especially of teens and tweens
  • 58.9% married

Editorial

Family Circle hits on multiple levels of interest for moms: health, beauty, parenting, cooking, celebrities and style. The coverage brushes past each issue, touching on it only enough to keep its moms current and then leaving the heavy niche coverage to other magazines. This method makes it a good one-stop magazine for moms who don’t want 12 magazines a month. And it helps moms know who their kids are listening to or watching with interviews with and bite-size stories on teen heart throbs like Jonas Brothers and Justin Bieber.

Design

The design ranges from so-so to stellar throughout. On some pages, like 58-61, Let It Shine, I felt thrown right back into the ’80s with the dark colors, dated pose and hairdo, and justified type. But pages 90-91, The Anti-Cancer Diet, is eye-catching, informative and colorful — right where it should be. Also, Family Circle makes good use of black backgrounds, using them in small, powerful doses and set against strong contrasts of pinks, oranges and yellows.

What’s Best

  • Easy how-tos: Where some supermom magazines make readers feel inadequate just by looking at the crafts (“I’ll never be able to do that!”), Family Circle shows easy craft ideas (cakesicles, spray painted wreaths, cut-out letters, etc.) that most moms could do quickly and easily.
  • Food photography: I could eat the cantonese shrimp off the page of the Wok & Roll feature. The background is pleasing, the lighting is good, and all the veggies look so fresh. This photo isn’t out of the norm for the magazine, either; with only one exception (the macaroni and cheese dishes on 115 aren’t very appetizing, and the dark background doesn’t help the photo), the food throughout the magazine looks tasty, fresh and easy to make.
  • Momster: Family Circle has created its own social networking site, Momster, where moms can share stories, advice and support. The magazine promotes it but doesn’t go overboard. It does publish results from polls conducted on the site in the magazine.

What’s Worst

  • The vertical ads: In the back of the magazine, several 1/2-, 1/3- and 2/3-page vertical ads interrupt what would otherwise be great cooking/recipe features. It comes off as disruptive and annoying rather than appealing to the reader to buy the products in the ads.
  • Design missteps: As I mentioned, some of the pages just don’t hit the high bar set by other parts of the magazine. Maybe some sections got to go to a redesign meeting that other departments didn’t get to go to?  The style and food sections look strong, updated and smart, but the Inner Circle, Family section and that feature, Let It Shine, are outdated and out of place.

Overall Opinion

Family Circle’s design team could come together more and create a more cohesive, beautiful product for its readers.  The talent is obviously there because so many great pages are already being printed. However, Family Circle has great editorial content and hits on a lot of issues that are important to moms. Its Momster site is a great benefit for its readers. For these reasons, I give Family Circle a B.

I invite your comments! Check out the magazine or its website and tell me what you think of it.

–Tyler Reed

Editor, The Sidebar Review

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Backpacker (www.backpacker.com)

Issue reviewed: November 2010

  • Published in Boulder, Colo., by Active Interest Media
  • Circulation: 340,000
  • 104 pages, perfect bound

Audience

  • median HHI: $73,476
  • median age: 39.6
  • 66% male
  • hikers, campers, outdoorsy folks

Editorial

The tone of Backpacker is snarky — and really fun to read! Interspersed with trail information, gear reviews and hiking how-tos are self-mocking quotes like this one: “From 2002 to 2003, we seemed to have sex on the brain. Some high (or low) lights: To promote ‘proper care of the family jewels,’ ‘Healthy Hiking for Men’ (5/02) delves into unsavory topics such as rashes, testicular torsion, and chafing. For the latter, it introduces the (drumroll, please) Bandanna Harness. … Our deepest regrets.”

If you want to read or see more of this magazine, you can look at every issue of Backpacker, from 1973 to 2009, at Google Books. How cool is that? I mean, you can look at every single page of every single issue. I love living in this time!

Design

Backpacker is masterful at integrating its design and editorial — which is not such an easy task. The maps are illustrated with copy interspersed throughout and with each graphic really meaning something, with a related key that’s easy to follow. I’m especially happy to be reviewing this issue because it’s “The Best of Backpacker,” and it has the staff picks of the best photos and articles, a cool contents page, and tons of lists. It’s all-in-all a very well-planned and exciting issue.

What’s Best

  • Contents: What a fun idea for a different way to organize a contents page for a “best of” issue: Show the covers of the issues referenced throughout with the page numbers directing the reader! What’s especially neat about that is the opportunity to see all the different treatments of the nameplate, the photo and the cover blurbs over the last four decades.
  • Photography: This is too obvious. It’s the best photos in the history of a magazine that has cherishes nature photography, so there’s some really beautiful photos. I imagine most of Backpacker’s readers fantasize about the opportunity to capture one of these masterpieces while out on the trail (or to at least see one of them), and that’s what keeps many going back.
  • Where are they now?: This is a small chunk the editors used throughout this issue that is a great element. It gives readers an update on people Backpacker reported on years ago. Examples are an 8-year-old hiker who accomplished the goals he set in a 1997 issue; a teenager profiled in the first issue of the magazine who’s now retired an worked on a hiker association’s board; and a persona from 1999 who now has his own TV show.
  • Dissenting opinion: This nugget is at the end of some of the hikes in the article covering the 20 best trips ever. Instead of just listing each of the 20 as if they are truly 100% the best hikes, they show you why some people disagree. Here’s one: “The green tunnel is best for hippies and post-grads who want to be able to cell-phone in a pizzy delivery from a trailside hut.”

What’s Worst

  • Editor’s Note: I like reading editor’s picks as much as the next guy, but I wish the Editor’s Note in this special issue had not been reduced to a list of the editor’s favorite articles. Because the rest of the issue is so list-y, it would have been nice here to read why the editor, Jonathan Dorn,  liked ONE article so much or what accounts for Backpacker’s longevity or when the first time he read Backpacker was and what impression it made on him. Insight here would have been better than a Top 10 list.
  • The Master Chef: This section should be awesome, and the information in it is. But it’s not appetizing to look at. It has four great photos, and the rest is really gray copy. It feels like this page should be opened up more to show off how good the content is. (One of the recipes, if you’re interested, is Earthworm Patty Supreme. Nasty!) It’s not really designed differently than sections The Mileage Monster or The Intrepid Explorer (which look good), but it felt to me like The Master Chef needed more space.

Overall Opinion

I’m not an outdoorsy person, but I still really enjoyed going through Backpacker. For the most part, it’s a feast for the eyes and the articles and silly comments beg a smile. I can’t imagine a backpacker enthusiast who doesn’t read this magazine because it really is chock-full of interesting and informative pieces. For these reasons, I give Backpacker Magazine an A.

I invite your comments! Check out the magazine or its website (which is an incredible complement to the magazine) and tell me what you think of it.

–Tyler Reed

Editor, The Sidebar Review

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Golf World (www.golfworld.com)

Issue reviewed: Oct. 4, 2010, Vol. 64, No. 11

  • Published in Wilton, Conn., by Golf Digest Publications/Advance Magazine Publishers Inc.
  • Circulation: 225,000
  • 48 pages, saddle-stitch binding
  • printed 38 times per year

Audience

  • average income: $241,860
  • average age: 46
  • mostly male (86%)

Editorial

The editorial staff at Golf World does a great job of making the very vertical topic of golf interesting enough to stretch from front to back of the magazine on an almost weekly basis. Capturing the personalities of the competitors and spending some time talking about where-to for golfers keeps the writers busy from beginning to end. This magazine does not focus much energy on how-to.

Design

The design is good and gives the reader tons of short chunks of information. It never makes the reader feel committed to a page; instead, it lets the reader sample tastes like a buffet and leave at will. Whereas the design is somewhat handicapped by photography — it’s a sport made up of white men and golf clubs, so the photos all look the same after a while — it makes good use of what it has. In some of the features, the designers used as much space as possible with beautiful scenic shots that really stand out. A few strong elements add a nice touch, such as the thick black and gray bars. However, the light yellow screen on some sidebars, like Finding Their Groove, looks dated and weak.

What’s Best

  • Back 9: This department lists nine key tidbits that the writers deem most interesting to golfers. Many of these include stats, either rankings, winnings or historical data. This page is followed by several pages of other statistics, mostly results from recent golf tournaments. The boring-but-necessary information is not the best design I’ve seen for this kind of content, but it is simple, clean and easy to read.
  • Bunker: This is the shorts department at the beginning that tosses in a few 50-word stories with some 200- and 500-word stories, keeping the reader engaged in several stories in only a few pages.
  • Writing: The writers focus on telling stories rather than reporting events; simply reporting is an easy trap to fall into when the assignment is some sort of tournament coverage. Instead, Golf World’s writers bring their stories to life by injecting personality into each article, even the shorties.

What’s Worst

  • No editor’s note: The back page of the magazine is the closest we get to an editor’s note, simply called Opinion and, in this issue, written by features senior editor Bill Fields. The Opinion story, which is a look at a new book about Tiger Woods, is well written and interesting — and reads much more like good commentary than a run-of-the-mill book review. On page 20 is another Opinion page written by Geoff Shackelford, and it is a well-crafted argument against the World Golf Hall of Fame induction of George H.W. Bush.
  • The red type: It makes my eyes feel almost like they’re burning, and I just want to blow through it because it hurts to read. Red type is good for a touch here and there in big fonts, not for small, flowing copy.

Overall Opinion

Golf World could improve by moving Bill Fields or another editor to the beginning of the magazine and letting him set the tone for the current issue. A few design tweaks could help, too, adding a more masculine look to some sidebars with bolder colors and stronger type-color choices. The writing for the magazine, though, is very strong and flavorful and makes for a good read, even for people who don’t love golf. For those reasons, I give Golf World a B.

I invite your comments! Check out the magazine or its website and tell me what you think of it.

–Tyler Reed

Editor, The Sidebar Review

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Yoga Journal (www.yogajournal.com)

Issue reviewed: November 2010, Issue 233

  • Published in San Francisco, Calif., by Cruz Bay Publishing Inc./Active Interest Media
  • Circulation: 350,000
  • 120 pages, perfect bound

Audience

  • average HHI: $84,120
  • yoga practitioners

Editorial

Yoga Journal gives the appearance of being very basic material that anyone who has taken a single yoga class, or who has some appreciation for the practice, could jump right into and “get” immediately. But it is not light reading. Once the reader reaches the features, about halfway through the book, the stories stretch for 6 to 7 pages each, and the content assumes the reader has a thorough enough knowledge to skip defining such concepts as samsara and asana. And the magazine does not focus on how to do the newest, coolest pose — very little of the content focuses on poses. The yogic lifestyle is the overriding force — the thoughts, behaviors, diets, spirituality, medicinal and physical aspects of the lifestyle are discussed in-depth.

Design

Yoga Journal has pleasing colors throughout and makes good use of white space. Some of the elements in the magazine are really fresh — such as the parenthesis around deck heads. Some others, like the thought balloons, dotted lines and double lines, are less original but still appealing. The photography is diverse and interesting: The shots of yoga poses are artistic, and the food photography is very well done (and very appetizing!).

What’s Best

  • Editor’s Note: Although editor Kaitlin Quistgaard doesn’t let the reader learn about Ms. Quistgaard at all, she does do a good job of shaping the theme of the November issue in the editor’s letter, Reality Show. She previews three of the articles in the issue and ties them all together — that yoga helps its practitioners better see and accept the truths at hand.
  • Ayurveda: This section in the shorts department, Om, is made up of two single pages addressing Ayurveda (the science of life) — how to take care of your skin based on what type you are (fire, earth, water, air). It’s a beautiful layout of products, displayed like meals and accented with flora. It’s a unique approach to what amounts to a short product guide.
  • Web integration: Throughout the magazine are references to bonus material on Yoga Journal’s website — and it has tons of extra content in the form of photos, videos, articles and blogs. The website is a great companion to the magazine, and is strong enough to stand completely on its own for someone who doesn’t have a subscription and is just getting started and needs a primer.

What’s Worst

  • Cover: The left-hand side of the cover features a strip that breaks the flow of the nice colors and attractive type to include a monotonous list of subjects covered, such as health, fitness and food. It adds nothing and instead takes up valuable real estate.
  • YogaJournal.com page: This page doesn’t seem to have been designed by the same designers for the rest of the magazine. Whereas white space is tastefully used on the rest of the pages, this single page looks too sparse, like something is missing.

Overall Opinion

Yoga Journal was a nice surprise. The editorial content was full of variety and addressed multiple topics of interest to yogis. The integration of sidebars and short how-tos into feature stories was well-done and keeps the reader’s brain working from cover to sign-off. For its depth and breadth, I give Yoga Journal an A.

I invite your comments! Check out the magazine or its website and tell me what you think of it.

–Tyler Reed

Editor, The Sidebar Review

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Sailing World (www.sailingworld.com)

Issue reviewed: October 2010

  • Published in Middletown, R.I., by Bonnier Corp.
  • Circulation: 40,000

Audience

  • experienced sailors, with about 25 years under their belt
  • average HHI: $282,000
  • own 3.2 boats, on average
  • 93% male
  • average age: 54

Overall Editorial

Sailing World is an easy read, and although it’s geared toward super-experienced, rich sailors, it doesn’t feel inaccessible to readers well outside its audience, like me. It has multiple short reads with a few long features. It’s a blend of product reviews, how-tos, competition coverage and human interest.

Overall Design

The design of Sailing World is very simple with a few standout elements. The end-of-story dingbats are really cool (two small sails in black and gray), and one little arrow in a burgundy circle keeps showing up that adds consistency throughout. Also, a box with a plus sign appears in several places from front to back offering bonus content to the reader, either on the Sailing World website or in books for further reading. The best design is in the department From The Experts: Technique with a step-by-step how-to that’s very appealing. The worst is on the opener of the feature On Full Boil, where the title gets lost in the extremely busy photo.

Cover Design and Blurbs

The cover is attractive and appealing, but it appears to be very feminine for a magazine that has an audience that’s only 7% women. And I don’t say that because it’s a woman on the cover but because the fonts and color choices seem very delicate. The reader only has three choices for content that interests him or her: one spot about Gold Diggers (Olympic sailors), one about the pro circuit and another about new boats.

Editor’s Note

The Editor’s Letter, Calling In Sick, written by Dave Reed, is lovely. It appeals to avid sailors, working people and procrastinators alike. Reed explains his inspiration for the first Sailing World Sick Day, in which all the employees take off and go sailing. I love that he presented the argument against it, which was submitted by a reader who was angry about the social irresponsibility of the free day. Then he told what a great time he had and how he’d checked back into the office later, with salt and water remnants still on him. It adds personality to the magazine, just like an editor’s note should, and it shows that the staff members love the sport the same way the readers do.

Departments and Columns

It’s clever that the editors break one department, From The Experts, into three sections: Technique, Strategy and Rules. Readers of recreational magazines like this love how-tos, and I think that division is a smart way to include several different types of how-to information. The back department is called Dr. Crash, and it’s strange, but it’s likely that it’s right up the readers’ alley. It’s one short question with one short answer and a humorous slant. Dr. Crash has become quite the personality, apparently, because the powers that be have created the Dr. Crash calendar that readers can order for only $13.95.

Features

The three features benefit from strong writing: excellent use of storytelling, expressive verbs and vivid detail. The writers for Sailing World obviously understand the sport and its players, and are skilled authors to boot.

Use of Photography

The photography throughout is very good, and the designers take care to use the photos large when warranted. There are only a couple of missteps: The photo spread opener on pages 30-31 for On Full Boil is so busy that I can’t even tell what’s going on. This particular photo would have benefitted from no words (headline or body copy) interfering because they complicate the photo. And the other misstep probably annoyed the editors and designers alike: On page 51, the Sailing World staff has to depend on manufacturers to submit quality photos of their products, and one group (The Landing School) didn’t send a photo that measured up. Such is life, but it sticks out like a sore thumb. But all the other photos are beautiful and make me want to head to the ocean.

Use of Illustrations

The folks at Sailing World use illustrations sparingly but well. One is a how-to illustration that’s computer generated, and the other is a a hand-drawn illustration that helps bring the reader into the story. Both are strong and well-placed.

Relevance to Intended Audience

This magazine hits avid sailors from multiple angles: competition, gear, how-to and narrative. If I owned 3.2 boats and made $282,000 per year, I imagine I would really enjoy this magazine. Even as a non-sailor, I enjoyed reading it from beginning to end.

Integration with Website

The right-hand folio on each spread lists the Sailing World web address, related content on the website gets a full spread in the magazine, and multiple mentions of bonus material on the website appear throughout. These guys do a good job of driving readers to the website. A lot of the online content is behind a subscriber wall. The website is sparse and clean, like the magazine is. The site has multiple blogs, forums, photos and videos for its visitors.

Flow, Story Hierarchy

Sailing World is well-organized front to back. It begins with the smaller pieces, including reader letters, Q&A and competition rankings. It moves into features, all clumped together toward the center. Then all the products are grouped together, followed by how-to articles. It feels pretty easy to get around.

Paper Quality

This magazine is pretty small, only 72 pages plus covers (saddle-stitch) for such a rich audience. It seems like it should be much thicker; maybe most of its issues are bulkier than this one. It definitely doesn’t seem like this would be an audience advertisers would shy away from because of the readers’ affluence.

Overall Opinion

Sailing World was a nice surprise. I’d never looked at one before, so it was all new to me. The tone was very good, set by the editor’s note in the very beginning. The design was appealing, and the multiple opportunities for bonus content give the reader much more than just what’s between the covers. For these reasons, I give Sailing World an A.

I invite your comments! Check out the magazine or its website and tell me what you think of it.

–Tyler Reed

Editor, The Sidebar Review

Forbes recently unveiled a redesign, one that its leader called a “re-architecture” of the magazine and the website. One of the main changes Forbes points out is the addition of reader commentary in the margins of stories in order to add more voices to the magazine. What struck me the most of the new design was the use of white space and the stripping out of color. The redesign issue also happened to be the special Forbes 400 edition, so some, if any, of the changes may only be part of this current issue.

So, here goes! In all photos, the older issue (Sept. 27, 2010) is on the left, and the redesign issue (Oct. 11, 2010) 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

Forbes fills its cover with big personalities — both before and after the redesign. Forbes makes its readers feel important because they get to read intimate portraits of important people. Nothing on the cover indicates that this is a redesign issue, but that’s really problematic to say because the Forbes 400 issue is also a special issue and gets different treatment. We’ll have to wait until the next issue comes out to determine that. Regardless, I give it a pass because newsstand magazines like this one take great care to appeal to the newsstand crowd, so I’m sure the powers that be know what they’re doing here.

Cover Ruling: Pass

Contents

The contents pages are the first place the reader can start to see a shift in the design, to a more retro, almost newspaper look. The harsh reds and large photos from the previous contents are gone; subdued colors and an abundance of lines are introduced here. The new fonts are very pleasing; the titles stand out, and the designers use a lot of white space on the two pages of contents.

Contents Ruling: Win

Editor’s Note

The Editor’s Note, like the contents and like all the departments after it, showcase the new use of white space, margins and black-white-sepia tones. Steve Forbes goes from being the columnist (shoved up tightly in the corner) to being the main visual. No other photos appear on his two-page column, and the playfulness is removed from the second page on which restaurants to visit. The previous “playfulness” was color, which was stripped away by the designers. It’s almost like this new version is saying, “We don’t have time for silliness. We’re here to work.” If you don’t like the look that’s in the contents and editor’s note, you won’t like the rest of the magazine. It borders on plain, but it’s also more sophisticated, less busy.

Editor’s Note Ruling: Win

Departments

Entrepreneurs is another section in which the move away from color and toward white space is obvious. Some of the design elements are so subtle (for instance, the double lines above and below the section head, the dots coming from each side of the section head) that they make the pages feel elegant, even though stripping the color out seems like it would make the pages drab. Even the folios are simpler and more succinct.

Departments Ruling: Win

Back Page

On the pre-redesign Thoughts page, the quotes just flowed, one into another, with nothing driving the reader to each one. I imagine many readers scan just to see if there are any names they’re interested in. If not, they read the first item or the one just under the photo and then close the book. In the redesign, though, the page draws the reader in on each item because all the quotes have something distinct — type size, leading, color, length. Fewer quotes are on the page, but each is markedly more readable.

Back Page Ruling: Win

Feature from Before the Redesign

Overall

Forbes is made up of big personalities — untouchable by the masses, but brought to you, the reader, courtesy of the Forbes brand. In the previous design (see photo), President Barack Obama was the lead story. In the new design, it was Warren Buffett and Jay-Z. The subjects didn’t change with the redesign; only a bit of the presentation. The change was subtle but pleasant, retro but current, simple but sophisticated.

Overall Ruling: Win

Have you seen the new Forbes? What do you think? This redesign has gotten a lot of attention: You can read an interview with Lewis D’Vorkin, who led the redesign, with Talking Biz News, a preview of it in Business Insider, or the announcement about it on Forbes.com.

Flight Training is an association magazine that I had not heard of before my new blogging friend, flyinggma, recommended it for a redesign review. Here are a few of her comments about it:

  • “I’ve tried to read the new magazine but it just doesn’t hold my attention.”
  • “In the old format the regular contributor pages had a photo border that helped identify their page easily as well as color photo of the author.  Somehow that made me feel more connected to them and what they were saying.”
  • “I think the content is comparable to the old just more work to get interested.”

So, here goes! In all photos, the older format (July 2009) is on the left, and the redesigned format (July 2010) 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

The new cover is sleeker and more pulled together. The new nameplate definitely helps: The old nameplate is clunky and dated, while the new one seems sporty and clean. Overall, the fonts are cleaner, and the bigger differences in type size and style allow the reader to more easily spot items of interest.

Cover Ruling: Win

Contents

The folks at Flight Training shifted from a single page contents to two pages, giving the features articles their own page. This change allows the contents to host more photos and more reasons for readers to turn the pages to the articles that intrigue them the most. A pullquote on the opening page of the new contents (on the green background) is more enticement for the readers to check out that story.

Contents Ruling: Win

Editor’s Note

In general, throughout the magazine, the redesign stripped away loads of color and opted instead for spot color. In the case of the editor’s note, as in every department, the strange prism of color that once banded the top left corner is gone in favor of a black strip, an updated font and a twist upward added in a color that matches the tagline. The editor’s note, called President’s Perspective and written by Craig Fuller, is now shorter (about 500 words vs. the previous 800) and is contained on 2/3 page instead of a full page. It looks more mature, more masculine and more readable.

Editor’s Note Ruling: Win

Departments

The best part of the new redesign is the intro spread to Training Notes & News. Whereas before, Training Notes & News started right off into news and short articles, the new design introduces a beautiful photo (offered as a download on the website) as the precursor to the news and notes. The editors also renamed the section Preflight, the name of a column that didn’t make it into the new redesign. (Instead, the former columnist writes a long caption for the downloadable photo.)

Departments Ruling: Win

 

Before Redesign

 

 

After Redesign

 

Features

White space is a wonderful design element, and it appears that the designers are making better use of it in the new design. The features are not markedly different, though. Inside the features, the sidebars tend to go on a background that is too dark, with reversed-out type too small to stand up to it.

Features Ruling: Pass

Back Page

The final page transitioned from Why We Fly to Debrief: A Pilot’s Perspective. The concept is the same, but the treatment is different. (And although the redesign shown here is a celebrity, it is not always a celebrity on this page.) The chunked-up copy is much more appealing, but like in the features, the thin, reversed-out type on a dark background is difficult to read.

Back Page Ruling: Pass

Overall

This redesign was good, but not because the new design is so amazing; it’s because the old design was really unfortunate. Flight Training was definitely in need of an overhaul, and this was a good freshening up. However, while I appreciate consistency, the new design standardized so many sections that many of them look the same. Very few pages stand out from front to back in this magazine, and it might be worth the editors’ and designers’ time to figure out which pieces should remain. There are a few too many columns in Flight Training; commentary is important in an association magazine, but maybe some of the commentary should be presented differently so that there’s not such a feeling of sameness throughout.

The editors should also worry about comments like these from its readers: “I’m far from any kind of expert on reviewing magazines. I just know that the first time I picked up the new format it just didn’t feel right to me,” said FlyingGma. More important than any kind of critique like mine or technical observations from designers/editors is the feeling of connection by the reader. I saw in the June 2010 issue that Flight Training’s staff has reached out to readers and solicited feedback about the new design. I hope they find the perfect balance of design and reader contentment.

Overall Ruling: Pass

Have you seen the new design of Flight Training? What do you think? Another blog, My Flight Blog, had something to say about the redesign, too, if you’d like to read more on the subject.

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Commentary (www.commentarymagazine.com)

Issue reviewed: October 2010, Vol. 130, Issue 3

  • Published in New York, N.Y., by Commentary Inc.
  • Circulation: 25,000

Audience

  • thinkers/intellectuals
  • highly educated and influential people
  • activists

Overall Editorial

Commentary is made up of multiple long, thoughtful essays on current political and social issues. It is candy for people who really like news, philosophy and debate. It is death for people who live for photos, adore sidebars and have the attention span of a gnat. The editors of this publication focus all their energy on gathering or writing articles relevant to their audience, and they waste no time with endeavors that supplement said articles.

Overall Design

For a magazine that has no photos (and I mean it: NO photos), it’s not that bad. It’s wordy, obviously, but the designers work well with the typography, making it very readable and breaking up each and every page with a pullquote or large cap. The type throughout is justified, which I usually dislike, but this is a stiff book and stiff type seems to fit it well. I imagine rag right copy would look sloppy in this format. Commentary does use color, though: It’s well-placed and adds visual interest without detracting from the stories.

Cover Design and Blurbs

The cover is some strange pencil-type design with — guess what — words all over it. But it probably speaks right to the people who would read this magazine. It highlights five articles and their authors, including The Mosque Provocation, How States Went Broke and The Global Poverty Paradox. No teasing, no gimmicks, just a straightforward list of what’s contained within. I mention the authors because this magazine, more than any other I’ve encountered, bills its authors as experts. It encourages readers to write in about articles, challenging the experts if desired, and the expert answers the challenges. Commentary’s website calls reading this magazine “[taking] part in the great American discussion,” and by soliciting and answering such feedback, it truly is building a conversation, as well as print can do.

Editor’s Note

In keeping with the rest of the magazine, the editor’s note, How To Provoke, is text on a page, unmarred by photography of any type. It’s written by John Podhoretz, and it addressed the New York City mosque problem, which another writer goes into more detail on later. Podhoretz establishes himself in the beginning as one of this group of intellectuals who read and write this publication. He offers his opinion on the matter at hand and helps draw the reader in, if for no other reason than to read what the other writer wrote about the mosque.

Departments and Columns

Commentary’s only departments are the editor’s note, letters to the editor and a monthly joke, called Enter Laughing. The joke is, er, not really funny. It’s kind of funny, but not really, and it’s a long way from the beginning to the end. What’s funnier is that the editors know it isn’t really funny and they instead solicit exegeses from the readers to explain or interpret the joke. Bizarre. But it’s kind of cool because it’s very “insider”: If you don’t get it, you’re not one of us. I was always told that if you have to explain a joke, you didn’t tell it right … but I guess that’s why I’m not one of them.

Features

The features are smart, thoughtful, philosophical, political, questioning. They are not meant for you to read and accept as they are. They are meant for you to read, contemplate, challenge and choose what you want to believe. If you have a valid argument against the rhetoric, write a letter to the editor. It’s why they dedicate four pages to letters. One feature is fiction: It’s seven pages of a short story to break between the multitude of articles. I’m not sure why they inserted a fiction feature (it must resonate with their audience), but it’s nice to see an appreciation for good writing and good storytelling even in a hard-facts political-debate magazine.

Use of Photography

Ahem….they don’t have any.

Use of Illustrations

The folks at Commentary do add a little color to the publication with a few illustrations. The joke from Enter Laughing gets a political-cartoon-like illustration that’s very cute and almost forces you to stop and read that page. And the cover feature, The Other Existential Threat, has that same penciled illustration from the cover, just at the tops of the pages.

Relevance to Intended Audience

Like I said, I think this magazine is candy for people who like politics and social issues and debate. It doesn’t pretend to be something it isn’t. It is probably just like its audience likes it: no frills, no glitz, no flash, just commentary.

Integration with Website

Commentary doesn’t push readers to its website at all. It’s a shame because it’s got tons of online-only articles there. A lot of the content is blocked and is for subscribers only. Commentary Inc. is a nonprofit organization, so it has to push more for people’s funds than huge magazine publishing houses do.

Flow, Story Hierarchy

Commentary is broken up into categories once its departments/columns are out of the way. It begins with eight feature articles, each five to eight pages long. Next comes the fiction article, then two sections called Politics & Ideas and Culture & Civilization. The articles after the fiction story are markedly shorter, from one to five pages. In other words, Commentary starts with short appetizers, moves into the steak, then more steak, then … seriously … more steak, before you get the potatoes and veggies. Then the reader finishes with multiple small desserts. It would take someone like me an entire month to get through all 84 pages. It is a lot of words.

Paper Quality

Printed on thick, matte pages with stiff covers, Commentary has the feel of a small, softbound textbook. It’s perfect-bound and 84 pages plus covers. It is easy to hold onto for long reads — it bends back easily and doesn’t crinkle up at all.

Overall Opinion

Commentary was all new to me. I’ve never encountered it, and I’m definitely not a part of its target audience. But I can see why people who do make up the elite group of readers would love it. It offers a real forum for serious readers, it is committed to its content, and it doesn’t dumb itself down in order to capture a larger audience. For that, I give it an A.

I invite your comments! Check out the magazine or its website and tell me what you think of it.

–Tyler Reed

Editor, The Sidebar Review