Monthly Archives: April 2013

Welcome to the weekly drama that is the cover of the NME

Here is the latest cover of the NME, the third to be designed by Mark Neil, their new Art Director, ex of the Big Issue.

I think it’s great work;  the colour-way is bright without feeling cheap, the pop-art bubble is a a gesture rarely used with such confidence, and the picture management is a masterclass in what to do with four unrecognisable blokes wearing sunglasses sitting several yards apart.

Best of all, it doesn’t just rely on a great big headline shouting the name of the band. The words suggests insight, access and a point of view. Unfortunately, it hits a speed bump here, as unless I’m a die hard fan of the band, the words don’t actually mean anything. But that aside, the whole thing still feels really fresh and different.

Regular readers of this blog will know I’m a big fan of the fine work Mark did at the Big issue, this NME cover shows him continuing to work a similarly successful aesthetic.

But this is where the eternal dilemma of the NME cover reveals itself. Mark’s Big Issue covers were for the most part, breezy, feelgood posters, designed to stop the traffic and make a sale on a very broad editorial proposition. This NME cover maybe cut from the same cloth, but the NME brand is a very different sell.

At this point in time, the print version of the NME, like most other music papers, is tribal. It’s about Indie music, end of.

This means the cover inevitably attempts to reflect that content, which is not so very different from Mojo and Uncut’s retro pastiche, Mixmag’s ‘clubby’ feel or Classic Rock looking just that.

But unlike these titles, NME is weekly. Given how shallow the Indie pool is right now, this is way too frequent to create any sense of event from just sticking an interview with a band on the cover. Vaccines today, Foals tomorrow, does it really make any difference? I don’t think so.

The true challenge is to channel the audience, to understand who they are, what their hopes, fears and dreams are, and then talk to that, as opposed to a band’s press schedule.

Easy to say, of course, but there are choices here. Should the NME be more political, reflecting independent thought, as opposed to just Indie music? Or, should it become a lot more ‘fashion’, choosing the best looking band members for the covers, and trying to make Indie music feel truly sexy.

Or, should it capitalise on the one thing a weekly frequency does deliver, which is the ability to react to live events. Given that this is the only part of the music space that is really growing, along with the NME’s massive digital and social footprint, this seems to have a lot of potential.

All of these options require change, which is tricky enough, but to reflect any new positioning within the confines of the newsstand is another thing entirely. Should it be breathless and urgent? Is it cool and classic (check an earlier coverthink post which addresses the tension between timeless and timeliness), or, is it something different again. Underpinning everything, is that for a brand like the NME to succeed today, the cover has to work on social media. That means delivering either an incredible story, an amazing image or a dramatic piece of opinion.

Either way, they’re going to piss people off, which is of course exactly what the NME has to do to survive. Good luck to them.

Design of the Year’s front cover

For the first time, a website has won Design of the Year, in this instance gov.uk. The site is a portal, drawing together all the public’s interactions with the UK government under one url.

The jury was unanimous in its praise, describing the site as “the Paul Smith of websites”. They went on to say: “Gov.uk looks subtly British thanks to a revised version of a classic typeface, (Transport) designed by Margaret Calvert back in the 1960s,”

And they are absolutely right. It’s a masterpiece of understated utility, best seen on the mobile platform, where most initial interactions will occur. From the perspective of visual design, the genius is the black bar carrying the gov.uk logo. It merges perfectly with the handset, making screen and device a single, seamless experience.

The whole thing works brilliantly, shame we can’t say the same for the government.

Six reasons why the new Harper’s Bazaar is so cool

This recent issue of Harper’s Bazaar came my way as part of a motorway service station ‘value pack’; six quid for this, along with Elle and Elle Deco.

On one hand, this commodification of premium content is clear evidence of the publishing industry’s difficulties, on the other, I got to sample magazines that I might never have otherwise bought. Let’s call it even.

Harper’s has been pretty good for a while, Creative Director Tom Usher having done a fine job before moving onto Marie Claire. But I was mightily impressed by this, one of the first from new Creative Director Marissa Bourke. Here are six things I loved about it…

1. The cover picture. First class eye contact, an amazing image to re-inroduce Kate Winslet as the new Mrs Rock n’ Roll. Amy Winehouse eyes? Check. Slimming backlight? Check. Black turtle neck top? Check. Heavy wrist jewelry? Check. That’s pretty much the Harper’s reader, or at least the readers’ fantasy version of themselves.

2. The discipline in the editing. Everything in this issue points to family. Every story seems to talk about the most important relationships in our lives. It’s truly moving stuff.

3. The incredible poise in the layout. Single pages are the true heartbeat of glossy magazines, as this is the content that sits opposite the advertising, which is why these brands exist in the first place. It’s easy to chuck a beautiful picture across a spread, but another thing entirely to combine a whole series of disparate elements and create a new piece of art. This Editor’s letter is no exception. For more on multi-element pages, take a look at an earlier post here.

4. This picture of a typical Harper’s family scene. Except, in this instance, the models are Keith Richard’s grandchildren, four year old Ida, and Ella, 17. Their grandmother is of course Anita Pallenberg.

4a. The fashion credits on the picture. Denin dungarees, £55 from Topshop, and canvas Vans, for £57. Looking this cool is…easy!

5. This limited edition subscribers cover, by Tracy Emin. Worth the price of a year’s subscription all on it’s own.

6. The beautifully written interview with Tracy Emin about her relationship with David Bowie on page 136. That’s what I call access.

Meet the cover of the future

It’s all about data.

This is what neverunderdressed.com, the new ‘Digital glossy’ from Shortlist Media looks like. The Guardian tells us that: ‘The free title will compete with market leaders Elle, Vogue and Marie Claire in the busy women’s glossy market when it launches in May’. The site is trumpeted as being a responsive design, which frankly, all sites, including this one, should now be. Shortlist Media know a thing or two about launching new media brands, and this is no exception.

This screen grab doesn’t do any sort of justice to the design, as there is a natty animated gif on the site, along with the very clever touch of the ‘send’ button only appearing when you’ve started to type in your address.

The typography is just brilliant. I assume Matt Phare is behind it, he’s Shortlist Media’s Creative Director, and has been responsible for the look and feel of all their launches thus far. It’s sharp, it’s fashion and it’s wildly over the top without being ridiculous. And, when you type in the type in the box, your name comes up in the same groovy font.

So what happens next? Well, go and have look, and you’ll see what I mean…