Monthly Archives: August 2013

An Englishman In New York

Well, sort of…

If you haven’t already guessed, this is my favourite magazine. Which seems more than appropriate since I’m currently consulting in New York City. You’ll find a shorter version of this post in the new book My Favo(u)rite Magazine, along with 88 other fantastic titles. It’s a brilliant project for a truly worthy cause, if you haven’t already done so, you can order yours at magculture right now.

The New Yorker

I lived in New York City for three years from 2001, taking up a position on Condé Nast’s Mademoiselle, and Rolling Stone after that. When asked what I thought of The New Yorker, I replied: ‘Not much’, brought up as I was on a diet of Smash Hits, The Face and European news weeklies. What business did I have with pages of uninterrupted text and tales of some place called ‘The Upper East Side’

9/11 changed all that. Not only did I become a New Yorker in that moment, but suddenly I had an appetite for news about America’s place in the world I could really trust. And for me, trust is still the strongest editorial currency; a value The New Yorker has held for an awfully long time.

With the most polyglot population imaginable, New York is truly a world city. Along with the movies, TV shows and general mythology, I believe everyone carries a little bit of the city with them. Should we wish, we can all be spiritual New Yorkers even if we have never lived there.

I could have chosen many issues as my favourite, but in the end I plumped for one I was reading when writing this post. From July 9th 2012, it’s not exactly the current issue, but I only finished reading it in the bath last week.

One reason why print still works so well, is the visibility and sheer physicality of the navigation. You always know exactly where you are, both on the page and in the book. The New Yorker amplifies this benefit by setting the type perfectly, using a minimum of page furniture and appearing to never change.

This means the reader experience can become highly ritualised. Flip though the cartoons, read the reviews, zip through Talk of The Town, and only then dive into a feature.

In my July 9th issue, I’d pulled out pages 48 to 68 in order to keep the floor clean as I clippered my hair. But mercifully, the big TED talks feature ‘Listen And Learn’ had remained intact. I wasn’t planning to read ten thousand words on something I wasn’t exactly searching for, but such is my trust in the brand, I made a start.

And what a piece of journalism it is. Immaculately researched and full of insight, the story had such power that it ever-so-slightly adjusted my world view, in a way that I believe will be permanent. Which is surely the greatest thing any media brand can ever do.

Finally, the cover; a celebration of Barack Obama’s health reforms. And like all New Yorker covers, it works on many levels. As an illustration, it requires the viewer to exercise their imagination. But then, this opening of our minds then allows the masthead to really work its genius. Because with no other coverlines, the masthead becomes the caption. In this moment, Barack Obama clearly has become a New Yorker.

But more than that, (and at the risk of appearing in Pseuds Corner), if we are all spiritual New Yorkers, looking at any New Yorker cover means that in some small way, we end up looking at a reflection of ourselves.

‘There aren’t many magazines that can truly claim to capture a moment. This one did.’

Here’s another amazing piece of work you’ll find in ‘My Favo(u)rite Magazine’, the excellent book produced by Magculture in support of Bob Newman. This very fine piece of writing is by Marissa Bourke, the Creative Director of Harper’s, talking about the very same title.

‘In April 1965, American Bazaar commissioned one of the most influential photographers of all time, Richard Avedon, to guest edit an edition. He acted as editor and sole photographer for the issue and, along with Art Directors Ruth Ansel and Bea Feitler, created one of the most beautiful magazines ever collated.

There was a freedom, an energy and a confidence in the pages — the special colours, the seminal, neon cover of Jean Shrimpton with the odd-but- intriguing lenticular eye device and the great-but-obscure coverlines. Nearly 50 years on, this cover looks like it was made yesterday.

Avedon shot portraits for the issue of Roy Lichtenstein, Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenburg, ‘the new young man’ Paul McCartney and rising star Andy Warhol. The contributors page was all done in a photo booth. It’s important to understand how radical it was. Its stance was far from that of the straightlaced ’50s of only a few years earlier. He featured black models, a woman in a spacesuit (space at that time was a very male domain) and embraced youth culture in ways that many at the time didn’t appreciate. The issue wasn’t well received commercially or critically, and it was one of Avedon’s last issues for Bazaar before he followed Diana Vreeland to Vogue.

He captured in one edition the broad spectrum of the mid ’60s, from the political battlegrounds of the Cold War space race and social unrest to Warhol, the Beatles and fashion, high and popular culture side by side.

There aren’t many magazines that can truly claim to capture a moment. This one did.’

If you want to buy My favo(u)rite Magazine, you can do so here at  If you want to know what my favourite magazine is, here’s another, slightly bigger clue…

Details: a perfect reference point

Several days ago you may have seen the Coverthink post on ‘My Favo(u)rite Magazine’, the excellent new book produced in support of Bob Newman. It’s fine work, full of great magazines with analysis from people who really know what they’re talking about.

To give you an idea what the book has to offer, above are a couple of spreads from Details magazine, selected by Florian Bachleda, and designed by Bob Newman himself. Here’s what Florian has to say about the work:

‘Bob took over Details, and created a visual vocabulary influenced by the classic Blue Note album covers designed by Reid Miles in the ‘50s and ‘60s. Editorially and visually, it was a perfect reference point’

I couldn’t agree more. If you want to see other great work like this, buy the book at Magculture NOW, either in print or pdf.

As for my own contribution, I’ll share that in a day or two. But for now, here’s a small clue as to what it will be about…


For The Benefit Of Mr. Bob

For those of you who don’t yet know, a few months ago the great American art director Bob Newman suffered a shocking accident in a swimming pool. Eye magazine shares the story here, telling us that Bob was in a coma for two weeks, generating a mountain of medical bills.

Bob is currently a freelance consultant, so he has no current income, and has no way of working for many months. Bob’s most recent employer, Reader’s Digest, went bankrupt, suspending his expected severance pay.

There is already a fund set up to help Bob and his family deal with the medical expenses, you can contribute to that at right now. But on top of that, Andrew Losowsky from the Huffington Post and Jeremy Leslie of Magculture have co-ordinated a quite excellent benefit project.

Called ‘My Favo(u)rite Magazine’, It’s a cracking piece of work, featuring some outstanding magazines and genuinely insightful and heartfelt analysis from a huge range of contributors. There are 88 in all, including some of the biggest names in both the UK and US, as well as the rest of the world. It’s a total snip at £15.99, you can order it right here at Magculture. Or, if you prefer, you can order a pdf for only £12.99 here, again at Magculture.

You will never find a cause as close to home as this. Don’t think about doing this tomorrow, think about the fact that you’ve got your health, and the ability to work and earn money today. Bob won’t be able to do that for a while, so it’s our duty to do whatever we can to help.

If you want to contribute to Bob’s fund directly, or just want to find out more about what happened on Bob’s facebook page, you can do that here.

Glamour. But at what price?

September issues are a big deal for any fashion magazine, none more so than for US Glamour, Condé Nast’s most profitable newsstand title. But new figures released this week show the title to be 28% down year-on-year, so the stakes couldn’t be higher, particularly since Anna Wintour was named Artistic Director for all Condé Nast titles earlier this year.

Let’s be clear, the reason why sales are so rubbish is all to do with change in audience behaviour, not because the work is no good. It doesn’t matter how hot your cover is if no-one is standing in front of it. This means it’s critical to find new ways to market the benefits of print, along with maximising other revenue streams.

With Glamour, one big way of balancing the books is through ad revenue. So how is the design of the title changing to that agenda, and where does it leave their relationship with both the industry and the readers?

Access is everything. It’s the biggest issue of the year, so you have to have Jen, still the biggest newsstand star. The picture is incredible. Beautifully composed, amazing light, great styling, smart props, enviable location. When seen on Facebook or any other digital platform where potential readers will first encounter the work, it’s perfect.

Print is demanding. When you actually see the magazine, there’s a considerable amount of grain in the cover photo creating a very noticable effect. For some Twitter users this caused genuine disappointment when they saw the real thing. More critical is whether the grain has any impact at newsstand, I certainly saw it before I bought my copy.

Eye contact really means something. However ace the cover is, eye contact is where the relationship with the reader begins. And this takes place in a tiny area of the image. If excessive grain makes this contact diffused, all sorts of questions occur. Has the picture been retouched? Is the picture original? Was the image ever intended to be a cover? In short, are the readers being shown the truth?

Don’t piss off the talent. The whole set has the same grain, yet the photographer Alexei Hay is hardly a beginner. In fact he’s built up an exceptional list of celebrity clients. So I must assume this grain is a deliberate choice. It’s a super flattering technique, but possibly of greater benefit to the star than the reader. Jen’s an amazing looking woman, as a recent selfie proves. But she’s also pushing on a bit, so the risks of being seen to be less than perfect are perhaps still too high for the brand to carry.

Craft still matters. Creative Director Geraldine Hessler is a true master of this kind of work, so there’s much to admire. She manages the newsstand paradox perfectly. Great type, yet loads of lines, lots of color yet a cool black logo. My only quibble is that as this is a special Hollywood issue, centering that line alone does not communicate this ‘specialness’ at all.

Make all the ads look good. I haven’t seen the US version for quite a while, so I’ve missed the change to Helvetica throughout the book, all the way up to and including the cover. This is easily my favourite font of all time, witness the Coverthink logo.

In Glamour, all the pages look terrific. But more than that, the ruthless typographic discipline creates outstanding relationships between editorial and ads, as the content looks well branded, yet neutral. Which is of course, Helvetica’s dark secret. If there is a problem, it’s that many of the sections look very similar, the whole mag can feel one paced. But hey, if it flatters the client…

Make it look like Vogue. What Editor-In-Chief Cindi Leive thinks of Anna Wintour now being on her masthead is anyone’s guess. And I don’t know if the recent design changes pre-date her arrival or are  pre-emptive moves. But the fact remains that the mag is now red and black throughout. This is a HUGE move. It’s much more fashion, a lot older, and a lot more premium. Again, it helps with the ads, as many of the editorial pages are now entirely monochrome.

The upshot is, Glamour now looks an awful lot like Vogue.

Make it look even more like Vogue. Helevtica’s great, but it needs a foil. So just to make sure, Glamour now sports a smart new serif. It’s not Vogue‘s Didot, but it sure is a pretty close cousin.

Understanding brand values is everything. Like all general interest women’s magazine brands, Glamour has an overarching dilemma. When you cover a bit of everything (fashion, features, sex, real life, etc), how can you truly define yourself when content won’t do the job for you. This is where tone, both visual and written, is absolutely key.

Tone is the fastest and deepest way of establishing who the reader really is. And this is where Glamour is running the greatest risks. If she were your best friend (and many women’s mags like to make this claim) is she still the clever, sassy and friendly girl you used to know?

Or, has she dropped two dress sizes, become really hip and a little less approachable?

I have always held the view that Condé Nast has only ever been about one brand, Vogue. And that every other title they publish has a substantial amount of Vogue in their DNA. This is no bad thing of course, but given the bun fight we’re all involved with now, it’ll be interesting to see how Cindi Leive keeps hold of her hat.

(Full disclosure: I was Creative Director of Mademoiselle, US Glamour’s now closed sister title, back in 2001)