A tale of two city guides

Two new series of travel guides, offshoots of that fount of urban knowledge Time Out and fashion glossy Wallpaper, have hit the shelves and are competing for our attentions. Yolanda Zappaterra considers each approach from an editorial and graphic design s

Two new series of travel guides, offshoots of that fount of urban knowledge Time Out and fashion glossy Wallpaper, have hit the shelves and are competing for our attentions. Yolanda Zappaterra considers each approach from an editorial and graphic design stance to help globetrotters make their choice.

Despite exhortations to reduce our global wanderings, travel seems more popular now than ever. So bright, young urban things who pack cabin baggage for a weekend away should welcome two new abbreviated travel guide series that are as bijou as the rooms in New York’s hip Hotel QT – a new addition to the Time Out stable, Time Out Shortlist, and the latest must-have Wallpaper offshoot, the Wallpaper City Guide, published by Phaidon. Have they managed to maintain their respective brands’ integrity, while forging their own strong identities, both in design terms and editorially? And, just as importantly, which should the savvy traveller buy?

In creating the Wallpaper guides, art director Loran Stosskopf wanted to create a design that ‘worked in terms of pictures, because that’s a very strong Wallpaper element’. So he devised a look that was rooted in classic Swiss Formalism, but gave a feeling of contemporary, fresh design that ‘could have been designed ten years ago or in ten years’ time’. The key lay in a tight grid, comprised of eight units that enable a strong structure (captions, for example, sit in one ‘unit’), but also flexibility in picture use and variation in the rhythm of the pages, created by four possible picture depths and three possible picture widths across a spread. As you might expect from the Wallpaper brand, these pictures are stunning.

Fonts are by Matthew Carter, as well as bespoke Christian Schwartz used in the magazine, and comprehensive colour-coding stylishly links text entries to mapping.

So far, so Wallpaper. But the things that stand out and give the guides a seriously appealing quality are their format, stock and covers. ‘The proportion of the pages was aligned to the size of the (largely 5×4 inch medium-format) photography in the book,’ says Stosskopf. The two different stocks – a soft, uncoated paper for the back and front sections, and a matt one for the central bulk of the book that takes pictures well, but is restrained and refined – add to the feeling of luxury. And the elegant white-top covers, taken together, call to mind the colour palette of Willy Fleckhaus’s classic 1960s series of Edition Suhrkamp books. The result is completely seductive in design terms, but at 120 very selective pages (20 of which are blank for notes and sketches), it makes for a distinctly thin read. ‹

At first glance, the Time Out Shortlist guides couldn’t be more different from the stylish posturing of the Wallpaper series. Some 200 densely filled pages in the Time Out fonts FranklinGothic and Century OS MT make it clear that these guides are information-led and content-rich, rather than aesthetic statements. But closer inspection reveals a similar simplicity of structure at the heart of the design.

As Time Out art editor Pinelope Kourmouzoglou says, ‘I wanted them to be visually creative, contemporary, fresh and vibrant. The key visual element to achieving that is simplicity.’ Much of this consisted of paring down elements from the full-sized guides, so large white-out-of-black heads are replaced with colourised side-rule bars that tie the inside pages to the cover, and heavy colour-tint boxes are replaced with keyline boxes that are lighter, but still clearly delineated from listings text. Imagery, too, is used well – juxtaposed full-bleed and framed images cross spreads to allow for four widths and, while the two columns shrunk down from the full-size guides are narrow – they’re offset by generous margins that make pages look clean and accessible.

As with the Wallpaper guides, colour is used for orientation and navigation, with each city distinguished by its own colour, offering an effective and elegant solution to the cover’s need for differentiation from its full-size counterpart. ‘It’s a very balanced structure where all the main features of the front cover are tied together inside the borders of the small dimension,’ says Kourmouzoglou. Key to the cover’s composition was the imagery, which has to work hard because ‘my small cover had a lot on it and I had to keep it simple and clear’, recalls Kourmouzoglou. The solution was inhabited images (‘People bring life to stiff, ageless landmarks,’ says Kourmouzoglou) which were colourised according to city colour. Set against the clean, white background, these lend an unusual quality to the series and clearly distinguish them from the bigger siblings, while also marking them out as individual, independent publications.

The first 20 Wallpaper City Guides are published by Phaidon at £4.95. The first six Time Out Shortlist guides are published by Time Out Guides at £6.99

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