Colors has long been a sort of totemistic item for designers. For years it was the fiefdom of the great Tibor Kalman, and his fruitful association with the magazine is well documented. Today, it has a new design supremo – Fernando GutiÃ©rrez, currently a partner at Pentagram.
GutiÃ©rrez’s first issue as creative director (Colors 41) is devoted to the Lukole refugee camp, at Ngara in Tanzania. It’s hard to imagine any magazine devoting much space to this unglamorous subject, far less an entire issue. But this is the great joy of Colors: under the benign stewardship of the Benetton family it has a free-floating editorial policy that allows it to bob up beside any subject it chooses. Of course, it is reasonable to maintain a healthy scepticism over Benetton’s motives for funding Colors (human suffering used to sell jumpers?). But it is also possible to be grateful that the magazine is free to stray into areas of controversy and subjects which have no commercial value, ring-fenced as it is from the harsh world of ABC ratings and the planning charts of hard-nosed media buyers.
GutiÃ©rrez’s new layout is a paradigm of cool modern design. It’s sleek, uncluttered and supremely elegant. The photography is outstanding and so is GutiÃ©rrez’s assured handling of it. Pictures are either full-bleed or elegantly positioned on the page, with generous and well-proportioned borders: no messy ‘cram-it-all-in’ photo spreads here! One of the most attractive aspects of Colors is the paper stock; a luxuriant matt, it gives off a strong, tactile buzz.
Although the photography is absorbing, the text, in contrast, seems remote and unwelcoming. The body copy has few typographical access points, and the effect is mildly forbidding. Two further disincentives to read are provided by the English text appearing in cyan, (the French translation is in black), and an epidemic of crude hyphenation – something not normally associated with the venerable craft-based Pentagram. The articles are uncredited and this creates yet another barrier. It’s all very well dispensing with some of the tiresome conventions of magazine layout, but this seems an odd omission: whose words are we reading? Mr Benetton’s? Yet perhaps this is the point of Colors; as one of the unofficial house journals of visual culture, it’s a sort of ‘issues’ magazine for people who don’t read much.
While the dominant design trend in magazine design appears to be information overload – too much of everything – it is a delight to find a magazine where reduction of information seems to be the main preoccupation. Colors finest attribute under GutiÃ©rrez is its heroic visual restraint.
Photo credits, clockwise from top left: Hristos Potsios; Jeff Riedel; Andreas HadjÃº; Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin
Top: Colors 42 cover, art direction by Fernando GutiÃ©rrez