Standing in front of the racks in WH Smith at Heathrow, there is nothing on the shelves that grabs you. It’s just rows and rows of newspapers and magazines featuring cover shots of a celebrity or some anonymous, beautiful face. In terms of editorial design, everyone is doing the same thing. It’s all rather bland and the room to stand out is immense – if you’re brave enough.
IPC’s new-look Essentials and Marie Claire feature competent, professional designs with pages that navigate well and serve their readership. The New Statesman’s redesign is arresting, offering something different to its competitors, Time and Newsweek. The design may still be finding its way graphically, but the publication has a spark, which is important in a weekly title. It made a bold decision to do something different and stand out.
Newspapers remain powerful social and political tools, but they need to be reassessed. The freesheets – London Lite, The London Paper and Sport – look credible and professional. The design is clear, the eye can move rapidly around the page, and it provides the reader with a quick buffet of bite-size news. But overall, the art direction is a missed opportunity. It’s only a matter of time before someone does something graphically ground-breaking in this area.
Neville Brody’s design for The Times features a very correct, precise look with a clear font and layout, but I don’t really see a new editorial attitude. It hasn’t taken advantage of the strong Times editorial heritage and it could have gone a lot further. Where is its DNA and graphic fingerprint? Designers need to be challenged in the right manner by the editor and the publisher. Writers must think visually and designers should have a sense of the word. A project succeeds when the teams work together.
The Wall Street Journal redesign by Mario Garcia of Garcia Media, which sees it move to a new Berliner format, is good but having grown up with the memory of the old design, I can’t help thinking it has lost a sense of that incredible elegance. The paper used to be unique, understated and had an incredible kudos – after all, it represents the financial melting pot of the world economies. But somehow, a part of this aura has been lost in its redesign; it doesn’t ooze that Wall Street confidence any more.
To produce magazines and newspapers is easier than ever – everything is instant and put together quickly and cost-efficiently. This is a reflection of what you see on the shelf. Just as Apple has Steve Jobs at the helm – someone who believes in design – so too should the publishing world have its equivalent champions, who aren’t necessarily designers, helping to lead the way.
It is important to recognise that marketing has a huge control over publishing. It is, after all, a business, and publications look a certain way because readers want to buy into that genre and lifestyle. For me, a successful editorial product must reconcile its creative and commercial interests, without losing its soul.
Fernando Gutiérrez is director of The Studio of Fernando Gutiérrez and a former partner at Pentagram