Rag Tales

Type defines a magazine, so what do their creators choose and why? Mark Wilson gets the answers while graphic designers give their views

Sight and Sound

Designed by Simon Esterson, Esterson Lackersteen

“I have been designing the monthly British Film Institute magazine, Sight and Sound, for five years. Pictures have never been a problem because the BFI has such an amazing picture library. The two main fonts I use are Swift and Champion. I selected Swift because it’s very

legible in small sizes. I use it in the back section of the magazine where we list all the film credits of the month’s releases. For the headlines, I use an American sans serif called Champion, which I bought from a designer in New York. The font lends itself very well to big, bold condensed headlines. I never wanted the design to be elaborate or decorative, much rather something bold and simple.”

Quentin Newark, design director, Atelier Works

“I think Sight and Sound is the best example of magazine design around at the moment. The design uses two fonts, an anodyne serif for the main text and a strange sans serif, which is like a perfect cinematic poster typeface, which, when condensed, is great for titling and can also take colour well.”

Mens Health

Katherine Carnegie, art director, Men’s Health

“I like to keep the type masculine looking, chunky, sans serif, no messing. I don’t like to include any superfluous design elements, everything has to have a purpose. Our style is clean and straightforward, I use sidebars and points a lot to convey extra bits of information. We’re not a style magazine, we’re aimed at men between 25 and 44. Our average reader is 33, he’s intelligent and has a good sense of humour.

“Legibility is very important, these guys won’t want to spend ages finding their way round the page. They like clarity, with clothes they want to see texture, fixtures and fastenings; with exercises they want to know exactly when they’re meant to have bent knees, so I bear this in mind with page design. For example, a recent spread on walking boots showed different sections visually and explained their purpose.

“Humour is a very strong tool in the design, I think it’s used poorly in magazines in general. I try and incorporate funny little quirks whenever possible. This is necessary to contrast with our somewhat austere title.”

Brian Webb, director, Trickett & Webb

“When I threw it on the desk, Lynn (Webb’s partner at Tricket & Webb) said “God, that looks American” – and she wasn’t being complimentary. I think this magazine suffers from multiple-type personality syndrome and needs a serious health check.

“As a general statement, if you compare reading Men’s Health to going to a city for the first time, there is no way you would be able to find your way around. There are no signposts and no personality hanger tracks. From the contents page to about page 57, there is a heavy sans serif condensed font, then everything suddenly changes and it’s a question of playing spot the editorial in a mass of different faces, pictures, ads, panels and so on. I gave up counting the number of fonts. The photographs belie the fact that the art director has been through all the photo libraries known to Man. Also, the sex spread just wasn’t raunchy, which a sex spread should be really. And all those ads for penis extensions. I thought car magazines were the place for that sort of thing.”


John Browning, executive editor, Wired

“The UK edition of Wired was launched in March. The design is directly inspired by the work of the American issue’s creative director John Plunkett, who wanted to use type and colour to make the magazine look as if it came from another planet. The typeface mostly used in the design is Adobe Myriad, but another we use is Wired Vaun, which is a re-working of the serif font Walvaun. As the magazine talks about the future, we have to use design and pictures to envisage a future.”

Michael Johnson, creative director, Johnson Banks

“I’d describe the design of Wired as very cool. As far as type is concerned, there doesn’t seem to be a house style. They seem to choose whatever takes their fancy, but ensure that it is well designed, inspiring and interesting. The use of two fluorescent colours in a magazine is almost unheard of, but is used with good purpose. The interesting thing about Wired is that although it’s trying lots of different things, you can actually read it. With Raygun, for example, you look at the design, but you wouldn’t ever actually read it. The rule for pictures seems to be that the art editor (Leah Kline) can muck them up as much as she wants. In the September issue they retouched people’s faces to make them look as if they were wearing lipstick. It’s so obvious that they don’t have an editor telling them what they can and can’t do.”m

Stephen Read, art director, Loaded

“Loaded may seem mental, off- the-wall and falling to pieces, but there’s an underlying discipline that keeps it together. If there’s any house style, it’s that we have no style, we could have a clean spread with one picture and a neat headline, then 50 things jammed together on the next page. I tend to use every Mac and Photoshop trick in the book and turn the pages into a scrapbook, using overlay, posterisation, cut-outs and so on. If I have two trannies next to each other I like to combine them, make a collage, sometimes even reverse one so a positive and negative image contrast each other. The main aim is to keep readers guessing, to be as modern, different and exciting as possible.”

Jeremy Leslie, freelance magazine art director

“Loaded bypasses all the pretence of its rivals, and with a huge dollop of irony gets away with what a few years ago would have been completely unacceptable, and even now is barely so. Just as, in its time, The Face was a reference point for a whole subculture, so Loaded is now. The new issue has the singer from Oasis on the cover alongside a visual pun of their single Roll with it. (Oasis and a roll with it, says the cover line, with a picture of a ham roll). No other magazine could get away with such a plainly stupid joke, but it has the nerve and the confidence.

“In this context, design can’t be admitted as an issue. To admit so would go against the ethos of the magazine. It works very hard to look undesigned and ugly, and successfully achieves this. Everything is bigger, louder, brighter, brasher than the last thing. It makes you wonder how long they can keep it going. At some point, like The Face at the end of the Eighties, it will surely have to reinvent itself or else it will fail. Meanwhile, I see plenty of awards for sub-editing but few for design.”


James Chambers, art director, Preview (The Observer’s recently launched listings magazine)

“The aim of the design is to make the magazine look young and funky, and stand apart from other listings magazines. I mainly use three typefaces – Bureau Grotesque for the headlines (the same as The Observer Life section), Utopia as the main body font, and Franklin Gothic. Utopia is the same font that is used throughout The Observer, so this lends the design of Preview to look as if it is part of a sort of corporate identity.

“We chose to use Franklin Gothic for the listings as it reduces well, and is reasonably legible. The paper isn’t as good as I would like, I would prefer something glossier. The US magazine Entertainment Weekly was a major influence in terms of editorial and art direction.”

Michael Crozier was design editor of the Independent from 1986-1994. He now runs the consultancy Design Unlimited

“Preview is a very brave attempt and is cleverly done. However, I do find it rather difficult to follow as there seem to be different types and headlines all shouting at you and competing for attention. They’ve made a good attempt with the listings, although I feel the design is a bit too tight. In the film section they have all these

little symbols for film, but you have to keep turning back to a previous page to find out what they mean. There is too much dense type. There are also too many tinted panels.

“Overall, the design is very modern and appears to be aiming at a young going-out, eating-out type of market. I suspect that the older Observer readers might not like it.”

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