Redesigning Newsweek.

A few weeks ago, I kidded on Twitter that I was redesigning Newsweek because I was so utterly disgusted with the publication’s recent redesign. You can read my full venting on the subject, if you’re interested.
Newsweek‘s new design takes relatively staid stock imagery, some very well written content, and a few strong typefaces and somehow manages to ruin all of them in one fell swoop. The totality of the presentation is a mess, with sloppy layout, poor typography, inconsistent styling, and a seeming lack of interest in engaging the reader.
So, I decided to redesign to Newsweek—or at least a few pages of the magazine.*
I had the following overarching objectives:

  • Use the same or very similar fonts
  • Make use of the general look and feel of the magazine that I’ve known for many years (and even capture some of the nuances of the current magazine)
  • Ensure that the presentation could actually be used by the magazine

These objectives were defined to better put myself in the shoes of the art director and to feel that the assignment would have a result that would be useful and utilizable.
Concomitantly, I set up the following limitations:

  • I would not spent more than 2 total hours on the project
  • The redesign would use exactly the same copy as in the original magazine
  • No truly new graphics (e.g., icons, textures, etc.) would be introduced

These restrictions would ensure that I felt that I didn’t have free license to do whatever the hell I want. Rather, as the Fake Art Director, I had to make use of the same basic resources available to the real one.

The Original

I chose to use the Crazy Oprah issue of Newsweek (June 8, 2009) because, in part, the cover felt so angry, and even mildly racist. Here the magazine used an unflattering photograph of a powerful and influential person and subjected her to an unsubtle and unsophisticated visual presentation.
Newsweek cover from June 8, 2009
I also chose two interior pages from this same issue that interested me. These were Fareed Zakaria’s “Boom Times are Back”, a piece about the potential decline of influence of the United States, and an back-of-the-book article on Elvis Costello by Seth Colter Walls entitled “He’s a Little Bit Country.” The latter also had a strange column at the bottom of the page called “The Prognosticator”.
page of Newsweek featuring article by Fareed Zakaria
page of Newsweek about Elvis Costello

A Revision

I started the revision by reworking Zakaria’s piece. I wanted to try to use, as much as possible, the exact same font families that are in the original design. Included was Hoefler & Frere-Jones’s beautiful slab serif Archer for headlines, which does not work at all for the magazine. I believe the main font used for the body is a grade of H & FJ’s lovely Mercury Text, but I’m not sure. I wanted to see if I even had a chance of making it work.
first redesigned page for Zakaria article
As you can see, I failed. It’s no better than the original.

The Revision

I looked through my toolbox and found that two relatively new font families would work beautifully here: Christian Schwartz’s Stag for headlines and callouts and Veronika Burian’s fabulous Karmina for the body. Stag is a sturdy but smart slab face with roots in the magazine world; it was originally commissioned for Esquire. Karmina was developed for difficult print conditions and it reads crisply and elegantly at small sizes.
Using wider margins and gutters and larger images and these typefaces, I restyled the same copy with cleaner, clearer headlines that actually spoke to me.
second redesigned page for Zakaria article
I then replicated the general styling of this page for the piece on Costello and “The Prognosticator” section.
second redesigned page for Walls article
Finally, I tackled the cover. In some ways, this was the easiest part of the redesign. Through the power of Google, I found a much more flattering photograph of Oprah Winfrey. If the editors wanted to insult her or her fans, at least they could do it in a more subtle way. Using DINSchrift for the knocked out headline, I placed it over the mouth, which is also the central spot of the book. The sub-header is less important but I gave more prominence to the byline, which to my eyes should have more weight.
I found an older version of the Newsweek logo for the masthead, which I prefer. It’s chunkier, thicker, and feels more honest, somehow than the leaner, Slim-Fast version on the newsstands. Related, I extended the red masthead left and right to bleed off the page; this makes the cover feel more full, more serious, and brighter. Finally, I centered the dateline above the logo and placed the coverlines at the top that showcased top stories within the magazine. (While I appreciate the simplicity of a minimalist magazine cover, by not indicating featured content, I’m not sure what I’m buying in a magazine besides for a cover story.)
redesigned cover of Newsweek
The end result is not perfect by any means. My revision, if anything, feels a bit too colorful and too People-magazine for a Newsweek audience. At the same time, I can honestly say that I’d rather read my redesign than theirs.
If you’re interested, you can download a PDF (quite large at 2.6 MB) of the redesign to see some of the details.
*Disclaimer: the logos and all content used in the redesign are copyright Newsweek, Inc. Photos of celebs and other images used in the redesign were gained via Google and are copyright their respective authors.