Alive with Pleasure.

Okay, this rocks: a video entitled “Alive with Pleasure” by Viva Voce. Great vocals, Guy Maddin cheap effects, a white double-neck guitar, and a story that is funnier upon second watching. Over one year old, but a valuable procrastination tool:

The Last of Newsweek.

I promise that this will be the last post on Newsweek (probably) for some time, but I figured it was worth following up after having attempted to redesign a few pages of the magazine.
First off, a number of other sites picked up on the design and their reviews are worth reading. In particular, writes in Newsweek relaunch: “Unless I’m missing something here, this is a bit of of tricksy over-design that doesn’t suit a magazine claiming depth and intelligence.” I think this sums up the entire experience of the magazine. Further down the page, a commenter writes “I feel like I lost a close friend.” My sentiments exactly. Great site, magCulture, by the way.
Second, it appears that the design was executed (my word) by Number 17. I can’t speak to their other work, which looks fine enough, but they have a lot to answer for with this project (or their client does). (FYI, Number 17, your site doesn’t work on the iPhone and isn’t accessible.)
Next, I found some interesting commentary by James Robinson about the size and losses of the magazine, which is sad on top of sad. Writer and art director Mark Porter writes about the design’s fundamental randomness on his site. As well, a really nicely crafted new design blog called idsgn writes Newsweek, can a redesign save the dying magazine? and pick up my redesign.
Font identification update: It appears that the redesign uses Village’s Flama for headlines. Most of the magazine’s new text itself appears to be using Christian Schwartz’s Farnham. And then there’s Hoefler & Frere-Jones’ Archer used for much of the body text in the front of the book. On their own, each of these typefaces are elegant, unpretentious, modern, and extremely legible. Mixed into the cauldron of the Newsweek redesign, they look like hell.
Finally, some inquired as to where I work. I run a small design firm called MANOVERBOARD. I’d be happy to hear from anyone with thoughts or questions.
Oh: I cancelled Newsweek and I was kindly sent a check for the remainder of my two-year subscription.

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.

I Want You Back.

It didn’t get much better than this: the Jackson Five play for the first time on Dick Clark’s Bandstand. I’m guessing this is around 1970.
R.I.P. Michael.

Video Spectacle III.

Third in a series of videos that I feel represent a change in the way motion pictures are working online, via The Ministry of Type, I discovered this beautiful reel of the recent works of Rob Chiu. (AKA The Ronin, Chiu is a photographer and videographer based in London.)
What makes this short video compilation of stills and motion so compelling are two things. First, the extraordinary use of Radiohead’s “Videotape” song, which has the following lyrics:
This is one for the good days
and I have it all here
In red, blue, green
Red, blue, green
Second, unlike the high-speed and high-drama of most videos today, this one focuses on the slow human motions of walking, sleeping, eating, reading, killing, and watching. In a few short moments, we watch days go by, words fly by, people working and collapsing, as they themselves watch the world watch them go by.

Video Spectacle II.

A new magazine about Judaism and Jewish contemporary life has launched. It’s called Tablet and I quite like the idea of the English-speaking world reading a more thoughtful approach to thinking about Jewish thinking (pardon all the redundancy).
My peronsal hope for Tablet is that it fills the gaps between the often hilarious in-jokes of Heeb, the earnest progressivity of Tikkun, and the newsiness of the Jerusalem Post.
The two designers who crafted the over-arching and specific identities around Tablet speak about their decision-making process, their research, and their presentation of designs in this video (I can’t seem to embed it herein). I don’t particularly adore the aesthetic of “big ideas in the 70’s” but I identify with the designers’ approaches to the task and their efforts to present strong design, good typography, and reasonable client access to their thought process. It’s something I aim for in every design project, as well&#8212large, small, and in between. Nice work all around.

Video Spectacle I.

Video has exploded and has become the most interesting medium on the Web for me, though I am just learning how to use it, produce it, and edit it.
Over the next week, my goal is to show spectacular examples of video from around the globe.
I. I-Movix SprintCam v3 NAB 2009 showreel by David Coiffier.
1000 frames per second on a supremely high resolution camera pushed to slow motion. (Via daringfireball.)

I-Movix SprintCam v3 NAB 2009 showreel from David Coiffier on Vimeo.

Hint: Check it out in HD at this actual link to video.

Bye GM.

In the same way that I’m surprised Obama made it to the presidency, I’m amazed that General Motors has failed. (Kottke has absolutely the best series of articles in one place on the history and logic of GM’s failure.) But I’m beginning to think that, since the war in Iraq, almost nothing shocks America. To wit:
US debt stands at $11,387,277,099,643.96. That’s a lot of money.
Almost 2,500 people die or are missing after Hurricane Katrina. Cost was $90 billion.
Nearly 50 million people do not have health insurance. Even Obama balks.
North Korea launches missiles and tests nukes. The U.N. is unhappy.
Microsoft launches yet another new search tool. It’s called ‘Bing’ because of no reason.
Trillions of dollars are erased over the period of a year or so. I continue to invest in mutual funds.

Weak Newsweek.

For many years, I’ve been a fervent subscriber of Newsweek magazine. Started in the midst of the Great Depression, the magazine always felt, to me, like a more settled yet liberal version of Time. Its stories were rich in detail, its editorial passionate, its photography and illustration solid. I always enjoyed getting my copy of it in the mail, and even after our move to Canada a few years ago, I kept up the subscription, despite the hefty additional cost and the extra time it took to arrive on these northern shores.
I eagerly waited and was very excited to see the new design that Newsweek, going through its own fits of journalistic and financial challenges, orchestrated. Newsweek Editor Jon Meacham, on Charlie Rose, a few weeks ago spoke eloquently about the need to reinvent journalism, to ensure that the magazine survives amidst the oncoming shakeups and shutdowns, and to find a new way to build circulation and revenues. I saw the website and, while it was less than stellar, I figured that the magazine had put most of its efforts into creating a new print style that would match its new editorial outlook.
Then “it” arrived. I call it “it,” because my first and ongoing reaction to the new print edition of Newsweek is one of profound disgust and mild horror. The thing is just ugly, from beginning to end. Here’s what’s wrong with “it”:
It’s almost impossible to discern (even with these discerning eyes) the editorial content from the advertisements and the advertisements from the advertorials. Everything, and I do mean everything, is fused into a wall of non-hierarchical content.
It’s primary new typeface used, Hoefler & Frere-Jones otherwise lovely Archer, is so over-used and inelegantly styled that reading the magazine is an exercise in futility. I started reading one article – and about half the way through I put the magazine down and closed its pages. I became so focused on the slabs and dots of Archer’s slab serifs that I could no longer focus on the meaning of the words. To me, it’s like reading a garden. (I even own and often use Archer for clients; it’s a great display face, but it doesn’t work for Newsweek.)
The cover is so tremendously overwrought, I thought I was looking at a 1980s throw-back. Putting the red solid banner at the top and center, lurking above the content looks wrong. The large photo beneath it is nice, but the transparent overlay of text is either illegible, cute, or worse, both. Oddly, I typically like this treatment of transparent text over color photographs; in this case, the designers took it too far.
I don’t know if Newsweek changed its printing facilities or is using a new paper throughout, but it doesn’t work. It’s a bit nicer quality of print and that is appreciated. But it goes against the grain of the entirely advertisement-like cheapness of the interior.
As a newsweekly with the name “Newsweek,” there’s no News section. As Jeremy Leslie writes in his review in “Unlike rival Time, which relaunched last year, this weekly news magazine no longer has a News section. Brave stuff, and the decision is getting plenty of comment online, including a withering comment from US editorial design guru Roger Black to the effect that the magazine could now afford to change it’s name as it was no longer about news nor needed to be weekly.” In fact, Time did an utterly stunning job in its recent redesign; while the content is more shallow and temporal, the design is extremely functional and elegant in its use of space.
This brings up the last point: space and time. Given that, as citizens of the new world, we all feel cramped against so little time, it’s critical that the “idea space” our magazines provide is clear, compelling, and pleasurable to apprehend and understand. Most of us need help making sense of the world’s newsworthy complexity – and a newsweekly helps summarize and punch up what might be forgotten amidst the headlines on and the increasingly boring As a Michael Kinsley writes his in his review of the newsweekly at TNR, Meacham says about the new magazine:

“We are not pretending to be your guide through the chaos of the Information Age,” which concedes a lot of ground from the get-go. Why not at least pretend? Why else would people pick it up, let alone subscribe?

I, for one, will give Newsweek one Newsmonth to get its visual and editorial act together. If it doesn’t succeed, I’ll be giving myself the gift of Time.

Michael! Michael!

What with all of the bands and all of the art and all of the dance I’ve seen over the past few years, nothing matches Michael Clark’s madman choreography from 1984, featuring The Fall. Mark E. Smith doesn’t sing better – and he doesn’t sing differently today.
It’s hard to believe. In 1984, I was listening to The Fall, but also the Smiths, R.E.M. (with the period spacers), the Cure, and a bunch of Brit bands like Tears for Fears that I probably shouldn’t have.
Much thanks to dS, of Mopemusic, for turning me on and on to it.
It is my promise to be writing more in near future.
Don’t hold me to anything.
P.S. Related, I’m not going to my Brown 20th anniversary reunion next weekend. It’s not a huge loss for the Brown community, though I am feeling pangs of regret and angst from my friends V.S. and N.F., who apparently will be attending in my absence. In 1985, I had not outgrown the above arty music habits; in fact, they become overdetermined at university (nee college), settling into musical preferences that I’ve yet to shake – additional friends like Sonic Youth, N. Cave, the Pixies, and Throwing Muses, R.I. throwbacks. Oh, and my own band, headed by dS himself, Mendesfrau. Those were good years, “Totally Wired” for the right reasons: “You don’t have to be weird to be wired. You don’t have to be strange to be strangled.”
And, oh goodness, this is beautiful: