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Douglas Okasaki Column:Design change may not propel magazine sales

This is the fourth part of the Gulf News graphic designer Douglas Okasaki's column.Its about the redesign of the top three magazines-The New York Times Magazine, Newsweek and Time

It seems to be the open season for magazine redesigns. Three leading names — The New York Times Magazine, Newsweek and Time — all have new drapery, and that too more or less done simultaneously.

A change in looks comes in handy when publishers aim to reinvigorate a magazine and as a strategy to pump up circulation. In other cases, it has even been done to shore up flagging sales numbers.

 



Editors too believe a redesign is the best way to go about achieving the desired goals. Time managing editor Richard Stengel told readers that the magazine has added an "economy page and a photo spread; moved 10 Questions to the back page; and created one large section called "The Culture", which combines the old Life and Arts sections.

Basically it was more of a rearrangement than an overall design makeover.

Newsweek did, however, have a radical redesign led by new editor Tina Brown's personal touch to make the magazine a strong and vibrant brand all over again. The art director Dirk Barnett said that infographics — another element killed off in the past few years — will definitely return with a strong presence. "It will be a vital tool to telling elements of stories that photography or illustration just don't nail," he said in an interview to the Society of Publication Design website.

For the iPad app, Barnett has another plan. "For us, it's not about just translating the magazine from week to week as an app. We want to create something that is a strong brand extension, but entirely unique."

Change

New editor, new redesign. When Hugo Lindgren was appointed editor of The New York Times Magazine, he realised it was a good moment to make a change in its look. "I felt like the design had moved too far away from the brand of the newspaper and this was the chance to get it right," said Hugo for SPD blog.

The task of the redesign was shared by design director Arem Duplessis and art director Gail Bichler. "We used the newspaper and vintage magazine issues from the '50s, '60s and '70s as inspiration," revelled Duplessis.

"The result is a magazine more clearer, sharper, more alive and dynamic," Lindgren added. "Every tiny aspect of the redesign represents a decision we debated, sweated over and second-guessed until we ran out of time and had to send it off to the printer.

"But what you see here is is not a new formula. It's a a beginning."





It is good to remember that the last magazine redesign was in June last year, when the size of the magazine was reduced by 9 per cent.

Unfortunately redesign does not mean increased circulation. According to the Media Post News, Time magazine's circulation between the second half of 2006 and the second half of 2010 fell 25 per cent to 89,592.

Newsweek ended 2010 with ad pages down 19.8 per cent to 896, according to the Publishers Information Bureau, while total paid subscriptions declined 25.4 per cent to 1.42 million, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations.

The Fortune magazine redesign of March 2010 did not translate into increased ad pages last year. In fact, it ended flat at 1,539 pages, according to PIB. The same situation played out for Sports Illustrated following its 2002 redesign — news stand sales fell 59 per cent from an average 119,429 in June 2003 to 49,264 in December 2010 according to the Audit Bureau of Circulation.


But beyond circulation increases, redesign has a role. It is an opportunity to adapt and consider new features that would help readers understand subjects and the storyteller easily.

If the publication goes on to increase sales or circulation, it is not necessarily borne out of design changes. It is also a function of efforts put in by the marketing and circulation departments.

Redesign is only a tool that will work together if all others are in sync. And there will be no miracles if none of this is backed by high quality content.

Yobongo is an app for the iPhone with the basic premise of connecting you to strangers who have interests similar to yours. The creators guarantee these people are often very close to us, and we just ‘do not know it yet'. The usage seems pretty simple. Just open the app and you find yourself in a chatroom full of people whom you do not know, but Yobongo believes have interests similar to yours.

The app is tipped to be one of the hits of SXSW, which takes place later this month. Its creators say users participating in the initial ten ‘sessions' send 25 messages a day. The app is already available in San Francisco, Austin and New York.

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Society for News Design - Region 19

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Region 19 covers Asia and the South Pacific, including India, Australia, Japan, Indonesia and Southeast Asia.For more details about its activities contact Sajeev Kumar T.K

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