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« Lives and Loves of Great Mathematicians | Main | Rewind: Hudson River School, Part II »

March 08, 2004

Tables of Contents

Dear Friedrich --

When you think of a magazine's Table of Contents, you probably think of a linear, top-to-bottom, instantly-graspable guide to what's coming up in the issue -- something like this page from a recent issue of The New Yorker. (If you click on the images in this posting, you'll be able to see how the magazines handle story orders and page numbers.)

Or maybe you stretch your imagination and memory and come up with something like this.

Here, the editors of The American Conservative have broken the more important stories out from the pack. So on the left-hand side of the ToC page, you've got a north-to-south list of the issue's big pieces; on the right-hand side, a north-to-south list of the magazine's small pieces. It takes about a microsecond to figure this out; then the whole page opens up and is there to serve. (You might notice one odd hitch here: why is Taki's column, p. 39, listed at the top of the short stuff? Oh, right: he's the magazine's co-editor.)

Black and white ... A general north-to-south thing ... Maybe a few touches of color ... I mean, what the hell else can you do with a Table of Contents, right?

Ah, you unhip, cranky curmudgeon you. Like me, you're an Old Media dinosaur.

Let's treat ourselves to a look at what many up-to-date popular-magazine editors and designers are doing with their ToCs. Here's something typical, from Cooking Light magazine. In the actual issue, these two pages aren't run next to each other -- you have to turn an in-between ad page to get from the first ToC page to the second.

What's going on here? It takes me a couple of seconds to begin to comprehend what I'm encountering -- and then I'm not really sure. Looking at the first page, my reactions go roughly like this. Whoa! Color! Visual punctuation! Bip-bop, throb, flash ... Oh, there's information too. Now, what do we have? It's ... well, it seems to be a grab-bag of features. But why aren't the stories presented in any normal order? Is there some coded-signifiers system in place here that I'm failing to grok? And what is that box on the left, the one with its own little list of stories?

Feeling buzzed and confused, I flip to page two. Page one has been useless to me, but perhaps the key to the puzzle is to be found in page two. I look around a little and find no enlightenment. At the top of the page? "Departments." OK -- but I'm left wondering what's meant by "Departments" in the case of this magazine I'm not familiar with. I notice that there are some general regions within the page, and some north-to-south listings within each region. OK, I got it! But on the left, there's a bunch of stories on the theme of "Healthy Living." Bizarre: wouldn't you expect most stories in Cooking Light to qualify? At the top of the page, there's a grouping of stories labeled "In Every Issue." That I do get: columns, Editor's Note, Letters ...

But what do the stories listed in the big purple box share? The purple-ness confers importance, but there's no headline to be seen, the visuals on the page don't come to my rescue, and the page numbers of the stories highlighted by the visuals run in no discernable order at all: at the top, 194; in the middle, 100; at the bottom, 186. What the hell's that about? Finally, and with a resigned breath, I poke into the descriptions of what I'm now thinking of as The Purple Stories. What do I conclude? Well, they're mostly -- who'd have guessed it? -- about food.

To my mind, that's very little return on a very big investment of puzzling-out and cerebrating energy.

Here's another example, this time from BusinessWeek. These two pages ran side by side.

I'm feelin' seriously at sea. Let me take note of a few reasons why. Left-hand page: the page numbers of the highlighted stories are 86, then 72, then 67. It takes me a few seconds to register that the stories that make up the cover package have been bunched together and listed in the top right-hand section. And, hey, there's a group of stories called "News: Analysis & Commentary" grouped in the bottom right; how bewildering that they all precede the cover-package articles in terms of where they fall in the magazine.

The right-hand page baffles me too. Why have the stories about "Information Technology" been grouped together (page numbers 22, 62 and 64)? Am I expected to be the kind of person who spends his day thinking, "Gee, I wonder where BusinessWeek's stories about Information Technology are?" That's a little insulting. Why do the "Economic Analysis" articles, most of whose page numbers are in the 20s, follow "International Business," whose page numbers are in the 40s and 50s? Check out the lower half of the left-hand column on this page. The page numbers go in this order: 47, 70, 56, 60. And why are "Features" -- generally considered the most important of an issue's stories -- grouped and presented 'way down on the lower right? Oh, now I understand: BusinessWeek has a different idea of what a Feature is than most magazines do.

A lot of decoding and wading-through-visual-thickets for the sake of a very small information payout.

Another example: Film Comment. (So I'm a scanning fool. So what?) These pages face each other.

First impression: nothin' if not checkerboardy, god knows. Lots of red/black/white Kapow! Lots of poppity! poppity! poppity! ... But what about the information? Hmm. Things seem to spill across both pages. Am I supposed to read the left-hand page first and then the right-hand page? Or am I supposed to read straight across the entire spread? I notice that the issues's short stuff has been clumped together in the farthest-right column -- that seems sensible, though it's weird that the arrangement hasn't been visually better-demarcated. But even here: there's a big dark-red visual in the midst of the short stuff. Does it represent a break in the continuity of the contents of the right-hand column?

OK, well, what the hell: on to the issue's showpiece stories. For someone curious -- as maybe I should get over being -- about the front-to-back progression of the magazine's contents, there's no way to make sense of how the showpiece stories are presented. It takes me an entire minute to realize that if I start in the upper left, then move my eyes to the lower left, then to the middle, then to the upper right ... But that's absurd: no one can have intended me to spend so much time figuring this out. The hell with it -- and I just leaf on by.

But I'm presenting the Oscar for Most Insane Table of Contents to the French edition of Photo magazine. These pages face each other.

Whoa! Jazzy! Hot! And -- at least once I've shoved my throbbin' eyeballs back into their sockets -- of no use to me whatsoever.

Old Media ToC: a road map to a magazine's contents. New Media ToC: a production number in its own right -- showstopping pages of randomly-organized highlights. Shazam, fwoof, kapowie!

Do you think it's fair to say that showbiz and sales-pitches have taken total priority over content, function, ease, and graspability? I think it's getting close to that; everything these days seems to be both itself and its own logo. I find the new ToC's similar to the new Times Square (which I posted about here), and to the new young women (whom I blogged about most recently here): they're eye-popping, full of pizzazz, and substance-free. They twinkle brightly but when you look closely, there's next-to-nothing there.

To my Old-Media mind, a magazine's ToC ought to present a usable overview of what's to come. As for its design: if someone manages to make that page or those pages more rather than less attractive, great. These days, I suspect that this attitude makes me a rigid, oppressive reactionary determined to get in the way of what we're really all here for: to experience rockin'-out media bliss.

Before it's useful, a ToC now has to be its own intense media experience. I'd argue that these super-ultra-hyper ToCs are also intense electronic-media experiences. Their values -- flash, twinkle, fwoof -- aren't the values of traditional magazines; they're values that come from TV and computers.

Tatyana may disagree with me on this, but I'll also venture that the newfangled ToCs are functions of the computer age. In the first place, of course, Quark and Photoshop are the tools that make this kind of layout possible. In the second place (and as a simple fact of the media biz), the computerizing of the corporate media has given concept people -- producers, editors, and designers especially -- more power than they used to have, while it has taken power away from such content people as directors and writers. A consequence is that boxes, graphics, visuals, and themes -- stuff that producers, editors and designers love -- have become an ever more prominent part of our media life. When you buy a big-budget magazine, you're buying boxes, graphics, etc: a lot of overproduced showbiz, an artifact akin to what the contempo moviebiz is selling.

Far be it from me to say that computerizing inevitably leads to boxes, to wrenching-stuff-out-of-its-traditional-context, and to highlighting -- to clumping-and-pumping. There are individuals making decisions behind all this, after all, and aren't they responsible for their own choices and actions? Sure. But, but ... Well, I think it's also fair to say that computers permit and encourage this kind of boxy-pumpy thing, and that very few people in the business seem to find it in themselves to defy temptation. My shorthand theory: the (linear) Dewey Decimal system has been replaced by (theme-based, nonlinear) databases, and almost no one can resist making these databases twirl, spin, and dance. Buy me, buy me, buy me!

In the case of these magazines and their Tables of Contents, the front-to-back experience (and fact) of the actual paper magazines has been dispensed with as a point of reference. What's replaced it? As far as I can tell, the new reference points include some editor's idea of themes and groupings, and some designer's idea of visual liveliness, style and cool. The basis in concrete fact has been replaced by a basis in thought: this is neoconceputalism in magazine terms; it's making printed paper behave like a computer screen ... No wonder I spend so much time staring at these ToCs trying to figure them out. And no wonder I never get very far; I dislike (and stink at) puzzles, so I'm as lost in these newfangled ToC's as I am in a videogame.

Another thing eyeballing these pages makes me think is, "Wow, what with the visuals and graphics and colors, it's like a kid's book, or Saturday morning TV, or a nursery." Is it just Old Media Me, or do you also find yourself looking at pages like these and thinking something like, "Gee, we sure are being treated like children these days, aren't we? I mean, everything twirls, spins and pops -- gotta keep Baby distracted, I guess."

Anyway. How do you react to the new ToC? Is it a wonderful and dazzling thing? Or is it a useless and cluttered pain in the patoot? As for my reaction: they boggle my eyes, give my nerves a rattlin', and leave my brain in the dark.

Best,

Michael

PS: If you're interested in discussions of media, design and graphics that are conducted by informed pros, hustle on over to DesignObserver, here. A classy lineup of designers and critics -- Michael Bierut, William Drenttel, Jessica Helfand and Rick Poynor -- do a great job of taking note of the scene.

posted by Michael at March 8, 2004




Comments

For some reason, this post makes me think of that art-history book, "The Shape of Time." In it the author suggests that art history is a sequence of problems that are engaged by a community of artists until the 'perfect' solution is found, whereupon the community moves on to another problem. Is it possible that the Table of Contents of the New Yorker--simple, clear, communicative--represents the 'perfect' end-point of one such sequence? And that the other examples are a whole new sequence, organized around a whole new problem?

Of course, that still leaves the question of what the new artistic or design problem is. Do you think it's possible that this new problem is how to render everything in the magazine the equivalent of an advertisement? That would explain the prevalence of disconnected text boxes and fragmenting graphics.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on March 9, 2004 01:41 AM



Actually, that makes a certain rather perverse sense. I mean, the old-fashioned 'classic' magazine layout was composed of two heterogenous units: the flowing text, on one hand, and the fragmented, shoved off to the margins, free-standing ads, on the other. Now, the goal is to create the layout based on only one such unit: the ad. I suppose one could imagine creating a unity based solely on 'flowing' text and advertisements--sort of like product placements--but that's even weirder than the examples you showed here!

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on March 9, 2004 01:48 AM



I believe you have answered the question in your lines, "Buy me, buy me, buy me!"

Marketing is always several steps ahead, and where they go, we shall follow. Magazines are still found at the checkout counters, and reading an old-fashioned Table of Contents is too quickly revealing, and many may put the magazine back on the rack. But confusion and color and enticing pictures will land it rolling towards the register because we don't have time--the most important motivator in our busy lives today--to make a decision before we're cashing out. Visuals are replacing text everywhere, not because we're children, but because we need the speed, and our eyes are tricking us after several years of media-induced lures.

Posted by: susan on March 9, 2004 07:44 AM



The problem here, in my opinion, is drawing in readers. So page designers try to emulate movie and tv tropes, forgetting that print is not a medium amenable to such.

Along the way they forget what a magazine is supposed to do. Namely, provide timely information on the magazine's core subject in a more comprehensive manner than a tv show or newsletter can do.

In addition, how a magazine is laid out can depend on how the publisher sees the audience. Paizo Publishing sees the computer gaming crowd as its audience, and so their cover and page design works to that demographic. (I haven't checked, but they may have magazine covers avalable on their site.)

The problem is, what we look for in a computer game, tv show, movie, or web site may not be what we want out of a magazine.

And forums and polls are not the answer. Such draw in those ready to speak their piece. But, those who actually buy the periodical aren't necessarily those willing to talk about it. So you get magazines with lots of positive feedback that are withering on the vine.

So the publisher goes out and runs more polls, gets the old findings confirmed, and the publication continues to fail.

The old, "let's run it up the flagpole and see who salutes" method appears to have been tossed aside.

In short, magazine publishers are aiming at a very small demographic, and they're getting it. Trouble is, said demographics are usually too small to support a professional publication without continuing bailouts from a parent corporation.

Posted by: Alan Kellogg on March 9, 2004 08:08 AM



The function of a magazine is not to provide timely information, but to sell advertising pages. If the table of contents was too effective, ads, especially full-page ones, would be too easily bypassed. These tables of contents encourage you to buy the magazine, st as the front cover does, by revealing what is inside, but the actual page is something you're encouraged to discover by lots of aimless flipping. The American Conservative doesn't depend on advertising revenue, so they can actually tell you where stuff is.

Posted by: David R. on March 9, 2004 10:15 AM



FWIW, my General Theory of All This goes something like this.

There used to be a big division between editorial content and advertising. There still is, at least in most good magazines, where the actual content of stories go. But in terms of design and visual impact, editorial has caved completely -- it now accepts entirely and plays entirely by advertisiing's values.

Incidentally, I'm happy blowing this generalization up to include other media -- music and movies, for instance. I know I bitch a lot about how traditional movie language is being shoved aside in favor of some digital all-impact language -- it's essentially the language of TV ads and the Web.

I find it funny/fascinating how this development.has paralleled a few others.

One's the Boomer generation. As they've moved into running the arts-and-media bizzes, what those businesses have been selling has become ever more pop-centered. Pop (as opposed to popular) is really art for kiddies -- that's why it can be so much fun. But it also blends very quickly into ad language -- both appeal directly to the most basic pleasure centers. (As does junk food.) Meanwhile, adult culture has (by and large) evaporated.

Another development in the midst of all this is computers, which is where the Boomers turned after politics, music, drugs and the revolution didn't work out as planned. Computers set you free! Whee!

So: Boomers love (and helped create) pop; pop is like advertising; both appeal directly to the child within; computers enable you to cut through traditional language and replace it with something else; you're set free of adult experience and responsibility -- we're using our media (and entertainment) to treat ourselves like children. We sit there like babies watching lights twinkle and flash -- that's become our idea of what entertainment is.

Another way of looking at this is to use the old packaging-versus-waht's-in-the-package comparison. Ads are the glistening packaging that make it possible for editorial to exist. Flash, pop and showbiz help sell ideas and visions. The Boomers discovered (or felt they had) that the packaging can be as fun as what's in the package. The virtual universe is a way of dissolving what's in the package and pumping all that energy into the packaging instead -- twinkle, twinkle. So traditional language and substance (ie., adulthood) evaporate, to be replaced by the world's best-ever packaging, except that the packaging is now the experience itself. Which, by the way and FWIW, is my experience of much of the current chic archtiecture -- it's less an experience of traditional building (mass, duration, solidity) than it is of CAD and packaging.

What worries me a bit is the way that adulthood has stopped being a respectable experience in its own right and has become instead just the decrepitude of youth. Boomers at least can call on memories of a time when adulthood was around. But succeeding generations have grown up in an atmosphere of all-youth, 24/7 -- youth values (pop and packaging, speed and instant gratification -- treat me like a child, now!) are the only visible values. So how will they have a chance to develop? What will they make of their experiences as they inevitably age? It'll be interesting to see.

Big question: what do people who love culture do, faced with these developments? I see two possibilities. One's to root for and take part in the re-establishment of traditional culture -- the New Urbanism, neotraditionalism in jazz, storytelling in lit, stuff like that. The other is to accept the turning of everything into databases as a simple, overwhelming fact, and try to figure out how to shape and use these conditions to create and convey experiences of depth. Or I gues you can root for both of these approaches. Does anyone see any other sensible way to respond?

And, hey, has anyone noticed that 2Blowhards, the blog, looks kind of like ... a traditional printed piece, yet kind of electronic too? Accepting what's great about the new while not losing touch with what's great about what's old?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on March 9, 2004 10:34 AM



Hey, I sure did.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on March 9, 2004 11:01 AM



David, that's what advertisers want magazines to do. But, without accessible content there will be nobody to look at the ad.

Problem.

Some genres the ads are pre-sold. Bridal and fashion magazines for example. But for something like a news magazine it's the content that draws them in and the job of the ad to get the reader's attention long enough to plant the idea.

The goal of any advertising is to have enough of a potential audience that the small percentage who actually read the ads is sufficient to produce enough customers to keep the advertiser in the black. With certain exception, if the content is not there, then the audience will not be there.

Now I suspect that Michael is letting himself be overwhelmed by the totality of the TOC. You need to do a break-down of the page(s) and take each element on its own. But, that's work, and most people would much rather not do that kind of work. The old style TOCs help you divide and peruse, so people like Mike have a much easier time finding what they want.

In short, magazines are advertiser oriented, instead of reader oriented. For certain audiences it works, but for the majority it is a very bad mistake.

But, all is not lost.

National Geographic does not strictly separate ads and content anymore. But, core content is kept separate. In addition, NG provides substantial content and has a good idea of their audience for both contents and ads.

Fiction magazines (the ones I've seen at least) save the ads for the interstices between articles and stories. They do not interrupt the prose for a possible sale. They also know their audience rather well.

Now that I think of it, NG follows the movie house scheme, with the ads coming before the main attraction. But magazines such as Vanity Fair and Time follow the tv scheme, with ads popping up everyso often in the course of the presentation.

Do I have a point? No, I'm wandering again. But this may give somebody something to think on.

Posted by: Alan Kellogg on March 9, 2004 01:23 PM



I blame Wired magazine. They pioneered the use of design as a way to inhibit, rather than ease, the comprehension of information.

Also, notice that the two magazines you picked for clear and informative TOC's are distinguished by the fact that they a.) don't make money, and b.) aren't really intended to?

Posted by: jimbo on March 9, 2004 01:53 PM



Just to tweak a lot of brainy things that have gotten said here ...

It's true that magazines are run to sell advertising space. But in order to sell advertising space, a magazine has to be able to offer eyeballs to its advertisers. It's still gotta please readers, no matter how cynical we are about what its central role is. So I think what can be said is that readers have accepted the visual language of advertising -- or at least the people publishing these magazines hope they will.

Jimbo's right, that Wired pioneered a lot of this. They try to convey rabid geek excitement about the promise of the cyber-age, and their design tries to sell that "it's all too, too much" feeling.

For another reference point, I'd go even farther back to the Whole Earth Catalog (and its offshoot magazine) the first time, as far as I know, that a magazine-ish publication took a database/catalog as its conceptual model.

As for what makes money these days ... I don't have any inside info here, but I'd doubt that Film Comment makes a lot of dough, and I wonder how much longer Cooking Light will last. I think a couple of distinctions are helpful. One is that until the last 10ish years, even commercial, pop-y magazines ran comprehensible ToC's. The other is that, as y'all are pointing out, it seems to be the intention to be hip, appealing, up to date, and flashily commercial that drives editors and designers in this direction. Whether they actually make money with it? Up for grabs.

Funny how many of them do the same kind of thing, isn't it? Maybe I'm just a contrarian, but I can't help wondering whether a commercial magazine might not have some luck running against the general trends....

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on March 9, 2004 02:47 PM



Like all supermarket tabloids, the Star didn't use to have any table of contents at all, in order to hide the shocking cover story and force the reader to buy the magazine at the checkout. But they've just started to include one, with a fairly traditional design. Feel free to integrate this into any theories you may have.

Posted by: David R. on March 9, 2004 04:11 PM



I love the things you guys take the time to notice!

Posted by: David Sucher on March 9, 2004 04:30 PM



Hello:

I would agree with you completely about the Tables of Content in the numerous magazines. Another one you may wish to add to your list is "Entertainment Weekly" which has the same sort of buckshot scatterings of information in no quickly discernable order.

Unfortunately, however, as a biology professor, the arena where I see this horrid trend being most sinister is in the college and high school textbook market. I cannot fathom why anyone would want a textbook for a course to have that "chaos-as-rule" look to them on each and every page. It is annoying, disheartening and disturbing all at the same time.

I have enjoyed your blog greatly. If you do not mind, I would like to put a link to your site on my own blog. Please also consider visiting my own blog if you have time. I would appreciate any comments or suggestions.... my blog is relatively new.

PipeTobacco

Posted by: PipeTobacco on March 9, 2004 04:33 PM



btw, Jimbo's comment about WIRED is right-on.

Posted by: David Sucher on March 9, 2004 04:35 PM



Methinks that some people are designing to impress, instead of designing to inform. It draws in new customers, but it's lousy at customer retention.

Furthermore, it does not draw in as many new customers as one would think. You get right down to it, most people expect to be entertained and/or informed. They don't expect to be puzzled, confused, and/or frustrated by an experience.

For example. A potential customer sees a periodical in the grocery. He picks it up to see what's in it. Get's thoroughly confused by the layout, puts it back, and walks away. The publisher probably impressed the heck out of his peers with the design, but it also cost him a customer.

Think about it.

Posted by: Alan Kellogg on March 9, 2004 05:46 PM



Maybe the magazines are all turning themselves into tabloids, thanks. And "designing to impress" sounds right on the money. Anyone want to start a movement to put graphic designers back in their place?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on March 9, 2004 06:00 PM



I might be way off here, but to my eye the content pages in Cooking Light look like very close to a 'concept board' we use to brainstorm a new project. Random or semi-aligned photos and some text, organized on principle of free association. For example, for a restaurant job I composed concept board consisting of, among other stuff, pictures of sand dunes, catalog photos of washed wood abstract sculptures, blow-up of matches in fan progression, some teal-colored fashion pics from the 60's, detailed CAD drawing of the pivoted etched glass door, interspersed with quotations from Hemingway’s Islands in the sea.
Of course, the purpose is to outline a concept, not to present systematic organization to follow (as you’d expect from a magazine index)

Michael, I'm sorry I couldn't persuade you not to include CAD-produced drawings as an example into your - otherwise well-rounded- theory. If you'd seen the drawings my coworker is doing now on limestone townhouse renovation - with plenty of traditional trim details and meticulous elevations, I hope you'd change your pow. You know mine - don't blame the tool, blame the executor.

Posted by: Tatyana on March 9, 2004 07:37 PM



Alan Kellogg is on to something. I worked for a small magazine for years, and most art directors only care how something looks. Meaning, relative importance, readability and usability all take a back seat.

Partly it's the continuing MTVing of popular culture: fast cuts, fragments, and general dazzle. Wired only brought that aesthetic to the magazine world.

Of course, the demands of advertising are a factor as noted. That's why ToCs are always at least a few pages in from the cover, and why they are often split by one or more ads.

On a related note, I understand that award-winning ads (TV/print/direct) are rarely the ads that are actually best at selling the product.

Posted by: PapayaSF on March 9, 2004 09:20 PM



Michael:

If you're curious about ToC's, you should really check out what Harper's magazine has done with their online version lately.

They've set up a futuristic network-based scheme for archiving all their content: http://www.harpers.org/Connections.html

A lot of what you cited in were example of people using computers for bad design, which was bad in pretty familiar ways. Harper's, at least, is exploring entirely new kinds of bad design.

Posted by: alexis on March 10, 2004 07:04 AM



To second Mr. Kellogg - what we need is a long row of pikes and a way to convince graphic designers that their very own heads could end up on the same.

Posted by: j.c. on March 10, 2004 01:43 PM



Actually, Raygun was the trend setter before Wired. With it, style was everything, and readibility nothing. Current design trends that root back to Raygun and MTV make me wonder if ADD can be a acquired characteristic.

Also, good magazine layout takes cooperation between ad and editorial departments. There have to be some rules on how and where fractional ads are placed in the book. Nothing is worse than when the ad department sells very unusually shaped ads with the promise that editorial will surround them. If the two groups are working together, they can maintain solid chunks of editorial, wrapped with departments and jump pages that wrap around the fractionals. You may even have to create the editorial specifically so it will wrap -- advice columns and the like. For special interest magazines, the ads are often nearly as interesting to the subscribers as the editorial, much like the narrow-casting of Google search-term-related ads.

My wife has redesigned over 20 magazines, including the one I use to edit, and I consulted on the redesign of one title you'd recognize instantly. There are some real basics of magazine design that have been around for a long time, but it's amazing how little is known about them by some magazine editors or art directors.

Posted by: rashomon on March 10, 2004 05:49 PM



Amazing how hard it can be to get art-director types to accept certain well-established basics, too. Serifs make text easier to read, for instance -- I feel sometimes like we're in danger of losing that one forever. I wonder if the reason behind much of this is simply that many art-and-design types basically don't read; they look. Their idea of interacting with a magazine is to flip through it, getting eye-hits. Give people like that too much freedom and power, and you'll wind up with racks of magazines meant to be flipped through, and generations of people and consumers who think that a quickly-flipped-through-thing is what a magazine is meant to be.

Hey, here's a piece about RayGun's David Carson.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on March 10, 2004 06:07 PM



Well, OK, Raygun preceeded Wired with that look. Picky, picky. However, Wired certainly brought the look to a much larger (if not quite "mass") audience. I'm sure at least 98% of the population has never heard of Raygun magazine, much less actually seen a copy.

Posted by: PapayaSF on March 10, 2004 07:38 PM



You might call me uncritical but I'd rather think of myself as well adapted on this one. As 23 year old Gen Y'er, processing flashy and disorganized visual information like these TOC's comes rather easily. I've grown up watching television, surfing the web, and juggling at least 4-5 books at one time. When a kid grows up soaked in an image-rich electronic pop culture these flashy tricks that you see as buzz, kapow, zing and bling feels like a normal baseline. Thematically ordered ideaspheres like Business Week's "Information Technology" and "International Business" categories are perfectly logical and not the least condescending -- akin to Yahoo directories or a Google search result. This isn't to say I find all these layouts attractive, elegant, or optimal (I read Tufte in college after all.) but they don't present me any difficulties. I don't scratch my head trying to "figure them out". That's not worth my time.

Posted by: Ben Berry on March 10, 2004 08:36 PM



Ben -- You sound like a well-adapted cybercreature, and you're right, this kind of design very much comes from the web, and from databases and computer searches. Very hard for us creaky old fogeys to make the switch, alas. We try, but our brains and thought processes were shaped long ago ...

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on March 11, 2004 06:08 PM



About 20 percent of the circulation of the magazine I used to edit, Cycle, came from newsstands, and newsstand sales statistics were essentially the only form of direct and relatively immediate feedback we received other than letters from readers. The cover was the essential advertisement that that had to entice the uncommitted browser to pick up the magazine. When I first became chief editor and hired my favorite art director, we did beautiful poster-like covers -- some were conceptual, others were just beautifully photographed. We received a lot of internal recognition from the editorial director of our publishing company, who truly appreciated good art design. But, in general, those poster-like covers died at the newsstand. What sold proved to be very busy multi-subject covers that made a potential reader feel that there was a lot happening inside.

Similarly, the interior of magazines has grown busier and busier. Articles are shorter, sidebars more numerous, points of entry more varied. I don't know who said it first, but attention really is the most valuable commodity of the information age, and I wasn't quite joking when I wondered if we training ourselves for ADD.

Posted by: rashomon on March 12, 2004 05:58 PM



I'm not at all sure that Wired magazine has much in common with Raygun beyond "primacy of visuals over anything else". Raygun was very much about distressed type ad absurdum and pushing the envelope in all kinds of ways. Wired deftly combined Cali-hippie Dayglo-everywhere with a 90s technocratic aesthetic a dot-com millionaire could feel comfortable with. It appears unutterably dated today, and Raygun has simply been destroyed by constant unrelenting imitation.

Posted by: Toby on March 19, 2004 11:02 AM






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