Dan Sturdivant's Blog

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  • 01:52:26 am on March 7, 2011 | 0 | # |

    ISN’T the new cover of The New York Times Magazine “the design that Ruth Ansel tossed in 1979?” I asked in a tweet today. The alert blog The NYT Picker immediately asked me to explain, and I answered that this first cover recalls the magazine of the 60s, with a flush-left logo, black-and-white photo and some white space. Ruth Ansel, former art director of Harper’s Bazaar, came in around 1979 and ushered in the new use of color with an all-bleed cover and a big New York Times Magazine logo across the top. Her approach was to make the magazine an antidote to to the gray grittiness of the big Sunday paper, and the readers loved it. So now, no bleed, and no color on the cover. But it looks good!

    Inside, they evidently revived R. Hunter Middleton’s typeface Karnak, a black slab-serfied font that goes back to the old composing room. I’ve missed the Karnak since Paula Scher mistakenly subbed Stymie or Beton for it in an otherwise elegant redesign ten years ago. Gradually most of the old fonts from the metal era disappeared from the newspaper. Ludllow versions of Cheltenham, Bookman, Latin Elongated as well as Karnak were reassembled in the hot-metal composing room to become centerpiece of the robust, versatile typography of the great Lou Silverstein, the first designer AME at the paper. He added only Franklin Gothic.

    There is still some Franklin, as well as the Intertype Imperial text left in the newspaper, but new versions of Cheltenham replaced the others, blanding it down. On one level that makes a logical typographical consistency for the Times, but I miss the variety and the strength of Silverstein’s mix.

    So it’s reassuring for an old reader to see the Karnak again. Then, they added a new face which I don’t recognize, a bold condensed old style with bracketed serifs. Not an obvious historical mix for the Times magazine—I mean, hey, a Cheltenham bold condensed would have worked better, looked more like the rest of the paper, and you could have had Matthew Carter in for a quick update. (He did the other Chelts.) Nonetheless, it’s an interesting font, and adds some original personality.

    There should be some tension in designing a Sunday supplement: You want to make it fresh and original, but it is nevertheless part of the whole paper. I think Janet Michaud achieved that with the smaller, slighter Washington Post Magazine. But at least the Post still has a Sunday supplement, so the Times doesn’t actually have the last.

    But what’s the story with the text font? It’s a generic contemporary Roman in the tradition of Minion—forgive me if I don’t recognize it either. Why not go back to the print text font, Imperial, which is also used on the iPad app and the HTML Skimmer, thanks to Typekit. Seems like it would work better for the rotogravure printing—less spindly and contrasty.

    The design of the magazine, nevertheless, make a lot of sense for the direction of the magazine. It just looks more interesting than the previous design. (It would have been nice if the editor had credited the designers in the explanatory note.) It’s better suited for the small page size and the short takes in the front and back.

    All in all this magazine rethink argues for the continued existence of print. Look what a better experience it is on paper, as compared to the app version, or the New York Times Reader version, or the web. Some day we will get to the richness and browsability of print in the digital world, but we are not there yet. When Abe Rosenthal interviewed me to take over after Ruth left, he asked me what I thought the magazine was. I said it was the reward you got when you took on the whole Sunday New York Times.

    Abe said, “No, no! It can’t be an additive. There is already too much in the paper. It has to be the antidote!” Abe was always right.


  • 03:06:32 pm on December 11, 2010 | 0 | # |

    There is something about the energy of Flipboard that makes you really feel good. It takes the random stuff from Twitter and Facebook and lays it out like the old front-of-the-book in Time magazine.

    The randomness is the key. Usually I just dip into my Twitter home page or Facebook “news feed,” read a few things off the top, and leave, knowing I am missing a lot. The Flipboard iPad app scoops up all of this, in no apparent pattern, and puts it into fresh templates, where I can “discover” it. Nice! (Okay, it does use Helvetica.)

    The design and the, uh, serendipity of the layout puts stuff in front of me that I otherwise miss. Plus, it makes my own tweets and mentions look really important, so that makes me feel good.

    Now Flipboard has introduced Flipboard Pages. Partnering first with a small list of publishers, they’re offering special versions of articles in nice clean templates with a bit of each publisher’s look-and-feel. I immediately set up a Washington Post Magazine section in Flipboard to check it out. The first stuff comes up in regular Flipboard style, but if you click on “Read Article” it goes to the page layout. Nice! No scrolling: Pages. And full-page ads.

    Presumably, if a link to one of a partner’s articles shows up in your Twitter stream, then Flipboard will direct you to their customized pages. The page layouts are simple, charmingly like Treesaver pages. That is, they page!

    One breathless blogger, Sarah Perez in ReadWriteWeb says that “this is an iPad app done right.”  Well, it’s pretty cool, but what happens after you’ve finished with the article you found, what happens? It just stops. You have to go back to Flipboard to get the rest of the publication. (That can be fixed, of course, along with other UI rough spots.)

    Flipboard Pages was last week’s New Thing. There was much excitement, since we all tend to get carried away with the new, and we always forget that the new thing does not always (if ever) shove aside the old thing.

    Flipboard is a well-designed solution for getting content digitally on the iPad, and the iPad is the today’s Holy Grail for publishers. It’s one answer to the tablet content app problem, but not the only answer. It falls under the general category of aggregation, where you get stories from a variety of sources filtered by tags, or your social network, or by some algorithms.

    Perez asserted:

    Outside of a few publications read religiously, for the most part, news finds us via our friends. Flipboard makes Twitter and Facebook the jumping off point for accessing news, and the result is a news magazine we actually want to read.

    That may be true… some of the time. Other times we like to get our content directly from the source—the writer (or the photographer or videographer). Sometimes we find it via a link.  Sometimes we go to Google to find it. Sometimes we follow links on blogs and in link lists on other sites. Sometimes we just hear about it and guess the URL. And sometimes we seem to get it just by chance.

    That serendipity doesn’t happen as easily on the web as it does in print. That’s because the web was designed for information transactions via hypertext—not a continuous browsing experience. A stack of magazines seems to invite browsing. With the web you tend to get in and get out.

    RSS readers were an effort to aggregate content from different web sites. Flipboard’s appeal is that it puts a nice visual layer on top of aggregation. What their Pages venture misses is the chance to let us go beyond a single article and continue reading through an entire vertical publication. They could add that, and/or someone else will.

    These two content modes, aggregation and edited publications, do not cancel each other. The challenge for the media world is to find a way to bridge the modes and to offer different kinds of users experiences according to the reader’s own mode (or mood). And not just for the iPad, but to an increasing number of platforms.

    Somehow I think we will see some other solutions very soon.

  • 04:30:08 pm on November 3, 2010 | 0 | # |

    Godin Gold: Helping the rejection committee http://ping.fm/mQGFp

  • 01:39:11 pm on November 3, 2010 | 0 | # |

    Godin Gold: How can you do it?! #sethgodin http://ping.fm/AaaEa

  • 02:41:03 pm on October 21, 2010 | 0 | # |

    Getting ready for a big meeting today, should be great!

  • 01:08:04 am on October 13, 2010 | 0 | # |

    CloudFlare review and how I reduced my bounce rate 94%s

  • 03:37:16 pm on October 12, 2010 | 0 | # |

    Godin Gold: Getting smart about the hierarchy of smart http://ping.fm/BQTAx

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