Magazine redesign: Anatomy of a travel page makeover

magazine redesign: anatomy of a page makeoverTravel page of Hispanic Business, before and after redesign. Click twice to enlarge

[2nd of 2 parts: See related entry on magazine news page design]

Preparing an upcoming lecture on magazine design, branding and editorial strategy, I’ve gone through my project archives and thought I’d share the lessons behind the makeover of a specific page. Here we look at my rethinking of the travel page of Hispanic Business magazine.

OLD FORMAT (shown on left – click to enlarge): One of the goals here, as with similar magazine makeovers, is to rethink the format to be more appropriate to the content, while being as efficient as possible for the staff to produce. Here we have traditional inverted-pyramid, narrative writing and editing of a type of story which is better told in what I call “chunky text,” or segmented display of information that lets readers get in and find what they need most quickly, and get out. Reading this page, if I want to visit Los Angeles, but only want to know where the hotel deals are, what the climate is like, what are the trendy new stores, I have to wade through the entire article in hopes that this info might be contained. If not, I’m frustrated. This is how readers peruse this kind of information these days – some kinds of stories may merit this treatment, but this isn’t one of them. Readers just don’t have the patience to read 30 stories in one publication that are all told in this repetitive format. The visual “wow” on this page is purely window dressing – or as I like to say, “decoration, not information” – an overly stylized byline in a long reverse color bar, a big red drop cap that overpowers even the modest photo of the LA skyline (a generic choice at best), a thick black oppressive bar at the top of the page that brings a dour mood to what should be light and fluffy fare.

Why do so many pages appear like this? Because it’s easiest for freelancers or even staff reporters to sit down and write a long flowing story like this on their own, and turn it in at the very last minute – no communication with editor or art director needed. It’s the path of least resistance for the editorial staff, and the path of most irritation for the reader. The art director is told, “it’s a feature page, make it look SPECIAL,” so the end result is visual special effects like the taupe background screen bleeding off the page, and other use of color that means nothing to the reader; in fact, it sends distracting signals or creates an inappropriate mood. How to remedy this?

NEW FORMAT (redesigned travel page, shown on right): I’ve spent many years producing newspaper and magazine layouts in the trenches, both at the St. Pete Times and for dozens of redesign clients around the world. I get it. You need a road map for production that gets everyone on staff on the same page, to get in and out as quickly as possible. The solution here? To create a set format, a recipe, that has standard ingredients week to week: in this case, a 2-3 word main headline; 16-22 word introductory headline (here it goes above the main head, but could go below); and intro chatter setting the scene for what the reader is about to process. From there, you go into full-on magazine format – two categories of dueling chunks of information, with labels, bold-intros, and a sans serif body text style that is economical yet legible and easy to read in short chunks. Thus, if I really only am considering a trip to the Caribbean, and most interested in Jamaica, I can find the info I need in a matter of seconds, via scanning the appropriate typographic elements, and get out with value. I don’t need to wade through 18 other paragraphs that aren’t of immediate or any interest to me. Note how the typography, color use, and architecture of this page are set up to guide the reader’s eye through the information in an efficient, inviting way. The boldest color use is on the illustration (information, not decoration) and draws the eye to the center of page – if space doesn’t allow for size of your art, the design, placement and color emphasis still allows for impact. A lighter touch of color draws the eye onto the sidebars that make up the guts of the package. The removal of the boxy taupe background screen opens up the page and makes it seem lighter and airier.

With a format like this, you can send a prototype page to staff or even freelancers, instruct them to follow word counts for each of the elements (for example, the intro chatter is about 50 words), and create style sheets or libraries in your template to speed up production. It’s no longer an option for the writer to send in a long, traditional inverted pyramid story told in narrative style, if that’s not the best form for this type of content. Upon assignment, the story should be reported, written and edited in this style. The last thing you want is an editor or art director to have to “break up” a long story artfully crafted in a narrative style, to chunk it up in this format. It’s a waste of time on everyone’s part.

Start off with a clear road map and you’ll get to your destination – smarter magazine design that benefits the reader and the staff.

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