Follow Bloomberg’s “cover trail,”
chatty new TOC page

1covers2If you’re a design nerd (and face it, if you’re here, you are), you may be interested in checking out a few things cooking at Bloomberg Businessweek.

Bloomberg’s covers (such as this week’s and last’s, shown above) have really drawn a cult following. They are surprising, often witty solutions that run counter to the traditional approach of most business magazine covers. And now, via a new feature on the mag’s second index page called “Cover Trail,” you can listen in as the staff debates the design decisions that led to the final product.

Excerpt from Bloomberg's "Cover Trail" feature. Click to enlarge. (See image below for full feature.)

Excerpt from Bloomberg’s “Cover Trail” feature. Click to enlarge. (See image below for full feature.)

Through outtakes of photos, type and other design decisions that didn’t make the final cut – annotated with comments (often snarky) uttered during the review process – you can relive the excitement of how these covers were born and brought to market.

Two weeks of the "Cover Trails" features, on the secondary index page of Bloomberg Businessweek. Click to see full size.

Two weeks of the “Cover Trails” features, on the secondary index page of Bloomberg Businessweek. Click to see full size.

It’s like a 30-second dose of an SPD conference each week! How fun.

Coincidentally this week, Advertising Age (a former redesign client) also takes us inside the cover process, publishing a cover that resulted from their annual competition among young creatives. You can view the finalists here and check out the winner here, and learn how they made a very cool pixelated head.

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Also noted: the mag has been experimenting with a “chattier” version of it’s Contents page, using quotes only rather than headlines parroted from the inside pages. (Samples below, click to enlarge.) This is of particular interest to me, as I find many contents pages (not necessarily Bloomberg’s) to be boring and pointless

Bloomberg's Contents page has been experimenting with quote-only teasers to the stories inside.

Bloomberg’s Contents page has been experimenting with quote-only teasers to the stories inside.

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… and because I had used the same technique a few years ago, when I redesigned Creative Loafing in Atlanta. (This is a coincidence, I’m sure, and the idea has likely been used by many others before.)

The background on our version, below: I found the Loafing TOC to be dull and lifeless. It was a chore to read and I knew, a chore (and afterthought) for the staff to put together. The headlines repeated verbatim those used on the stories, which I found annoying as a reader. But the staff felt a sense of obligation to keep doing a contents page for readers who they thought used it.

I argued for just a small index, versus an elaborate full-page TOC, particularly since the news hole had shrunk quite a bit, but we ended up keeping a contents page and rethinking it dramatically. I asked editor Mara Shalhoup (who later joined the Chicago Reader as editor, as our redesign there was in progress, and, thank God, drove it home with aplomb): “Do you want your contents page to read like a press release, or a conversation?” She replied, emphatically, a conversation – she wanted it to feel like you’d opened the door to a lively party and instantly had 10 options for cool people to eavesdrop on and spend time with. I prototyped a TOC that used only dynamic, lively, rude, surprising quotes from the stories inside. You can read more about our exchange, and that case study, here. Below is a prototype of our TOC page for the Loaf, a premium spread that included advertising flowing over from the left-hand page and “intruding” on the contents page quotes to the right:

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(The quotes above Dali’s mustache tease to the printed pages that follow; the quotes below are from the paper’s digital media – blog, website, etc. A version that did not incorporate the “intruder” advertising was also adopted.)

Have comments or questions, or other ideas for making contents pages more interesting? Leave them below!

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