Magazine redesign: Exploring display typography during prototyping

DisplayType copy

One of my favorite things about working on magazine redesigns is exploring the possibility of display type to create energy and excitement throughout the pages. I learned long ago not to be put off by potentially dry or academic content – every story has potential to be made more visually inviting with display type.

Take this example from my prototypes from earlier this year for Capital Ideas, the quarterly magazine for ideas and research from the Booth School of Business at University of Chicago.  Three pages are shown, with varying degrees of typographic “excitement” presented for the editors’ consideration. While in some cases the “pancake” approach makes sense – simply stacking a horizontal headline on top of a big block of text and a photo, this was a display story and I wanted to show the potential to create more interesting architectural forms with the typography.

From left to right:

  • The first option shows the most routine approach. The headline type is all one size and weight, although by presenting it flush right, with the deck (or subhead) aligned against it, some drama is created. (This could be the type of drama that enrages an editor who was taught in 1982 that nothing should be flush right.)
  • The middle option shows a bit more visual interest, and a good way to deal with “wordy” headlines. If an editor insists on nine words, which could be a visual mouthful (arguably, which is shown at left), this could be the solution. Pick several key words, display them quite large, and balance the secondary words against them as shown.
  • The third option at far right presents the most extreme typographic expression of these choices: Take a concept or emotion presented in the content of the headline and attempt to express it with type. Personally this is the sort of type work that I have the most fun with, though it’s not appropriate for every story, nor for every publication. As a consultant, however, I feel it’s important to give every client options from which to choose for the basic look they will adopt, and then they have these in the Design Style Guide  I create for them, for consideration for that possible future story that just might need this touch.

In this case, the editors of Capital Ideas opted more for the middle option, or rather, a variation thereof, for cover story display type. (We actually chose to present the headline type for the centerpiece story in a dark orange – daring!) I know many students and even professionals would say: “ooh, I would have gone with the third option!” While it is important to explore these variations during prototyping, it is also important to respect the integrity of the brand, and to select design options that uphold that identity. The Booth School of Business prides itself on being one of the top business schools (and academic institutions of any kind) in the world, and felt that too much “fun and games” with type was not necessary. That said, the publication adopted a number of more subtle ways to heighten visual interest in the publication, including the integration of more “fun” and colorful photos and illustrations. News of research and finance does not have to be presented in a dry, dull way!

The new look for the publication made its debut in June 2013; I now provide quarterly design and graphics direction and layout services for them on an ongoing basis.


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Update (March 2014): As is always the case in a successful relaunch, the “live” pages far surpass those we created in prototyping in terms of creativity and engagement. You can view an album of live pages, in addition to some prototypes,  for Capital Ideas magazine here.

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