There has been a lot of talk in recent days about the debut of the revamped New York Times Magazine, and as a Sunday subscriber I’ll admit that I was looking forward to it as well. Where I normally wake up groggy on a Sunday morning, stumble down the three flights of stairs at my apartment building to grab the paper and go straight for the front section, this week I went straight for the magazine.
I was surprised to be greeted by a smaller logo, and much more text on the cover. I grew more comfortable with the changes as I moved through the magazine, feeling like the magazine was more accessible and an easier read than the old version. I’m not a graphic designer, but I’m dating and living with one who’s eager to offer her opinions. With my thoughts and hers, here’s what I like and don’t like about the new magazine.
1. Plus: It’s a lot easier to read. I’m a magazine freak, and probably spend more money and time annually on magazines than a rational person should. I love holding them, reading them and amassing so many of them that it’s a total pain in the ass to gather them up and get them recycled. I’ve always loved the New York Times Magazine, but design-wise, it has always been one notch below some of my other favorites. The small graphics introducing stories – text and images – made it seem like more work to get into an article, and the stronger headlines and graphic elements introducing stories seem like less work to me. Stupid probably, but it’s true nonetheless.
2. Plus: It’s more like regular magazines. I’ve never considered the New York Times Magazine a regular magazine for a couple of reasons. First, the journalism published within its pages is among the best available in print. The problem was that it almost felt like reading an academic journal, or a publication that a guy with my intelligence level had no business reading. New features like the “Last Month on the Internet” have the feel of something you’d see in Esquire or GQ, and gives you a break from the heavy, deep writing in the rest of the magazine.
This page isn’t very complicated, or particularly deep or full of high-impact journalism. But it is fun, though, and can be read in a matter of minutes. Besides, who wouldn’t want to read a short paragraph detailing the public embarrassments of Justin Bieber (besides his music)?
3. Minus: Odd design choices seem haphazard. The one thing I don’t quite get about the redesign is why the odd placement of the drop caps to open some of the paragraphs in the features. They seem to just be floating there, suspended on the page with no apparent connection to the paragraph.
I like drop caps, but the ones that appear in the New York Times Magazine seem to be placed there without a second thought. Take a look at this example (right), found on page 22 of the March 6, 2011 issue. It’s not aligned with the sentence it begins and sits far off to the left of the text, creating more white space than is necessary. In other places, the drop caps are closer to being aligned with the sentence they begin, but off just enough to be noticeable. I’d understand if they were placed in uniform positions throughout the magazine, regardless of how far off the top of the paragraph they are, or how far to the side. But they’re all over the place, and it’s just odd.
Like I said, I’m not a graphic designer, so my critique isn’t as deep and incisive as others out on the interwebs. I am, however, an avid magazine reader and someone still willing to spend money on print magazines, a demographic magazine publishers surely want to hang on to. Along with the high-quality journalism that will always be a part of the New York Times Magazine, the redesign has made it a more approachable and accessible magazine. If this is just the beginning of the magazine’s redesign, as editor Hugo Lindgren says, they’re definitely off to a good start.