Magazine design theory?

rs_donsata's picture

Hi. I'm looking for some books on the topic of magazine design. I'm not quite sure there may be anything like a formal theory of magazine design but at least I guess there must be some serious books discussing topics such as covers, layouts, photography, etc.

hrant's picture

I once checked out "MagCulture" by Jeremy Leslie from the UCLA library. It was OK.


Karl Stange's picture

TypoMag - Typography in Magazines by Laura Meseguer looks interesting, though I only looked through it quickly in a bookshop the other day.

I have had The Art Director's Handbook of Professional Magazine Design by Horst Moser (2003 edition) for many years and always found it a useful reference, though my edition is somewhat dated now and I do not know if there are any updates in this release.

These would be good starting points but with the range of magazine's available today and the approaches being taken, looking at a range of current editions, particularly in graphic design, fashion and politics, can offer the most revealing insight.

Additionally many magazines now produce digital editions as well as complimentary digital content. The website for Purple Fashion hosts a digital edition of the magazine as well as other text, photographic and video content. Monocle has developed a boutique commercial side, selling clothing, accessories and even a bicycle to compliment its specific target audience.

You may also find the magculture blog interesting.

kentlew's picture

Another Horst Moser book is Surprise Me [Mark Batty, Publisher: 2003]. Again, not theory per se, but an extensive survey of examples organized by various stylistic attributes and approaches.

enne_son's picture

For years before the advent of the personal computer I kept a journal of quotations. Most of them are on typography, but there are some verging on theory, that are about, or applicable to, magazine art direction and design.

The first is embedded in this quotation [ see the bold ]: “The word magazine comes from the old Spanish magacen (meaning: a store-house); which comes form the Arabic makhazin; which is the plural of makhazan; which, logically enough, means “to store up.” // At the begining of the eighteenth century the term magazine was applied, first, not to periodicals, but to a special kind of book, a book not willing to stick to one subject only, but rambling all over the lot: a storehouse of all kinds of knowledge; a repository of miscellanea. // Today “Magazine” means a magazine only in English-speaking countries; in the rest of the world the term magazine is mostly used in it’s original meaning of repository. In Russian magazine means a store or a shop; in Germany — a cartridge-holding part of the rifle; in France magasin is either a department store or (as in the slangy expression, “magasin de blanc”) a house which serves as a repository for young ladies of more charm than virtue. // The periodicals of our time, all over the world, and regardless of what they are called, are true magazines: that is, storehouses. [From M. F. Agha, “Reprise: On Magazines,” in AIGA, Journal of Graphic Design. VIII, #3, 1985. Reprinted from the catalogue of Magazines USA for the AIGA show of 1968.

When I taught continuing education courses in Magazine Design at Ryerson in Toronto in the 1990s I liked to play with the metaphorical possibilities of the more colourful alternate meanings in relation to the magazine design scene of the day.

I also liked to quote Raymond Hawkey’s “Graphic Design in Newspapers” (1960s; Penrose Annual): “The newspaper graphic designer has to be able to understand and respect the essential journalistic function of what he [pe: or she] is asked to do.”

From the great illustrator Marshall Arisman [“Art of the Printed Page,” ,ID , March / April 1988] I lifted: “Art directors, meantime must be willing to regard artists as contributors rather than as handy human drawing tools.” Marshall Arisman was a great advocate of the illustrator's “ability to visually report, observe and reflect upon a wide range of social, psychological and intellectual issues.”

This ethos was in the air at the time Barry Blitt of New Yorker and New York Times fame — and illustrator of my typophile avatar — was honing his skills on the pages of magazines I was working on.

One of the most important precepts I tried to convey is from Jan V. White, who wrote Editing by Design and Designing for Magazines,” both: Bowker, 1982. For a Folio Show Conference seminar description he wrote “Assembling your magazine is like making a film; it is a arrangement of impressions presented in sequence and revealed over time — page by page or spread by spread.” This is explored in some detail in Chapter 2 of Editing by Design under the chapter heading “The Magazine: Object in Three Dimensions.” The books’ examples are quite dated, but the precepts still hold.

We talked about the use of grids; working with the editorial structure of the magazine; typographical palettes or liveries, navigational and tagging concerns to keep the reader oriented; following strict formats in departments and exercising greater freedom in the feature well; addressing the browsing reader, and graphically and typographically facilitating sustained engagement with the story once he or she becomes immersed.


5star's picture

Great comments Peter, I really really want to do a magazine from cover to cover someday soon.

Here's the first mag/catalog I ever did. I kinda reinvented rulez whilst still playing within the rulez. As I look back on it now some three years down the road of experience and personal development I think the work still stands up, kinda, ok...


marcox's picture

"Surprise Me" is useful for its deconstruction/examples of the various parts 'n' pieces of a magazine page/architecture.

A few others worth looking at:

"Turning Pages: Editorial Design for Print Media" from Gestalten
"Issues: New Magazine Design" by Jeremy Leslie and Lewis Blackwell
"Mag-Art: Innovations in Magazine Design" by Charlotte Rivers

The SPD annual
The MagCulture blog

Fabiouser's picture

Turning Pages shows some exemples of today graphic design applied to magazines.

rs_donsata's picture

Thanks for all the great responses. I was offered teaching a class on magazine design so I have to make a program and bibliography proposal and I wanted to find the best possible sources many of which have been pointed out along with some great miscellaneous information from Peter.

I already owned Editing by design which is a great practical book so I think I'll have a look on to Designing for Magazines and a couple of show books. I also owned MagCulture and it featured some thoughtful insights but I think I wouldn't have it again.

HVB's picture

Some magazines and designers have published material describing their design decisions. This might be an approach that would supplement textbook work with real-life examples. One such can be found here, for The New York Times Magazine.

marcox's picture

I second the recommendation of the SPD website. Lots of great work linked to and discussed there.

Bloomberg Businessweek's creative director, Richard Turley, has a Tumblr where that magazine's design is often displayed/previewed, along with other work that catches his eye.

enne_son's picture

Participants in my class had to go to the best magazine magasin in town after the first class, which was then Lichtmans, and select two magazines: one they were familiar with, and a second they weren’t aware of but found intriguing. They were asked to buy the current copies each time they came out. At the end of the year they had to write and deliver a report for each on every aspect of magazine design we had discussed. This included figuring out the typographic grid, identifying the type-faces used — and their creators, as well as the circumstances for the creation of the fonts — determining the sizes and leading for each section of the magazine, determining the editorial structure of the magazine, how illustration, information graphics and photography were used, how departments and features were treated, etc. Participants also had to devise a multi-page feature layout the fit the design parameters of one of their magazines and were mindful of the Jan White, Raymond Hawkey, etc. precepts I had taught.

Almost all of students used the time between sessions to pace themselves, using the topic that had been discussed the previous week, and raised their questions at the beginning of the following sessions. Some students even called the art directors to get information first-hand.

I thought of the course as a course in magazine design literacy. My experience was that there were plenty of good designers, but most entry-level people didn’t understand magazines.

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