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Would you redesign an institution like The New
KT Meaney argued for why the answer should be “yes.” Here, she
presents a step-by-step, section-by-section visual critique of how
she would do it:
The Table of Contents Forgets the ContentThis crammed list needs more text, believe it or not.
From 1925 to 1969, The New Yorker had no Table of
Contents, and some could argue today that it is still missing.
Offered here on page six, sandwiched between two advertisements, is
very little space to say much of anything. (Fig. A) What is said
comes through the design: The New Yorker wants you to
quickly recognize its authors, who have been given the most amount
of space and typographic attention. Outside of that, content is
difficult to locate. This stems from a poor visual
hierarchy—limited typefaces, type sizes and line spacing. The
choices made here create congestion. Outlining the magazine in its
entirety is out of the question. Thus, Goings on About Town and The
Talk of the Town have collapsed to a mere line or two (even though
these sections are a third of this issue).
The last paragraph is a content-fitting apology: “Sorry, we have
run out of room. So for this issue, Cover, Drawings and Spots
[which are indeed three separate headings] are now together, in one
awkwardly wide paragraph.” When there is ample space (special
issues allot two pages to the ToC), that catch-all paragraph
expands back to three, and aligns systematically to the center. A
If the ToC were typeset differently—in two columns, not one,
with enhanced typographic hierarchy—one could add all necessary
content and improve clarity. This way, more text would feel less
cramped. A furnished room looks bigger than an empty one. (Fig.
Add Another Column of TypeThe new left column will play the role of “supporting
First, create more space by removing any ads from the contents
page. Territorially speaking, we own that space! (However, I
acknowledge the importance of advertisements, and, if they are
necessary, simply extend the ToC across two pages.) Expand Goings
on About Town and Talk of the Town. These sections are important to
list. Combine Cover, Drawings and Spots into their own new
category: Illustrations. List the endpage, too (in this issue, the
Cartoon Caption Contest). This left paragraph is typeset slightly
smaller and in gray to set it back. (Fig. B)
Enhance the Main ColumnChange the type style, size, and leading.
The main column is highlighted: the column now sits in the
middle of the page; the type is larger and darker. (Fig. B) Authors
stand out in red for quick viewing. A new heading called Features
is added, to keep consistent with the system. All headings are
typeset in the New Yorker font Irvin. All subheads (now)
are not. Instead, they are set in Caslon small caps. The variation
allows for quick recognition. (Plus, Irvin doesn't work perfectly
well with Caslon italic, so we've tried to separate the two.) There
are line breaks between essays, which create openness and ease of
reading. These spaces are very important, and if left out result in
typographic collisions. Essay titles are set large, in Caslon Ulc.
Tag lines are in italic, and seem conversational (as if someone is
explaining the essay). (Fig. C)
Fig. C, Fig. D, Fig. E
Type PunctilioAttention to typographic detail.
Cut back on how often Irvin is used. Page numbers are now set
with Caslon old style figures. Numbers are added next to artists,
under drawings. This helps the reader locate their work. (Fig. D)
When typesetting a title in quotations, hang your punctuation
outside the margin. (Fig. E)
Goings on about the GridThe current grid system is inflexible and redundant.
The New Yorker is set on a tight three-column grid,
established by its first art editor, 82 years ago. (Fig. F) Seldom
does the column break the margin to utilize mathematical variation.
Virtually every page, no matter what part you're reading (Goings On
About Town, The Talk of the Town, The Critics, etc.), is based on
this one-size-fits-all design. The problem: The New Yorker
is a visually sectionless magazine with repetitive page design. The
solution: let the content design itself. Lists, reviews and essays
should dwell in different places. Column sizes would naturally
vary, making each page distinctive and reflective of its own
The Callout ColumnNarrow column needs to be wider.
Three-to-four-words per line makes for an awkward read. Let the
first column extend into the second, if need be. Those grid lines
are not prison bars. Break them. (Fig. G)
Headings and SubheadsDisplay type is hard to read and the color system,
Rethink the use of this Art Deco typeface for both headings and
subheads. Having one part UC and the other Ulc would work better
visually and systematically, making it clear which is a heading and
which is a section. Hire a typographer to extend Rea Irvin's base
font to include lowercase too. Furthermore, the use of red is
perplexing. It makes you think that “Studies in Amber” and “The
Theatre” are hierarchically equivalent, which they are not. (Fig.
Hyphenation and JustificationDitch the default settings to avoid multiple
Two hyphens in a row is a problem. Three is embarrassing
(especially for an upper-crust literary magazine). All of this is
avoidable. Set your InDesign file with typographic care. (Fig.
The Curse of Content-FittingThe decision to justify most of the text likely comes from a
need to fit as much content in as possible.
The schooled designer knows this is not a good excuse. Through
placement, type-size variation and a flexible grid, one can design
a page for both quality and quantity. In the end, a list can be a
list (and, not, a, long, line, of, type, delineated, by, commas,
or, dingbats). (Fig. J)
Typesetting NumbersFind a font with depth.
These numbers act like capitals, standing while all other letters
sit. (Fig. J) To visually level them, try using old style figures
(as opposed to lining figures) while occurring in paragraph form.
Old style figures share the same ventilation as lowercase. If the
current font does not include OSF, pick one that does. There are so
many full-bodied typefaces available that it's not an acceptable
argument to use short-sheeted typography. First, try Adobe
Word Count Fits the LayoutLess to talk about here.
The commentaries in this section are short (varying from 800 to
1200 words). Hence, the three-column system suits them well. Of
course, we can always improve upon this format. (Fig. K) Here's
Body CopyThink of type size, leading and line-length in
Try to find the typesetting sweet spot. The point size/measure
relationship can either offer unduly results or magical moments.
The New Yorker seems to have an excess of broken words
(hyphenation), tight letter spacing and widows/orphans. That means
the point size is too big or the line length too narrow. If the
page size is a given and three columns desired, the question
remains: how do you set type within these constraints? For
starters, take the point size down and notice the reflow.
The ample space around the poems is a welcome breath amidst the
crowd. The point size could be slightly smaller. The font could
change altogether, for something surprising, but it is not
necessary. (Fig. L)
Wimpy Drop CapBig drop caps are beautiful, but probably not “fitting” on a
justified column 13 picas wide.
Fig. M, Fig. N, Fig. O
To accommodate them, The New Yorker drops its caps only
two lines down, throughout an entire article. They look awkward.
(Fig. M) Maybe this inelegance stems from their closeness to the
title size. Your eye compares the 30-point Caslon to 26-point
Irvin, and for once, you're on Irvin's side. (Fig. N) (Caslon
doesn't seem to offer optical sizes—different master designs based
on specific type sizes—and the letter looks stocky compared with
the text weight.) Or maybe this two-line drop cap works only if the
opening cap is grand. Back in 1925, the initial drop cap was a
whopping three lines tall (which sounds minor, but looks major). It
was followed by a word in small caps, which visually glued the
disjointed letters together. Alas, our New Yorker is no
longer like that. (Fig. O) And here I am becoming a proponent of
the past—but only when the past functions better than the
The High Price of a Low Budget LookThe magazine prints in four colors but predominantly uses only
The 2 x 2-inch advertisement in the margin is bursting with
color, yet the whole spread is sedately black and white: an
inedible garnish amidst this rice-and-beans meal. (Fig. P) If
The New Yorker pays for CMYK, as the ad suggests,
shouldn't the spread sing with color? To make the most of money
spent, let's rethink color choices. Any one of the New
Yorker sections could easily be differentiated with a subtle
page tint. This would help one flip to desired articles.
Illustrations could be colored, too. How devilish: Hell could look
quite hot! (Fig. P)
The MarginWhere did it go?
The margin on bottom is smaller than on top. Hence, the layout
looks bottom-heavy. Reverse order and ditch the last line, if
necessary. We'll find space elsewhere. (Our intention is not to
make the magazine longer or more expensive, merely more
Running FooterChange the font.
Try the Futura-like font from Goings on About Town. Loosen up
the letter spacing. Tighten up space near the folio. Try setting
the date with numbers. Most importantly, give it more room in the
Block QuotesThere is no simple solution here.
A smaller point size, and a tighter lead fits more words per
line, yes, but the overall feel is ghostly—like the quote is not
speaking but whispering. (Fig. Q) Plus, a tighter lead produces
inconsistent spacing at the end of the quote. If we can agree that
this looks bad, let's then attempt to keep the block quote on the
same baseline grid as the body copy. Take the point size down; then
make it italic or bold or whatnot. If the column were wider, you
could left-indent, too.
Image captionsTreat them differently
Image captions are 12 pt Caslon italic. Bylines look exactly the
same. Given this visual link, I naturally want to call the artist
Mr. Flying Rat. (Fig. R) My suggestion is to introduce a new font
altogether, as done in Goings on About Town—one that contrasts to
the body copy.
The New Yorker magazine is known for its high editorial
standards, so why doesn't its layout get the same treatment? Meaney
argues for redesigning an institution.
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By now there must be few
people who are unaware of the recent uproar surrounding the University of
California’s rebranding effort. Seldom does
the media take such an active interest in design, so it was disheartening that they got their reporting so very wrong. The outcome
of that misreporting—fueled by an online petition and fanned by our very own
design community—has set back the course of design and cheated the university out of a progressive new identity.
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