Monthly Archives: June 2012

An infographic to explain the future of . . . infographics!

The guy standing in the bottom right of this picture is Francesco Franchi, the Art Director of Italy’s much admired Il magazine. Fresh from his triumph at the SPD awards in New York City, Francesco was speaking last night at the EDO. Introduced by Mark Porter, this packed event took place inside the impossibly hip environs of Mother, in London’s Shoreditch.

Il is noted for extensive use of stunning infographics, as well as fine typography and powerful layout. Have a look at magculture‘s recent post on the work to get a feel for it. As you might expect, Francesco’s presentation was like one great big infographic. And really good it was too, with a highly refined visual narrative to explain the work he’s done and how he did it. There was insane attention to detail, underpinned by a very strong grasp of form and function.

But what about his chart that shows infographics peaking sometime last year? And the mysterious shaded box in the top right of the picture, with a caption that reads: “what next?”

I’ve already posted about the potential for infographics as a content marketing tool. But what I think is actually going to occupy the top part of Francesco’s diagram is THIS.

Well, not exactly this, the opening credits to Catch Me If You Can, but animated infographics. Tablet designs that move, with as much reference to Saul Bass‘s amazing title sequences, and Maurice Binder‘s work on James Bond as anything we have yet seen in print.

So how do I go about making that then?!


People is the biggest magazine in the world. Here are 5 ways it plans to stay that way

People McConaughy Wedding coverThe celebrity news weekly market is as tough in the US as here in the UK, but People still totally dominates it. It’s the world’s biggest magazine, over 2 million subs and another million on newsstand, or thereabouts. They’re really going for it at the moment, with one wedding or baby shoot exclusive after another. But this, the latest issue, is an absolute belter. Here are the five things that make it really work.

1. Trust. As with any brand, this is everything. But celebrity ‘news’ is so inherently untrustworthy, and the market weakness for spin so great, that sticking to the facts can be tough when compared to Perez and the tabs. But the fact remains, if you’ve read it in People, you know they haven’t made it up.

2. Access. This remains People’s strongest card. Celebrities trust People, they know it won’t stitch them up, so in return they let the brand in. Here, the McConaughy wedding picture is just fantastic. It feels like the truth, it lets the reader believe they are sharing a genuinely intimate moment, the finger gesture is just genius. And note the headline; it’s not ‘The Wedding’, it’s ‘Our Wedding’

This scoop is so good, it has pushed the exclusive Tom Cruise interview down to the foot of the cover. This is still an important component; aside from delivering more access, Tom covers off kids and family, and gives eye contact on the newsstand.

3. Bodies! By far the biggest part of the whole package is the top left body story. In the UK, many mags would splash on this, but here, although the second story, it’s given prime real estate, moving the logo over to the right at a consequence.

They’ve got the killer lines. ‘Body after baby’, ‘How the stars really eat’ and ‘Bikinis at every age’, all proven sellers. In the UK or Australia, these lines would be be massive, but with the usual risk of perceived overclaim. Here, they are really quiet, tiny even. But they are in the hottest of hot spots, and sitting on really hot pictures.

4. Colour. Unlike the rest of the market, People’s brand colour is blue, which can make for a relaxed, thoughtful presentation. That’s part of the brand, but not much help in the screaming bunfight of the newsweeklies.

So the key is how to manage the rest of the spectrum. The whole market pretty much uses a yellow splash, as no other colour pops as hard off a picture (5th colours are rarely seen in this market, due to the huge print runs). But where do you go after that?

The ’88 Summer bodies’ story doesn’t hold a lot of space, but is lifted by the yellow blobs. But the pink type upon them is handled with spectacular restraint. This is where the tension between selling the socks off the content, and ‘managing the brand’ is most acute. Get it wrong, and you risk making the whole package feel cheap. Given that this is People’s $4.99 double issue, that’s not a good idea.

Picking out ’88’, Bonus’ and ‘Tom Cruise’ in blue is an understated colour-way, not often seen in this market. It doesn’t leap like pink, but prevents the content feeling commoditised, and keeps it all on brand.

5. Diets. I don’t think I have ever seen a diet line on the cover of People before. But this isn’t any old diet story. Dr Oz is ‘one of America’s leading heart surgeons’ and the Oprah-approved star of a huge Emmy-winning TV show. And the story inside the magazine is genuinely amazing, in the way the best of American health and service content can be. Totally worth the price of admission on its own.

My only reservation is that I didn’t notice it straight away. That’s because it doesn’t have a picture. But as anyone who has ever attempted to visualise diet content in a small cover space knows, this is an almost impossible task. A plate of mung beans is not going to do it, which is why People, in its wisdom, has placed the line directly underneath the incredibly flat stomach of George Clooney’s girlfriend.

Why did Sport magazine win the PPA Cover of The Year 2012?

PPA cover of the year 2012Sport magazine picked up Cover of The Year at last night’s PPA awards in London, with this haunting portrait of Paul Gascoigne, taken by Jon Enoch.

But as Roy Greenslade asked earlier this week in The Guardian, how do you judge a cover by a cover? As he suggested, is it really is a case of comparing apples with oranges?

The PPA process was simple enough, make a shortlist of 15, and then decide by public vote. But that vote takes no account of the environment these covers were originally designed for. Some are newsstand titles – designed to fight for attention and your money. Others are produced to promote their sponsor’s brand. And then there is the third group of titles that are free, such as Sport, and just given away every week outside the tube.

All covers are pieces of commercial art. The question is how commercial does it need to be and what value is placed on it as that piece of art? The fact of the matter is that if Sport‘s cover were to be placed in a newsagent with an invitation to pay money for it, it would sell nothing of any consequence. I worked on the launch of Emap’s Total Sport back in the 90s, I’ve been there.

Failing to sell enough copies is not a luxury available to Cosmo and the rest of the newsstand titles in the shortlist, hence all the coverlines. Words are not the only way to describe value of course, but for titles that actually do want to shift units, readers must be reassured that it’s going to be worth the money.

To some extent, monthlies show value automatically, as they have a spine that talks to both quality and quantity. But for flimsier saddle-stitched weekly titles, coverlines tend to assume even more importance.

But enough of the theory, and back to the winning cover. The vote took place online, with all the covers arranged in a perfectly even playing field. So why did Sport win?

PPA covers of the year 2012This presentation is not dissimilar to that way covers are now displayed in Apple’s Newsstand. The techniques required to stand out in this PPA poll, have real implications for how we approach selling digital magazines online.

I believe we look at a cover for evidence of who we are. If we see ourselves or our fantasies reflected back, we’ll make a connection. That’s why eye contact is still so important. And that’s something Paul Gascoigne’s portrait delivers in spades, better than anything else here.

But after that, we have to look at the fact that there is no coverline, and no attempt to identify him.  Many people will not recognise him. But that’s the point; if you do, (and most men over a certain age will), then not having his name lets the viewer understand that they are already on the inside of the story. They are part of the club.

There is a conspiratorial quality to all our relationships with celebrity. We make them, and then we break them, or in Paul’s case, they break themselves. Although it must be said that the no-coverline technique is usually reserved for people who have just died. But we’ll not go there just yet.

But the killer stroke is the texture of the photograph. Which seems to perfectly fit with what we know about the texture of his life. A magnificent footballer. Hero. Alcoholic. Wifebeater. ‘Friend’ of Raoul Moat. The picture seems to say that Paul knows all of this. He meets our gaze without flinching. It really is great work, and a fine cover as a result.

Hello magazine's Paul Gascoigne wedding cover

Our relationship with Gazza is a long and enduring one. For many years his wedding on the cover of Hello was its biggest ever selling issue. It may still be for all I know. Elvis aside, he is the most famous face in this shortlist. (Although since I made this post, my wife has reminded me that Rihanna is now the most famous person on the shortlist, so clearly, not many young women were involved in the voting)

But Elvis is not British, when push comes to shove, we’ll always go for someone, or something we can actually relate to. Which was demonstrated that last time the PPA ran a public vote to determine what was the Greatest British Magazine Cover of all time. That was won by the Radio Times, with it’s excellent ‘Vote Dalek’ cover.

The true takeaway here, is that we need to learn how to sell magazines in Apple’s newsstand, instead of just wedging them into the local WH Smith. The rules for creating cut-through and value are going to change. Much like the shift from LP cover design to that of CD covers, the smaller format is going to force us into cleaner, leaner positions. We are going to need new ways to prove value for money in this growing retail environment.

The runners-up in the PPA poll were Stylist and Wallpaper, again both very minimal designs with tremendous emphasis on the photograph. Publishers already make special subscriber issues, maybe we will need to rethink our newsstand covers and make special versions for Apple’s newsstand.

One thing remains certain. We will always need stories to back-up the promise, and we will always trust a brand better than a commodity. And they’re both things this industry is really good at generating.

Professor Green, Nuts magazine, Flipboard and our total addiction to mobile phones

Professor Green calligraphy for Nuts magazineHere is a terrific calligraphy project from Jacksonalves of Brazil, commissioned by of all people, Nuts magazine. Jackson has posted all stages of the work, but also a fine video showing how he mixes the best of old and new calligraphy tools. As this commission shows, Simon Freeborough and Barney Hammond design Nuts with with real skill and flair. It’s not a formula, they’re always pushing it, always trying something new. Good work.

IPC’s Digital Director Kevin Heery has kicked off a brand new blog about Lean development within big companies. Appropriately named, it promises real insight into how we can change the culture of large media businesses to incorporate Lean principles. It’s irreverent, funny, must-read stuff.

Mashable has a superb interview with Marcos Weskamp, Flipboard‘s head of design. Thanks to magculture for the link.

Joe Kraus is an early internet pioneer, co-founding in 1993. He’s now a partner at google ventures, where clearly he’s spending a lot of time looking at his phone. Hence this excellent post explaining our addiction to it, and how to cope with the culture of distraction we’re creating for ourselves.

Facebook engagement levels are down by 35%. Stick that in your inbox and smoke it!

Facebook engagement drops 35%Here is a super-simple infographic that popped into my inbox last week from Furthr, a new content marketing agency set up by Andy Pemberton. Andy is a former Editor of Q Magazine and a regular contributor to top titles both here and in the US. With Richard Scott supplying the design, that makes for a pretty powerful team. I get all sorts of email, but I really liked this item. It was so fast, direct and memorable, it made me think well of the business that sent it to me. Which of course, is the whole point of content marketing.

It now seems that every brand in the land is wanting to tell us stories, serve us facts and generally entertain us with their fluency in generating and curating content. They have always done this of course, through customer publishing, but they are now taking matters into their own hands. P&G has invested heavily in Super Savvy Me, Coca Cola is moving from creative excellence to content excellence, and there will be more to follow. There’s a lot of debate about it too. Read this post at Publishing Executive for an idea of the current landscape.

However, there is so much content in the world, and so little time, that actually getting anything to be seen, read or looked at in any way at all is increasingly difficult.

Which is why infographics are so very powerful. For a masterclass in how to make them, you can do no better than read this superb post at Fast Company written by Josh Smith, a member of the Brooklyn based design group Hyperakt. There’s tons of detail there, and lots of great examples.

Napoleon's retreat from Russia 1812But as Any Fule Kno, this is still the original and greatest infographic of all time. Here is Charles Minard’s 1869 map showing the route and the nature of Napoleon’s 1812 invasion of Russia. A staggering amount of complex data displayed with the utmost simplicity.

Suicide stats from the golden gate bridgeAlthough my personal favourite has to be this 2005 infographic showing the number of suicides from The Golden Gate Bridge, and the precise point from which they jumped. Brilliant work.

For further reference, both Wired and Bloomberg Business Week do great infographics, and there are many good books on the subject. In particular, Information Is Beautiful, and the daddy of them all, Edward Tufte’s Visual Display Of Quantitative Information, which Amazon declared to be one of the ‘Best 100 Books of the 20th Century’.

This just in: Esquire’s Warhol cover, Travel & Leisure’s redesign and making money out of mobile

New Yorker cartoon all about TwitterNew Yorker cartoon by William Haefeli. If you fancy it as an art print, the New Yorker’s cartoon’s are all available here.

The Atlantic interviews the ‘legendary’ George Lois on how he created the iconic Andy Warhol soup can cover for Esquire back in the 60s. Great story.

Pentagram’s Luke Hayman redesigns Travel & Leisure magazine. At first sight this looks terrific work. It should be, as Luke used to be their Art Director before he went off to fame and glory at New York Magazine.

More from the Atlantic on how we’re all going to make a ton of money out of mobile advertising. Hurrah!

Hugo Lindgren, Editor of the New York Times Magazine, on how he sees the future relationship between print and digital. That’s all sorted, then.

Europe’s financial crisis solved! All you need is love, and the latest issue of Stern

Stern Euros and and iphoneHere is the latest issue of Stern, which I bought over the weekend in a Berlin U-Bahn station. The cover story (Rescue The Love) is all about couples therapy, which seems both urgent and appropriate given the way Germany and France are behaving toward each other right now. And even more so given that Berlin itself is a living monument to the last time Europe tore itself apart. The whole city is completely tattooed with its experience. Endless graffiti, WWII bullet holes, and of course the museums, the memorials and The Wall.

How the German psyche parlays into their love of print is beyond the scope of this post, but it remains a fact that Germany still has a fascination with the stuff. Bars are fully stocked with magazines, and people actually sit down to read both them and newspapers, as opposed to endlessly scrolling their phones.

Stern is possibly Germany’s best magazine, and certainly one of the world’s benchmarks for quality photojournalism. The circulation is around 300k each week, it has 128 pages and seems to have plenty of ads. At 3.50 euros it isn’t cheap, but it is unexpectedly rewarding. There is a look and feel that is unmistakably Continental. Gravure printing, big pictures, deep text and a design that feels both relaxed yet highly considered.

French news monthly Actuel

It was back in the 80s when I first discovered European news magazines, in particular the legendary French news monthly, Actuel. I couldn’t read a word of it, but I just loved the way they threw down the perfectly cropped pictures, and laid out the type with a real sense of purpose. Fact fans may care to note that the design of the very first issue of The Face, done by the legendary Steve Bush, is a virtual photocopy of Paris Match, the other great European newsweekly.

Unlike Europe, the UK has never had a strong news magazine culture, due to being so well served by quality Sunday paper supplements. It’s easy to forget, but in their heyday, The Sunday Times and Observer magazines were powerful, must-see titles.

Magazine front cover design of the latest issue of stern

So what can we learn from Stern today?

Well, trust in the brand is still the number one reason to buy. The logo is a highly recognisable shape, white out of a conventional tabloid red corner block. But then, there is the counter intuitive play of making the word Stern sit on the picture, as if it were a huge coverline. The overall effect is that of both a weekly and a monthly. A unique combination, as far as I know.

The layout is decisive. The secondary stories are clearly boxed off just under the logo, so plenty of value there. They don’t always use a drop-in picture, but her her Madge does supply some handy eye contact. After that, the entire cover is devoted to the splash. It’s taut, but emotional too, sitting on a solid panel of 5th colour silver. The whole thing feels important and special. In another unconventional move, the barcode is above the logo, which doesn’t mess up the design, but does leave the cover story completely open. Very smart.

Inside, the whole issue feels fantastic value. Much like the New Yorker wrapped up in a full colour Picture Post. It’s a really well paced, intelligent handling of a magazine flatplan. Here are just three of the spreads.

Couples therapy openerThis is the cover story on couples therapy. A tough subject to illustrate, and even harder to get readers to engage with. But the clever use of designer chairs, sensitive art direction and sophisticated layout clearly works.

Couple therapy revealThe second spread is equally good. The typography is always talking to the photo, but still directs the page. Red slug top right, highly visible credits, pull quote keying back to the opener and an easily read caption. The grid is magnificent. Think Wim Crouwel, Simon Esterson and Mark Porter.

Death on EverestAnd this is the traffic jam on Everest of a few weeks ago. I’d read the story of two hundred climbers attempting to summit in one day, but I hadn’t seen this particular shot. And I certainly hadn’t seen AC/DC used as the headline! Quite brilliant.