Consistency is the Hobgoblin of Something-or-Other
I generally try to avoid knee jerk reactions to redesigns. They tend to fall into an easy nostalgia for the way things were, or a crotchety “what’s-the-world-coming-to” version of, well I guess that’s nostalgia, too. So I’m not predisposed to dislike a redesign just because it’s new. I’m not even disposed to dislike a design just because it’s ugly – I really do like to hold out hope that some kinds of ugliness are just new kinds of beauty that we don’t know how to process yet. But this isn’t one of those situations. This is plain bad design.
At right is a detail and below that the whole thing.
1. Type salad number one: carrot shreds. This is a badly-designed typeface trying too hard to echo the logotype but differentiate itself from it, without understanding either of those two things. Here, the serifs are too wimpy, the attempt at a compressed version too little thought out (a nearly circular ‘g’ is a bad punt), and I won’t even get into how it’s been letterspaced here.
2. Type salad number two: giant chunks of something. Bureau Eagle or something like it. With the header face above it and the italics and drop cap below it, this overly black choice is too big and intrusive. What is the hierarchy of what we’re supposed to be looking at – the illustration, border tape, clip art, and this fat ass type choice are all competing. And in this contest, everyone loses (although everyone gets a garish “Participant” ribbon).
3. Type salad number three: endives. I know that technically the italic and the face below it are the same, but italics differ so greatly in form that for my purposes it can be considered as discrete. Given the choice to small cap the intro to the paragraph below, this is just distracting. Too light to read as a subhead, too busy (as italics are) to be integral.
4. Type salad number four: croutons (okay, the salad analogy is getting creaky, I know). This is fine on its own, but the small cap intro is, along with the upper and lower case italics just above it, the all-caps Eagle above that, and the weird failure of the headline above that (and above the illustration and to the side of the clip art) is too much. In a way it’s kind of amazing: each element, even taken on its own, is just too much. It’s like a hall of mirrors. Irritating, legibility-destroying mirrors.
5. This gigantic Chartpak-era border tape. This is perhaps the most offensive thing on these pages. It doesn’t serve to define space or guide the reader or just be pleasing. All it does is shout at me.
6. Clip art. Clip art, for god’s sake. Okay, I know it’s not clip art, but compared to most of the cuts in the The New Yorker, it really looks a lot like clip art, especially just floating there, à propos of nothing.
7. I know there’s no number 7 down there, but I have an otherwise fairly full and interesting life, so sometimes things fall through the cracks, okay? But this giant rectangle illustration, cutting off the headline and clip art from the junk drawer of typography below. It’s just a mess.
8. Four columns here. Three elsewhere (the most comfortable for reading, IMO). Two else-elsewhere. To continue with the texting-level of discourse here, WTF?
The The New Yorker redesign isn’t just ugly or just new. What bothers me about it is that it’s screaming at me. Life is annoying enough without your magazine screaming at you, too. As if its screaming weren’t bad enough, it’s screaming something completely uninspired: “Look at me! I’ve been DESIGNED!”
This is a stupid thing for design to say because everything on a page has been designed. We all know it has been designed. The designer can, and in this case, should, get out of the way of the function of the design (I feel like I’ve written “design” and “screamed” a million times, but then again I ain’t no writersman). The older design was just that: function. It looked like how it worked, and that made it not just subtle or pleasing, but relaxing and comfortable. The design was invisible, subsumed by what it was supposed to do. This new thing inverts that, and does so to its detriment.
So here’s what we do: we send the Condé Nast intern who was very very excited to apply all of his or her first year design techniques ALL AT THE SAME TIME back to some publication that needs screaming design to distract its viewers from bad writing or idiotic subject matter; and we bring back the more anonymous, more rigorous, more respectful design that the magazine had until now.