Ever since I was just a little baby elitist with pretensions to cultural literacy, I’ve revered the The New Yorker’s stable of visual artists; their illustrators and photographers have always been the best of the best. So it was hard for me to criticize the new design. Until I saw this.
Apparently, the typical New Yorker level of visual quality does not reach the typography department. Assuming there is one, which, of course, there isn’t. But just look at this nightmare: the S’s are tipping over – why? And doubly why considering you know that they will appear to the right of a cap A and be impossible to letterspace correctly. Why the fully round C next to an A (if you can call being two area codes over “next to”)? Why the underlines? Why the angled A crossbars? Why anything that we’re seeing here? Quirks can be great, if they work together for a cohesive whole. These are quirks from the fourth dimension of terribleness, unconnected to anything.
I could go on (and on) about the failures of this face, but I think we can encapsulate it with that goddamn ampersand. They didn’t even bother to design one. It’s Caslon for god‘s sake. Look, guys, if you’re going to design a typeface, no matter how badly conceived, and you know that it’s going to need an ampersand, pro tip: make an ampersand. That Caslon & doesn’t match the weight or feel or character of the rest of the letters. Possibly because Adobe Caslon is nicely designed and the other is some weird jumble of half thoughts and regret (at least I hope there’s some regret here).
I hesitate to even show the following, because I disagree so heartily with the whole debacular typeface, but here. Here’s an ampersand. I was tempted to offer it up for free, but screw that – Condé Nast is a giant company, they can buy it if they want. So here you go. If you’re reading this, Condé and/or Nast, and want to make a deal, let me know.
It matches the angles of the cap A, and it’s not italic, and, perhaps most importantly, it’s not Caslon italic.
No, it isn’t. It’s not that bad, really. Smack dab in the middle of the road, sure. Boring, even? Yes. But this isn’t about the boring, middle-of-the-road choices that were made, or whether it’s better than Paula Scher’s previous logo. This is about how they screwed up the execution.
The r-t letterspacing is, however, total dogshit.
I don’t know why, but everyone seems afraid to properly letterspace the r-t connection. It’s as though there’s a force field keeping them from ever touching. It’s tricky, I’ll admit, but there are at least two strategies for letterspacing a word with a lower case r-t. This dogshit is now a teachable moment. And we’ll all pause to vomit at the term “teachable moment.”
One option is to keep the force field in place. It’s a bad option, but if you are the sort of a person who, like a chaperone at the junior prom, just is not gonna ever have no letters touching, then go with it. All it means is that the overall tracking will be a little wider.
You should treat letterspacing as negative space, not linear spacing between the letterforms themselves. So, if we’re keeping the r-t space (the black line above), we realize how that affects the space between the outer edges of the r and t (the green rectangles above). It’s a difficult area to translate to the other negative spaces in your word, and there’s lots of room for individual interpretation. But it will help pull your mark together into a cohesive design. Unlike the original, which looks like a gap-toothed hillbilly.
Above, a comparison, with the r-t space used as a guide for the rest of the tracking in the mark. The yellow is mine, the pink, original.
Option 2 – a.k.a. the better option:
This one connects the r and t, and allows for a tighter tracking across the mark.
It requires a little drawing and a little finesse, but it works much better. Nontrivially better. Because I do think the tighter tracking in the original is the better way to go. So, don’t be afraid to have the r and the t touch. Even though, if you compared the r in Art with the one in Director, they’d look different, they are similar enough that the difference disappears. The thing about tricks like this is that, generally, people don’t notice the little cheats. They notice that everything works together better, perhaps in ways they can’t articulate, but better.
But not to be a total curmudgeon, there is some nice craftsmanship. I’m not sure if they used a different digitization of Franklin than mine, or if it was custom made, but it’s a nice version. I especially like the rounded joins (rather than the angled join shown in the blue circle below) and overall character. Frequently, in a logotype, I’ll sand those edges off, too, because it’s just nicer and adds a little craft to what could otherwise look like just another typed-in word. So, they get some points for the subtleties.
BTW, I redrew everything in like, nine seconds (because I’m not getting paid to do it), so, yes, it’s not perfect. (Man oh man, the trolls have made me preëmptively defensive. Thanks, trolls). Anyway.
The type on Annie Leibovitz’s new book is total bullsh*t.
Normally I wouldn’t bother with this, but it’s not like a piece of cheap direct mail. It’s a hardcover monograph for a stellar artist and cultural force. If junk design is done for junk, who cares? But Random House and Annie Leibovitz should be in another class. If these folks can’t get their typography to even a basic standard of professionalism, then who will?
Below are a few corrections that I made to the lettering, and I wouldn’t normally’ve done this (much less posted it), except – and here’s the thing – it took me about a half an hour to do. We live in an era free from x-actos and stat cameras and rubber cement and press type. We have infinite x-actos and magical tracing paper and the most perfect duplicating (at least while it’s still virtual) machine yet conceived. To make these corrections takes almost no time, and therefore almost no money.
- The A and N serifs want to be together. That awkward just-wider-than-a-hairline is distracting. Join em! And the inside serif on the A is a horrid stumpy thing – just because whoever digitized it screwed up doesn’t mean you have to live with it.
- Again with the awkward relationship on the T-Z serifs. Fix the letter spacing, then make the serifs relate in some way.
- Another awkward relationship. The serifs want to be holding hands.
- Make the cross bars of the E and B relate better.
- The R and K are right next to each other, again with the cross bars. And good lord is that letter spacing a train wreck.
Side by side:
It’s subtle, but when you even start addressing the letter spacing, the typography begins to coalesce as a single piece of design. And I do mean this is only a start (lord knows letterspacing is subjective and a matter of personal taste).
With that said, why is the type so poorly done? How does a design team this ignorant (they don’t know) or slipshod (they don’t care) get to be in the position to foist this junk on us? I don’t mean to ream whoever the designers were on this (I couldn’t find any info so I’m assuming it’s in-house work), because there’s a larger point: that this is (yet another) crappy thing in life that has absolutely no reason to be crappy. Making it decent would’ve involved, like, 10% more effort than making it lame. But it’s lame. And life* sucks a little more because of it.
*I know it seems like I’m confusing life with design, probably because I’m a designer. But think about how much of our lives, our environment, is designed: all the ads, all the book covers and magazines and type on cars and packaging and blah blah blah. So yeah. Life sucks a little more when the design sucks (especially when it sucks for no reason).
Obviously ridiculous ~ treating the readers of a women’s magazine as an impenetrable species that eats and shops and who knows what’s in their minds otherwise ~ but once again, lovely to see such a professional grid. Click the pic to see it huge.
A a nice lesson in fearless letterspacing.
Interesting (okay, sort of) that they’re this detailed in outlining their magazine section design in a b2b ad.
I won’t make you wait for another grab bag – check out that H. I’m particularly fond of how the angles play off the curves. Not to mention the o connections.