Magazines use the aesthetic and rhetorical strategies of graphic design to produce style codes, which define the identity of the magazine as a recognizable title, and establish relationships with their audiences. The magazine combines text and image to publish news, information, editorial content, and advertising. The structural components of the printed magazine include the cover (composed of masthead or title, and image), editorial and contents pages, single pages, and double-page spreads. Magazine design employs the underlying structure of the grid (including columns and modules) to order arrangements of typographic, photographic, and illustrative elements on the page. The formal strategies of graphic design, including proportion, balance, symmetry, color, rhythm, sequence, scale, and movement, are employed to produce visually persuasive texts (Frost 2003; Hurlburt 1978). As historical documents, magazines provide a record of relationships between visual representation, identity, and consumption, across a vast spectrum of lifestyles, societies, and cultures.
Early magazine design, the domain of printers, was aligned to the production and design of newspapers and ordered though column and grid structures. Framed images, text columns, and framed advertising were some characteristic features. Specific typefaces and visual systems determined the distinct identity of the publication, an early feature that remains a priority in magazine design. Mid-nineteenth-century advances in mass imaging technologies opened the way for the inclusion of images in magazines and intaglio methods of reproduction were replaced by lithographic and photographic methods, reducing production time. The pictorial news magazine and emerged in the mid-nineteenth century as a result of these advances. The subsequent rise of the picture magazine in the twentieth century strengthened the relationship between photography and magazine design and secured the place of the photo essay as an influential mode of storytelling.
The Bauhaus and successive schools of design formalized and disseminated an understanding of page design organized by the grid and constructed from units of typographic and other elements. The combination of photography and typography in the Bauhaus curriculum taught by Moholy Nagy, Beyer, and others, in the form of the “typophoto,” influenced applied magazine design. The understanding of proportion, balance, symmetry, and scale drew on both experimental and classical principles explored by modernist avant-garde artists, designers, photographers, and filmmakers.
These visual languages and aesthetic strategies evolved into powerful modes of visual rhetoric used by magazine designers and art directors after World War I. The use of the double-page layout created opportunities for compositional and typographic experimentation with photomontage, collage, cropping, scale, asymmetry, color, and repetition. The sequential nature of the pages and the influence of the film sequence prompted magazine designers to explore visual movement, dynamism, and rhythm to generate fresh visual strategies.
European émigré designers in the United States applied this design knowledge in the rapidly growing areas of commercial magazine design and photography. The 1930s saw the rise of the profession of the magazine art director. Magazine design also flourished in postwar Holland and Switzerland, and distinct regional stylistic approaches evolved. Some of the iconic publishing houses and magazine titles were established in this period. Magazine production and circulation grew rapidly post-World War II, and innovative design flourished in this period. European approaches at this time were characterized by clarity and order, while the New York school advanced graphic communication through visual metaphor (Heller 2002; Moser 2003b; Owen 1991; Remington & Hodik 1989).
Digital technologies, including hardware, digital image and typographic software, and digital printing processes, have had a significant impact on both design production processes and aesthetics in the later twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Aesthetic strategies have included the postmodern critique of the grid and rationalist approaches to design, closely followed by a neo-modernist reclaiming of the grid, order, and clarity (Leslie 2000; Moser 2003a; White 2003). Visual semiotic theory, now an integrated component of many design education programs, has highlighted the importance of specific style coding in identifying and communicating with magazine readerships. As graphic languages have multiplied and expanded to fill almost every possible identity niche, the magazine has proliferated as a commodity in its own right, its appeal linked to its design, production, and paper-based material qualities. As a pleasurable form of visual consumption, it represents and reproduces a wide spectrum of consumption-based lifestyles and identities, through targeted form, content, and advertising strategies. Magazines provide a symbolic link between the world of consumer aspiration and imagination and that of actual consumption. The advent of the web zine and magazine design in networked and time-based environments enables new, multimedia delivery modes, which coexist with and supplement print media. The place of design in building reader communities remains central.
- Frost, C. (2003). Designing for newspapers and magazines. London, New York: Routledge.
- Heller, S. (2002). Merz to Emigre and beyond: avant garde magazine design of the twentieth century. London: Phaidon.
- Hurlburt, A. (1978). The grid: A modular system for the design and production of newspapers, magazines and books. New York: Van Nostrand Rheinhold.
- Leslie, J. (2000). Issues: New magazine design. London: Laurence King.
- Moser, H. (2003a). Art directors handbook of professional magazine design: Classic techniques and inspirational approaches. London: Thames and Hudson.
- Moser, H. (2003b). Surprise me: Editorial design. West New York, NJ: Mark Batty.
- Owen, W. (1991). Modern magazine design. New York: Rizzoli.
- Remington, R., & Hodik, B. (1989). Nine pioneers of American graphic design. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
- White, J. (2003). Editing by design, for designers, art directors and editors: The classic guide to winning readers. New York: Allworth Press.