Print Designers Taking a Page from the Online User Experience

As readers shift much of their media diet from the printed page to the digital screen, magazine publishers are leveraging two specific opportunities. 

As Greg Dool in Folio: notes, “many magazine publishers see an opportunity for their print products to serve as both a relaxing escape from the flood of information online and a complement to it, taking lessons in design and UX from one medium and applying them to the other.”

I’ve written before about the idea of print as an escape from the digital drumbeat – yet this idea of taking a lesson from digital engagement and applying it to print really resonates with what I see trending in magazine design.

Dool presents three magazines – San Diego, The New Republic, and Nature – “that have each made significant changes to the aesthetics of their print editions in an effort to make them more engaging and, perhaps more importantly, to make the case for their continued vitality in the years to come.”

First on Dool’s list is San Diego, the 72-year-old regional title that’s gone through not just a redesign, but a full reorganization.

“It’s hard because you’re not just talking about a new look, you’re introducing new franchises and formats and new names for sections, and it all needs to make sense together,” EIC Erin Meanley Glenny tells Folio:. “Everyone calls it a redesign, but in my head it’s a reorganization. The new fonts are just the accessories.”

They started the process by taking a deep dive into who they are as a  magazine and what they want to be for their audience.

“From a design standpoint, Meanley Glenny says she focused on injecting the magazine with a more modern look, with cleaner fonts and a wider color palette,” Dool notes. “Clarity was important in terms of presentation, she said, but also in terms of legibility—San Diego Magazine‘s readership has a median age of 47.”

Their clean, legible look emulates a modern website, while their editorial coverage remains focused on the slow read, the deep dive. Also taking a page from a bold modern aesthetic is the team behind The New Republic.

“The effect we’re going for is to have readers of the print magazine kind of stop in their tracks and think that they have to learn more about this urgent message that’s being conveyed,” said editor Chris Lehmann. “It’s visually engaging but it also respectfully reflects the intellectual content of the magazine.”

Lehmann believes the efforts and cost of an overhaul are well worth the investment.

“In a weird way, print has become more important by virtue of the fragmentation of the attention economy,” he says. “I think people want a voice that can speak with authority, that does not shy away from intellectual tensions. We are in the business of inviting readers to think more deeply, not to react to some outrageous comments on Twitter. The tradition of a journal of opinions and ideas is that you are deliberately creating the intellectual space for someone to sit and consider an argument at length.”

Meanwhile, the London-based scientific journal Nature has undergone a design that specifically focuses on the change in way readers read … whether online or in print.

“Design is not solely about how something looks; it is also concerned with how it works, and that understanding has never been more urgent than in the digital age,” wrote creative director Kelly Krause in an essay explaining the changes to the magazine’s aesthetic across platforms. “As publishers, we’ve asked how we might assist working scientists. We have heard your pleas, many stemming from information overload and the need to pack ever more data on to small screens.”

At the heart of all these makeovers lies the audience – readers who are clamoring for trusted content in print that understands we’ve all changed a bit in how we read and view information. This is a fascinating new stage of print design we are entering, and bears watching as a print design trend.