The arrival of the summer issue of Martha Stewart Living on newsstands marks a significant departure from the magazine's former distribution schedule and from its former design. For the first time since 2001, the magazine will not be releasing a stand-alone August issue, opting instead to sandwich the July and August content into one summer issue. The magazine has also undergone a significant design makeover, led by Cybele Grandjean, Kevin Brainard, Jenn McManus and Jaspal Riyait. My copy arrived in the mail earlier this week and I've been browsing its pages, making notes on some of the design changes and compiling some thoughts.
Readers will be greeted by a clean, sparse cover with some notable design changes. The title is now flat (without the outline) and the ''g'' has reverted back to its pre-2004 font. The name Martha Stewart is now slightly larger and bolder, as shown in the photo below that compares the title from an earlier issue to the current issue. A new, stencil-like font is showcased and is seen throughout the issue, and the abundance of white space on the cover hints at what is to come in the pages beyond.
Inside the magazine, editor-in-chief Pilar Guzman describes the design changes: "You will notice more white space around the pictures,"she writes in her letter, "balanced by pages that use every opportunity to teach...and connect you to additional content on our website and through social-media outlets. We've brought back detailed illustrations where we felt pictures wouldn't suffice...to turn inspiration into immediate action." Additional changes include the removal of the Ask Martha column and the introduction of a new section at the back of the book called the "How-To Handbook," which is where you will now find the columns on healthy living, petkeeping, homekeeping and advice from experts. Below are some examples of page layout and graphic design from the Summer 2013 issue. Continue reading below for my take on the design changes.
WHAT THEY ARE GOING FOR:
Martha Stewart Living has always been a pioneer in lifestyle photography and graphic design, always at the forefront, which is why I first fell in love with the magazine. I started reading it because it was different and offered information about subjects no one else was talking about. As it grew in popularity so too did the offerings of its competitors, such as Real Simple, which is now surpassing MSL in newsstand sales, ad sales and subscriptions. Martha Stewart Living, which is struggling to support itself, had little choice but to differentiate its appearance in a market that is now saturated with copycat magazines that have pushed the "Martha Stewart look" into ubiquity.
In an effort to change, the designers at MSL have turned to younger lifestyle publications that are emerging as the new leaders in magazine design. Many of them have won design awards in categories previously dominated by Martha Stewart Living and all of them are being read by a younger demographic - readers who are more discerning, more particular about their content and more interested in design than ever before. And these readers will pay more to get their fix. (I know, because I'm one of those readers!)
In my first entry of the year on this blog I suggested a design overhaul of Martha Stewart Living and mentioned several magazines that I was reading. By looking at some of them (below) you can see what the MSL designers were going for: cleaner, more minimal designs, the use of linear elements to separate, stress or designate various themes, more impactful photography and layouts that are more honed to the subject, more succinct.
I actually really like the new design changes that have been made to Martha Stewart Living, although I may be a minority. I think the look of the summer issue of Living feels fresh and alive, like a breeze has blown through a previously-stuffy room. I felt energized by the layout - awake. I felt drawn in by the photography and captivated by the minimalism. And this from someone who has been reading MSL for nearly 15 years. I found myself looking forward to the next issue, to see how the layout would cradle subjects like decorating, Halloween and the Holidays. My imagination was stirred.
On the other hand, I still miss the writing. I miss writers like Susan Heeger and Bunny Wong, Pete Mars and Laura Wallis. In a recent interview with the New York Times, Pilar Guzman (MSL editor-in-chief) recently said that the "days of the 1000 word front-of-book stories are over" - a sentiment echoed by Joseph Lagani, the company's chief revenue officer. "We understand that people are coming for short, consumable bites of information. People are not spending an hour with you. They’re there to get something.”
These sentiments certainly do not speak for me. I am looking for content to treasure, to return to again and again, for content so good and so rich in quality that I will spend an hour with you, and hopefully two. I'm looking for something more than a soundbyte. (The world is full of meaningless, disposable soundbytes.) I want stories. With the exception of the Good Things column and the Our Finds section, I see no need for a front-of-book section at all, frankly. Martha's article should be part of the back section of the magazine and expanded greatly, since so many of us want to hear about her life, her tastes and her homes. The Good Living section could similarly be parlayed into a monthly feature story, highlighting (in depth) one aspect of good living, whether it's gardening, decorating, crafting or entertaining.
One very nice touch in the summer issue was the article on page 114 about the garden of George Schoelkopf, a garden first featured in the May, 2003, issue of Martha Stewart Living. It was a garden that deeply inspired me when I first read about it ten years ago and to see it again was very enjoyable for me. Editorially, this connection to a past issue through a visit to an evolving garden was ingenious. I also really enjoyed the essay by Monica Wood.
Overall, the design team has achieved a very good renovation - a redesign that is forward-thinking and on target with what is trending in the lifestyle publication market. This bodes well for MSL's survival. It demonstrates a willingness to change and evolve. And I like that. Watch for a complete redo of the MarthaStewart.com website in the coming weeks, which will reflect the changes made in the magazine. Also watch for a new special Halloween issue this fall! (Very exciting!)
These are magazines I read and that seem to have inspired the redesign team at MSL. Notice the page layouts, the use of bold fonts, the use of line and white-framed photography and compare these to the layouts in the summer issue of Martha Stewart Living. Magazines below include Milk, Pure Green, Gather Journal, Kinfolk and Bon Appetit.