On an ultra-competitive magazine newsstand, the designer has one of the toughest creative challenges going. So how do top magazine art departments lure the fickle reader?

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Designing magazines is a curious business. The look of a publication can dictate how readers view a publication – and whether or not they view it at all. But the design of a magazine is at its best when it goes unnoticed.
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The words and images on the pages of this and other magazines appear as they do for good reasons. A good editorial designer creates magazines with clarity, consistency, accessibility, and relevance in mind, overlaid with a plenty of verve and vibrancy.
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There are always rules governing good design, and the best designers have an intimate understanding of them – and know when to break them. Sarah Shropshire is art editor of the radically designed New York literary magazine The Good Apple.
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“The one design rule I adhere to is that all things must have functionality,” she says. “It is a rule I break often!”
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Few designers are afforded Sarah’s freedom of expression – most work to tighter briefs. Take Melanie Brown, art editor on Your M&S, a contract-published title for the customers of Marks & Spencer.
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Brown’s designs are informed by M&S in-store exit surveys, conducted at the end of the shelf-span of each issue. “We adapt content and style according to the response from the core group,” explains Brown.
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“Once we’re briefed by M&S on the key priorities for each season, we aim to reflect the M&S products to their best, visually.”
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However, the tight design brief for Your M&S magazine doesn’t stifle Brown’s team creatively – producing a great-looking magazine to a suffocating brief is one of the toughest creative challenges in the business. “Design is incredibly important to a magazine’s success,” says Brown.
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“It should reflect who the magazine is aimed at, and be suitable for its content.”
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The truth is that each area of magazine publishing – from consumer, to business-to-business and contract publishing sectors – presents unique challenges.
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Redesigns are a big part of magazine life. Ace Tennis magazine redesigned last year, and picked up the Best Designed Consumer Magazine with a circulation over 40,000 Award at the Magazine Design Awards in 2005. “You can’t shock people when redesigning,” warns Anthony Collins, art editor of Ace Tennis. “People are very precious about their magazine. Readers generally just don’t like change.”
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