Reinventing TIME magazine

TIME magazine has undergone its first major redesign in 13 years. Digital Arts spoke to the creative team charged with its reinvention.

Above: The redesigned Time cover.

TIME magazine is, perhaps, the world’s leading international news magazine. Published weekly, it combines hard-hitting news and analysis with award-winning design, as well as business, science, and society features.

Recognized as a barometer of world events, the people-driven magazine, along with its famed TIME Person of the Year, was launched in 1923 as the first weekly news magazine in the US.

It’s a magazine with a rich heritage, and one that for any redesign to succeed, needed to undergo carefully orchestrated change.

TIME hadn’t undergone a major redesign in more than 13 years, so for quite a while we felt like we needed to update and modernize the format,” says TIME art director Arthur Hochstein.

“The magazine had drifted away from a discipline and coherence that mark a successful design. This feeling was heightened when Rick Stengel took over as managing editor.

Rick wanted to make significant structural changes that would refiect his editorial vision.”

Stengel had several priorities, says Hochstein. The first was the need for TIME to convey both clarity and ease of navigation – attributes, says Hochstein, that underscore the positioning of TIME as a place where readers can go to unpick the week’s key information and news.

Quality TIME

“He also wanted it to be beautiful to look at,” says Hochstein. “TIME isn’t trying to mimic the Internet with speedy-looking graphics or with bite-sized information nuggets.

“Rather, it is trying to be a companion to a reader’s other sources of information. It is something to read, and something to look at.”

Outside consultation was also called for, with the TIME creative team inviting three or four designers and design teams to pitch for the project.

The brief was simple: what would you do if you were reinventing the news magazine yourself? The move to pull in outside help was vital to the project’s success, reckons Hochstein.

The team felt their own assumptions and viewpoints needed challenging by people who weren’t invested into the status quo.

TIME needed to undergo a structural shift in light of the new challenges it faced. Following a month-long pitching process, TIME opted to run with Pentagram as its redesign partner.

The first challenge the two teams faced was the fine balance needed between respecting TIME’s unique and rich heritage, and ushering in a more modern treatment.

“We all assumed that we didn’t want to create something so new and unfamiliar that we would run the risk of alienating our core readership,” reveals Hochstein.

“We also knew that Pentagram wouldn’t try to push us into something we didn’t want to do, and that they would give great consideration to our visual heritage.

“When [Pentagram’s] Paula Scher and Luke Hayman began their typographic examinations, they looked at other faces, but rather quickly returned to Franklin Gothic as the primary display face.

Franklin was used by Walter Bernard in his 1977 redesign. “We had Matthew Carter re-envision it as Benton Bold Condensed, which we used up until this redesign,” says Hochstein.

“Pentagram felt that Franklin both signified news and reinforced our brand and heritage. They also felt it could be used in a fresh and modern way.”

News nuggets

With the team embedded – Luke Hayman set up an office within TIME, and TIME deputy art director Cynthia Hoffman worked with the redesign team full-time so as to ease production and editorial integration.

Headline changes involved examining the pace, type, cover, and the use of image and colour.

“Creating shorter nuggets of information wasn’t really part of the overall programme – in certain parts of the magazine it was just an outgrowth of a specific editorial need,” says Hochstein.

“The pacing structure was basically a short, long, short rhythm. The emphasis here is on content, rather than varied typography and visual pacing.

“So visually, the front and back are ‘bookends’ of more compressed information that surround a more airy, visually driven well.”

For the body face, the team picked Proforma, due to Hayman being strongly committed to a text face that imparted a sense of modernity, combined with ease of reading.

“Proforma is a face without a lot of attitude,” says Hochstein. “It’s not derived from classical roman typefaces. It’s more matter-of-fact.

“My own feeling is that it makes the magazine feel a little more objective, and a bit smarter than its predecessor.

“More important than any particular type choice, though, was its application in a crisp, disciplined format that de-emphasized type as illustration, that made type part of an overall framework for words and images.”

Colour has also been greatly simplified – with a less-is-more approach from the team. The result is a core palette that uses 100 per cent magenta, 100 per cent red, and a 100 per cent yellow for bright accents, with very few other colours deployed.

“We abandoned tinted boxes and coloured type in headlines, which is a great relief,” says Hochstein.

“We had drifted much too far in the direction of decorative type, which is the wrong approach for a serious news magazine.”

OS X factor

With the design evolving, the team developed templates as they progressed – making for a smoother transition from concept to execution.

“The most frustrating aspect is that we are still using QuarkXPress 4 on Mac OS 9. That will be corrected by the autumn of this year, when we will migrate to InDesign on OS X.

That means we had to build the templates in QuarkXPress 4, knowing that they would have to be replaced in about six months.

“This created a lot of snags, but the Pentagram team adjusted, and we will be ahead of the game when we make the transition.”

With the new-look issue now live, it’s been gathering some initial positives, says Hochstein, not least from Samir Husni, a US professor of journalism who is authoritative enough on the industry to call himself “Mr Magazine”. And, if it’s good enough for Mr Magazine, it’s good enough for us.

The TIME cover

“We wanted the cover to signal a change, but we were unwilling to give up one of the greatest branding elements in magazines, TIME’s red border,” reveals art director Arthur Hochstein.

“The logo, as well, was considered inviolable, although, as you can see, we made it smaller to accommodate a row of ‘refer’ boxes above the logo, that we have dubbed ‘the ribbon’.

These were added to more strongly promote inside stories on the newsstand, but we decided that the subscriber could use them as well.

“So, with those parameters in mind, Luke [Hayman of Pentagram] and I arrived at a pretty conservative solution that reduced the existing logo by 80 per cent and added a flexible row of boxes that usually – but not always – contain two photos.

“The first box has larger type, and is the most important item. Any of the boxes could be all Franklin Gothic, or use a combination of Franklin and Proforma, depending on the fitting needs and the rhythm of the writing. The boxes use a three-part colour scheme: black with white type, grey with black type, and a third colour that is compatible with the other elements of the cover.”

The Time cover, pre-redesign.

Simplicity was key to the Time redesign, as the team felt it had moved away from coherence and clarity since its last revamp.

Handling images

“Image usage is an evolving feature. In general, we are trying to get as much modern photo portraiture in the magazine as we can,” says art director Arthur Hochstein.

“But photojournalism is a core strength of TIME, so we will always look for ways to present it in a strong way. We tend to use more non-bleed photos, preserving a white frame around the images. Conversely, we are using more silhouetted photos in the front of the book. We are trying to get away from the obligatory photo, one that simply repeats what is in the text.

“Instead, we are looking for photos that impart their own narrative on a story presentation.

“Regarding graphics, we are trending toward a more vector-drawn, modern sensibility. In the past, TIME developed a well-earned reputation for highly rendered, information-dense graphics.

“While we will still do rendered graphics, our default style will feature a lighter touch, with a more schematic approach, meaning less adjacent text with the graphics. It will take a while for us to find a balance point here, but that’s part of the challenge,” he adds.

With readers turning to the Internet for up-to-date information, the TIME redesign focused on making the magazine a companion to news consumption.


Project:TIME redesign
Client: Time, Inc
Studio: In-house team, plus Pentagram
Software: QuarkXPress, Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, NewTek LightWave

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