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The New Yorker’s redesign: A retreat from text?

The New Yorker has done it’s first major redesign since 2000, although it’s so far only been rolled out to the front of the magazine.

Personally, the return to a more highly stylized typeface is welcome. But I am disappointed that they’ve made the magazine look like more like everything else in the racks. It’s not a lack of originality that bothers me. Rather, it is the retreat from text.

There’s no less text and so far the writing style seems to be the same. Rather, the previous design presented a wall of text, broken up with occasional insets of text, with empty spots filled with text. For example, “Tables for Two” used to be a small, two-column insert into the Goings On section. The type size was the same as the directions on a tube of toothpaste. Now it’s a single column that takes up the entire right-hand three-fifths of a page, in a perfectly readable font, with a quarter-page color photograph at the top, as if to say, “Well look at us! We have so much room that we’re filling it up with a merely pleasant photo.”

There are at least two results in how we take that page. First, “Tables for Two” has turned from a lagniappe into a column. Second, the magazine doesn’t feel like it’s so bursting with things to write about that it had to shoulders goodies into whatever nooks it could find or force.

Sections now are headed by a graphical emblem (e.g., a Deco knife and fork on a plate for the Food & Drink section) that signals that the New Yorker thinks the section titles themselves are not enough for us. Really? What part of “Food & Drink” does The New Yorker think we don’t understand? Why does the New Yorker now believe that mere words are not up to the task?

The New Yorker used to be for people unafraid of climbing a sheer wall of text. It demanded we make judgments about what to read based solely on the text itself; this was even more the case before Tina Brown put the authors’ names at the beginning of the article instead of at the end. But now it’s pandering to the graphical-minded among us. The graphical folks have plenty of other magazines to thumb through lazily. The New Yorker was a text-based trek that had to earn our every footstep.

Don’t go soft on us, New Yorker! We’re not afraid of words. Bring ’em on!


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7 Responses to “The New Yorker’s redesign: A retreat from text?”

  1. Thank you for your post. I am so disturbed by the redesign. Your comment was right, the larger more spacious format makes it feel like there is less going on in the city. It feels like the city herself has been reduced!

  2. As a designer, I can’t help asking what problem they were trying to solve. The design of The New Yorker was lovely and unique and utterly readable. As you said, New Yorker readers don’t require, don’t even benefit from, a fork & plate icon in order to understand what the “Food and Drink” section is all about. Such a disappointment.

  3. Thanks for putting my reaction into words. It’s odd that they’d discard a layout that, over decades, has become a trademark. Demographics, perhaps? That seems to be a handy and common pretext.

  4. I agree with you and the other commenters. When I first encountered the new, distended feature sections at the front of the magazine, I skipped over them, mistaking them for ads.

    Today, newly riled by the latest issue, I thought I’d google for other reactions, and found your blog. The fact that your sentiments echo my own is a consolation, however slight.

  5. i’m so disappointed in the redesign. it seems like the pages have shrunk. is the size of the magazine narrower?

  6. Some pages that are not ads look more and more like ads – almost indistinguishable — sometimes i skip over an item not realizing it is not an ad. Something about the layout makes the fonts look smaller, yet they are the same as before. The old look was cleaner, less cluttered looking. I miss it and now find myself paging through the magazine instead of carefully perusing each page.

  7. Extra points to Helen for the correct use of “peruse”!

    …although some dictionaries have switched to the more common use of it as to idly skim.

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