David Hepworth, publisher of Word magazine and hero to all of us who cherish an intelligent view of the world of popular music, has written a characteristically witty and trenchant column in today’s MediaGuardian, arguing that design is too important to be left to designers. Hepworth’s point is that the things which magazine publishers care about most – revenue and attracting an audience – are often the kind of things that bore designers to death. He includes five basic rules of magazine design, the last two of which are:
4 Designers are apt to wriggle out of practical problems. Cheating yourself more space by sticking a headline on its side is like making more room in the front of a car by siting the steering wheel in the glove compartment. And if a headline on its side is a dereliction of duty, putting a whole magazine logo on its side is nothing less than surrender in the face of a basic professional challenge.
5 A cover must appeal to a moron in a hurry, which is why none of the following works: anything “intriguing”, green, anything illustrated, anything downbeat apart from an obit, anything with the words “part two”, I could go on . . .
Add in “usability” and a lot of what Hepworth says also applies to online publishing. Finding usable sites with attractive advertising positions that are also beautiful to look at is like finding England footballers with something good to say about themselves. Not all the designers’ fault, of course, but I certainly feel we haven’t found the right balance between design, commerce and usability on the Web. Yet.