Tuesday, July 24, 2007

First Impressions: An Eyeful of Scorn

If I had ever been known to be anything except brutally honest, I might have had some kind words to say about the 2006 editions of Michel Richard's magazines. However, one can only expect so much from a pair of young web designers with no real experience or even training in the print industry. Needless to say, this circumstance offered no veil that could prevent me from seeing, nor being immune to, the atrocious abominations that these "designers" deemed worthy of being printed, let alone seen on the web where this monstrous design was given an even greater audience.

Let us begin, then, with the "formal" critique of the magazines. First on the list of Needs-Improvement category is, of course, the masthead. For now, I shall grant some reprieve to the designers for having at least chosen a decent typeface; I suspect, however, that this choice might not have been entirely made without influence from Richard himself. Who knows? I may be wrong. Nevertheless, the typeface itself is beautiful in its geometric simplicity and consistency. However--and I am not being fastidious in saying so--the design of the masthead itself is rather dull, lacking very much in dynamism and visual appeal. It is obvious, with only a split-second glance, that no type play really came into consideration for the concept of the masthead. It is simply that, a masthead, a mere title, text on a page. Also painfully evident is the refusal to consider employing kerning; I'm no type designer myself, but both mastheads (DC & San Francisco Chef) suffer enormously on the part of spacing between the letters. A designer, student or professional, may wonder if perhaps these designers were visually impaired for having overlooked the grotesque separations of the letters that almost deceive the eyes into believing there are groupings within words. Since I knew the name of the both magazines before I was graced with printed copies, I was visually biased towards the meaning of the masthead. Upon a simple squinting of the eyes, I saw quickly that the words were falling apart because there was no visual unity of the individual letters making up said words in the masthead. Eventually, I recovered from the incohesive grouping of the letters, and my eyes came to rest upon another atrocious element: that italicized subheading "Compliments of the Area's Finest Chefs." What exactly was the point of using an italicize variation is beyond my comprehension. It is ineffectual, boring, tasteless, and I simply hate its treatment.

The next item on my list is the cover art itself. I do not think, in reference to the San Francisco magazine, that doning cheap silverware that looks like it came off the clearance rack of Ikea makes for a visually stunning subject for anything, whether this is a . The perspective of the photo is utterly boring, the lighting bland and weak, and I already mentioned that the dollar-value utensils do not properly reflect the fine culinary creations of such a chef as Michel Richard. I only hope that we will be spared such a fate. I could never wish for any team mate of mine, no matter that we are all competing for the overall design of the magazines, to be subjected with such poor photos. Overall, the cover, typographic and photographic elements within it, are all poorly designed.

Moving on to the inside pages, all I really have to complain about is, well, everything. Although some spreads feature a 2-column, still others employ a completely different 2-column grid, and still another features a 3-column grid. No real pattern seems evident in the utilization of these grids, and at times it seems the layout design will vary within a specific grid structure. Also, the designers seem to have forgotten the importance of margins; the text, be it headers, copy, or folio, practically bleed off the page, having been alloted no more than a quarter of an inch. The use of rules, which might have been effective, was also poorly done, especially where the hairline rules met with photographs (which were also inconsistently bled off). Likewise, the rules also emphasized the overly line lengths of some body copy, and the body typeface itself could have been reduced a point size to allow for better, attractive, legible leading. Just like the cover, the entire layout design was ineffective, visually confusing, and illogically arranged. I wonder if it was really necessary to design a TOC that looked like it had been created in Microsoft Word?

To improve upon the design of the magazine, we should simply employ what we've been taught. A proper grid (perhaps a second grid to introduce "consistent" variety--that is to say, a pattern would be established and strictly adhered to) with healthy inside and outside margins would do wonders for these two magazines. Equally important, for both magazines will feature spreads that have lots of body copy, is the use of an appropriate, attractive typeface, possibly a sans serif font to help establish a modernized touch to the layout. Also, utilizing style sheets to allocate consistent typographic treatment to recurring elements--headers, subheaders, folios, and captions, etc.--would allow for graphic cohesion to occur throughout the entire magazine layout. The use of imagery would be put to better use, introducing these in a tighter, more visually appealing angles with interesting cropped angles, and of course, would color corrected. Regardless of who wins the overall design, it is reassuring to know that anything any one of my team members create will be significantly better (a million times over, actually) than what is on print right now. Chef Richard has his doubts, but the man will surely come to realize the advantages we, the real print designers, have over the misguided creative team who had been responsible for graphically sabotaging his magazine.