Saville Row, located in London, is where you go to order a suit made to measure and come out in sartorial splendor with a considerably lighter bank account. These world-famous tailors make “bespoke,” i.e., custom-ordered clothing. Should magazines be bespoke to their audience?
When times are tough, should the publication’s look be mournful, with somber colors, larger type size, lots of slumping italics? Or should it pretend to be brave in the face of adversity, all cheerful in pink and sunny yellow? Or is dignified, neutral, quiet best? Does prettiness trigger first-glance attraction? Should a business-to-business pub ape consumer-style in order to engage readers more?
No, no and no. Well, maybe just a little bit, except for the b-to-b aping consumer-style, which is absurd. But these are all the wrong questions, because they ascribe too much power to “the look,” whatever that look may be.
True, we are a service industry and to succeed we must present our products beguilingly. We have the same problem as a fine restaurant, where you don’t just expect fresh ingredients deliciously spiced, but they must also be artfully presented on the plate. Presentation isn’t a cosmetic luxury, but an integral ingredient of a good dish or a good magazine. However, it can never be more than a supportive ingredient.
The fundamental cause for the magazine’s existence is to deliver a message. Therefore, it must be read. Everything else is secondary to that main purpose. Reading anything presupposes a decision on the reader’s part that has little to do with design. It has to do with content. Does this subject interest me enough to bother with it? (It also assumes that the material has been handled proficiently enough not to make it repulsively illegible, but let’s take that for granted.) “What matters is the message, the means is unimportant. Choose the means that’ll mean the most to the audience,” said the poet Steve McCaffery.