This could be my most polarizing piece on the RGD site yet. Magazines!!! After logos, they may be the one design topic that creates the most enthusiasm. For many of us, magazines are just like music, movies, clothes. A great magazine can define your identity. In fact, a few of the titles below did just that. Ask RGD’s beloved President Nicola Hamilton — she would be HAPPY to talk about magazines until the sun comes up. Nicola talks about magazines as living, breathing entities.
Magazines are not timeless and that is what makes them great. That said, great magazines can stand the test of time. The magazines I have listed below are ones that I have kept. Some are 20 years old, but their content still inspires me. It still brings me back to moments that shaped me as a designer, a fan, a citizen and a human being (heady stuff, huh?).
I had an on-again-off-again love affair with Spin
Magazine. I always found the content to be great, but, as with any magazine that runs for a long time, there were design ups and downs (similar to my experience with Bon Appetit
, which I love right now). Spin
stopped publishing on paper in 2012 but in their last couple of years they produced some of my favourite magazine designs. I think something about its slow decline gave its designers the flexibility to match the design to the tone of the editorial. It was scrappy and visceral. Great photography married with great content, but something just felt more exciting and anxious about it.
is an odd one. Like the other magazines on this list, I tried to find every issue of Anthem
published but it was never reliably stocked anywhere. Anthem
wasn't special. It did what a lot of magazines have done: it merged art, music and fashion. But there was something about its energy that felt different. I loved the fact that every time I found it, it looked different. That could have also been its problem. It seemed like a magazine that was written just for me and that's the success of any good magazine. The music that was featured was new and alive; the artists showcased were amazing and the interviews were great. Occasionally it would publish special issues. One of my prized possessions is the issue on Los Angeles artists, long before Los Angeles was cool again. It was a magazine about fun, excitement and that clash of youth and culture.
True magazine was one of the titles that immediately impacted me as a designer and music fan. It merged all the things that I loved about magazines. First, it was about hip hop and the culture that surrounded it at the time. Launched in 1995, it actually only lasted about a year and then it was retitled Trace. Trace was OK but it seemed to smooth the edges too much. During True
’s time, its existence was powerful. It used brutalist-style typography, incredibly condensed settings that actually made the reading really intimate (some would say difficult). It was about the sound of what was happening in cities and it felt like posters you would find on lampposts. The design felt visceral. The photography was super raw and it felt closer to the energy of a zine than to a glossy, perfectly bound book.
Like a few of these titles, GOOD Magazine
still exists as a website. For me, though, its success was as a printed publication. In its early days (I think it launched around 2006), GOOD
was art directed by Scott Stowell from www.notclosed.com
in New York. Looking back, I realize that it was probably one of the first publications that really understood the power of infographics. In the early to mid 2000s, everybody was embracing the power of iconography and illustrated charts and exhibits. GOOD
did it like no other, partnering with inspiring illustrators. It was a magazine about doing better as citizens of planet earth, but it never felt preachy. It is still one of my prized collections.
Named after the Thelonius Monk song, Straight No Chaser
is one of my favourite magazines of all time. As a self-professed music fanatic, I read every issue of this magazine cover-to-cover including all of the advertising. Designed by the amazing Ian Swift
, each issue focused on the intersections of black musical inspiration. Pages would include articles about jazz legends like Roy Ayers smashed up against articles about jungle and hip hop. It started as a grassroots publication and maintained its textured feel over the course of its run. Reading it felt like being in a basement listening to live music. It lifted off the page. Exploding with colour, each issue of the publication was an absolute joy.
Coupe magazine was marvellous. Bill Douglas is one of the coolest people I've ever met. I first came across his work when he had a Toronto retail store in the 90s called The Bang. It sold some of the greatest t-shirts, which I did not realize at the time were designed by Bill. He had his own design company and launched Coupe around 1999-2000. Coupe started as Bill’s love letter to design. Everything about it was incredible. Bill had an eye for layering photography and typography in a way that had elements of Chris Ashworth
’s Ray Gun but cleaner and more sophisticated. It was an extension of Bill’s obsession with graphic design and typography. After a few years, he started an Awards issue. All graphic design awards are subjective, but Bill’s was truly subjective. He was always one of three judges. He wanted to make sure his eye was there. The other judges were names with huge respect in our industry. I pull my copies of Coupe out at least a few times a year and sigh that it is no longer with us. If you are interested, Bill runs one of the best stores outside of Toronto in Bobcaygeon, Douglas and Son
iD holds the title of the greatest magazine of all time (for me, anyway). Originally titled International Design, iD magazine ran from 1959 and published its last issue in 2010. I found it as a college student in the early 90s and followed it religiously. I absorbed the magazine like no other publication. Similar to Straight No Chaser
, I read iD cover to cover, including the advertising. Its success was its ability to create a design magazine that talked about EVERY discipline without feeling disconnected. From concept to realization, everything was covered. It included products, architecture, graphic design, interactive, films, books, furniture and everything else. iD tackled big conversations about stewardship, manufacturing and the environment. They published an annual awards issue that I still go back to. They interviewed veterans as well as young designers and the calibre of writing was unsurpassed. This is a magazine I still miss immensely.