VSM 2.0: The Redesign
Our magazine has a new look.
Any magazine redesign is a love/hate endeavor, and it reflects the efforts of a lot of people. You're trying to accomplish so many things, and too often primary design goals conflict with other primary design goals. You want the text to show off the magazine's content well, to be well-laid out, and to show good balance; but you also want to preserve a high number of characters per page, which can be anathema to designing highly readable text. You want the pages to flow logically and consistently from one to the next, but you also want the ability to break things out and highlight them in a way that they don't overwhelm the look of the magazine. Apart from the competing goals you need to balance, you also want the design to reflect the viewpoint and attitude of the magazine.
This is my third major redesign since I've been at VSM, but the redesign meetings themselves have been remarkably similar. The graphical designers have opinions about how things should be (more white space!), the editors have opinions about how things should be (more text!), and design review meetings tend to have the flavor of a beer commercial, with the respective parties shouting their respective slogans across the table at each other in unison.
That said, it's a good thing the collaboration exists. If I were the only one with any say, I'd print the magazine with quarter-inch margins and six-point type. The pages would look somewhat dense, but we'd have enough content (and dense, black text) to make your eyes water. (I kid. A little.) And if the designers had their way, we'd dispense with words altogether and go with elaborately and intricately constructed pictograms.
So design conversations revolve around the aforementioned "white space" and readability and how the reader's eye flows through the article. I (perhaps too) freely admit that I'm a Philistine when it comes to design. I know characters per line, characters per page, articles per issue, and how successful I think they are. Achieving a solid design is about balancing content and visual factors together, and finding the right visual elements that accent the articles properly.
[A digression: I remember quite well the point where I realized design and art composition were beyond me. I was a senior in high school, attending a special cram session for the AP Art History exam by Richard Herold, an absurdly dedicated teacher, when onto the projector popped a slide of Malevich's White on White (http://tinyurl.com/yte4pd). Sure, I could parrot the keywords: Suprematism, The Non-Objective World, feeling as substance, and so on; but I knew immediately I wasn't capable of judging this as art. The criteria that I'd grown up with, and thought I knew, didn't apply.]
Fortunately, we have people on staff more comfortable with design than I am, including Scott Shultz and Bruce Gardner. I wouldn't be surprised if Scott has a print of White on White hanging in his home. The important thing is this: We're proud of our content on the edit side, and we're pleased to unveil in this issue a redesign intended to show off our efforts to better effect. We hope you'll like it, too, and that you won't be shy about telling us what you think about it, or what could make it work better for you (write us at firstname.lastname@example.org).
Of course, we're not done yet. Next issue, we'll introduce a Best of the Web section that highlights content on the Redmond Media Group's home pages, as well as relevant news blurbs from our sister publication, Redmond Developer News (reddevnews.com). Like the What's Hot section written by Bill McCarthy, the news blurbs are intended to keep you up-to-date on what is happening in the realm of Visual Studio Development. Also on track to debut next month: Visual Studio All Stars, which will feature short case studies of developers who create Visual Studio-based apps. No matter how you feel about the magazine in general or the redesign specifically, whether you love or hate what we're doing with the magazine, we look forward to hearing from you.
Talk back: What do you like or dislike about the magazine's redesign? What could we do to make it work better for you? Write us at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Patrick Meader is editor in chief of Visual Studio Magazine.