Arthur

17Sep07

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The resurgence of 70s typefaces and the “cult of the ugly” have definitely hit the magazine design world. Following up on the post about Super Super is Arthur magazine, a “free, independently owned and operated transgenerational counterculture magazine.” It has a great mix of stories from interviews with Miranda July and Yoko Ono (by Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth), to fringe knitting fashion and tips for getting scarce when the cops get too close.

But the design is weird. It’s ugly and messy and totally lacking discipline, yet it is somehow hard to stop looking at it. I guess it’s somewhere between a high school yearbook and a list of my typographic sins. If they’d just spent a little more time refining their type it could have been really good. Some sloppy leading, terrible gradients and line ups ruin an otherwise intriguing package.

All I have to say, is if this is the sort of design you want for your publication, PLEASE MAKE THE TYPE A BIT TIDIER. You may think that that will be ruining the whole DIY aesthetic, but it won’t, it will just make the roughness more appealing.

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3 Responses to “Arthur”

  1. 1 comraderobot

    The two issues of Arthur posted here (#26 on the left, #25 on the right) were designed by two different art directors. I think if you compare them you’ll find significantly more attention to typographical detail in 26: baseline grids that line up, very readable point sizes, comfortable and consistent leading, distinguished tone between the serif body face (zapf international) and the san-serif (frutiger), as well as a consistent grid throught the mag. Also, there are absolutely NO GRADIENTS in #26.

    It is true there are a lot of different display faces, most picked from the 70s era ITC but let’s consider the context. While the 90s were a transformative and creative time for graphic design and typography, it produced some of the most atrocius design of the 20th century — truly “ugly,” as subjective as that term may be. That the 2000s saw a turn back to swiss modernism, minimalism, san serif, understatement, and all that great looking stuff was not surprising given the excesses of the 90s. That now, after years of helvetica neue and black rules, designers should be looking for more expressive and playful typefaces is no surprise either. That they are looking towards the work of tom carnase, herb lubalin, ed benquiat, milton glaser, etc seems natural. These are some of the great American type designers of the 20th century. I think there’s something too about moving from a European sensibility (swiss, minimalist) to a more playful American one. Although publications like Self-Service from France probably led the way on a lot of this. That American Apparel made a decisive shift this year from a Helvetica only styleguide to using ITC Grouch everywhere is interesting, and I guess indicative of the zeitgeist. Perhaps a little unfortunate for designers though as AA ads are so prominent and will surely bring the trend to a quick end.

    Back to Arthur — if any publication can look back to some of the values and sensibility of the period of the late sixties and early seventies, this is it. The tone of those fonts match the tone of the writing very well: irreverent, anti-authoriatarian, willing to laugh at oneself, naive at times, but hopeful, with something serious to say. Many of those fonts were based on early faces from broadsides from the american victorian era, at the dawn of the mass media. They’re bold, they’re fat, they’re ugly, but they’re trying to get your attention to tell you something.

    So, I guess I would say that the reference to a high school yearbook is not very useful. I don’t even know what it means. Why not reference the underground press of the sixties and seventies, or the punk zines of the late 70s and early 80s? Magazines that used image and type not according the “rules” but to convey their specific message in their context.

    One last thing, please take the time to size your images to fit your css-based blog columns. The images are too big and overlapping the right hand column text. It’s really messy looking. Ha ha.

    Thanks for your time,
    cheers comrade.

  2. 2 Kimberley

    Thanks for your well-informed comments. I actually like the design of Arthur, both 25 and 26, but I think they could have both been much better with a little more attention to detail. NB “just a LITTLE more”.

    I say “high school yearbook” rather than “punk zine” because I don’t feel that Arthur has the same in-your-face attitude of the punk movement. Dare I say that it seems more cobbled together over a can of soda than a bottle of beer. It’s innocent. What I do love is the mix of stories and voices and the way the design reflects this. It’s hard to find magazines of this ilk in Australia.

    God knows that I welcome any change from the days of Helvetica Thin. It was becoming a bit of a joke. I am happy that designers are exploring the more expressive typefaces and learning how much affect they can have on their communication. I was looking at an old American Type Foundry specimen book the other day and all it’s wonderful varieties of styles, and wondering whether ITC GROUCH will be the catalyst for a real change in typography, one where students look beyond their computer font list for inspiration. All the art shops are no doubt regretting throwing out their Letraset catalogues.

    This blog is for a publication design class in Sydney. I more than welcome comments from outsiders, especially when they come with this much knowledge, but please appreciate that the posts on this blog are intended more as points of discussion and inspiration for my classes. I just want them to see the amazing range of design that is out there in the publication world. I am not a CSS expert, so if you want to read it, you’ll just have to put up with the ugliness, I don’t follow the rules!

  3. 3 comraderobot

    Yes, it can be better. It will be better. We’re working on it. One of the Arthur staff’s favorite historical magazines, OZ, originated in australia. You may also be interested in another Los angeles-based “free’ magazine, ANP quarterly. It’s more art oriented and a little slicker, but it’s interesting. cheers!


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