Monday, December 07, 2009

Quote of the Day: George Lois

Why do all magazine covers look alike these days? There's a simple formula for many -- it applies to Esquire, Vogue, and Men's Health alike: photo of famous person + cover lines. George Lois, the legendary designer of some of Esquire's best covers from the 60s (including this Andy Warhol cover from 1969), calls this underwhelming committee design process a "group-fucking-grope."

Celebrity covers are a shortcut. With famous people on covers, people who are merely beautiful aren't necessary. And creative design never enters into it -- the only must with a celebrity cover is Photoshop, which is used to trim a woman's waist and pump up a man's arms. We're rewarded for recognizing some popular idiot, then we're pulled in by inanities as "Six Pack Abs!" and "Get a Six Pack: Be a real man," and "Lose Your Gut!" (All on Men's Health covers). And "No exercise diet: what happens when you quit the gym," and "Jennifer Aniston: What Angelina did was very uncool" (both from Vogue).

Lois ranted to Black Book recently. Here are some choice bits:
"Magazine design is almost an oxymoron with most magazines today. It goes for even a great magazine like Vanity Fair. If you get even one inch of white space to breath you’re lucky. Everybody’s just packing in the information. Most magazines you pick up — you choke to death."
Designers are always at odds with editors in the battle for page space. It's even worse now that ad pages are down: editors need every square inch they can get. Lois blames the internet for the need to jam information onto printed pages. It's funny, but the way I've always seen it, just the opposite has been happeneing. Articles have gotten shorter, photos have gotten larger, and magazine writing has been dumbed down. Where else besides the New Yorker among mainstream magazines can you find features longer than 2,500 words? (And often three or four feature longer than 2,500 words in a single issue.)

Here's Lois again:
"The design was the idea. I don’t design, if you know what I mean. If you want Andy Warhol being devoured by his own fame in a can of Cambell’s soup, you just put the can there and you have him drowning in it. Case closed.

"You’re knocked down by the idea, and the fact that it’s got complete clarity visually. Don’t complicate it with busy work.

"That’s the way I do everything. If I was a doing a magazine, it’s not a question of if I’d be having more white space. It’s a question of every third or fourth spread I’d make a spread that would take your breath away — or piss you off. Or something.

"I know, you’re pressured by your editor. If not the editor, the publisher: ‘Look at all this wasted space here.’ Blah, blah, blah. ‘Your readers want information.’

"Well, oh shit. Go fuck yourself."
Now I like that.

Below: covers that don't overwhelm with words or disappoint with pictures. From Vogue, covers from 1939, 1945 and 1952. See more here.

And from Esquire, covers from 1958, 1959, and 1965. See more here.



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