BusinessWeek, a weekly periodical catering to the business community (go figure), was recently acquired by Bloomberg Media from their previous owner, McGraw-Hill. Financial pundits saw this as a quick route for Bloomberg, the successful, finance-oriented media outlet started by the mayor of New York, to a strong presence in print. More to the point, it was viewed as an opportunity to make Bloomberg, the unseen hand behind so many news feeds and stock tickers, more of a household name. And so it came to be. Their name now graces the living rooms and reception areas of millions of homes and businesses across the world, announcing its debut by turning a new page in BusinessWeek’s 80-year history.
According to Fortune:
The magazine’s 4.5 million readers were a big draw for Bloomberg. That’s 4.5 million more impressions of Bloomberg as a brand name provider of business content. Its own Bloomberg Markets print title is distributed to only its roughly 300,000 terminal users. And while 80 million people may read Bloomberg wire copy, most read it syndicated in newspapers worldwide.
BusinessWeek is one of the few magazines that I subscribe to at home. I am as guilty as the next person of lazily consuming most of my news online and I have always felt that BusinessWeek made for a nice exception to this routine. Their content fits snuggly within the cross-section of business and design, two topics indispensable to a branding employee. Unlike so many magazines these days, BusinessWeek still seemed worth the time to read and the money to subscribe to (i.e., relevant).
This is the second major redesign for BusinessWeek in less than three years. It was last covered by Brand New in October of 2007 to generally positive reviews. My overall impression of the past design was that it was strong, streamlined and deliberate. It made unreserved use of the (brand) color red. The hierarchy was as flat as possible. The editors didn’t let the organization or sectioning of the publication interfere with their no-nonsense journalism.
The overview of the new magazine tells a very different story.
The new design makes room for more content, more sections and more advertising. The creators have introduced a new palette of typefaces (trading Akzidenz for Helvetica) along with rigorous — and sometimes obtrusive — color-coding. Red is hardly used at all and Bloomberg’s orange is curiously absent (except, of course, for color-coding). The new logo is beautifully set, but seems to miss some of the warmth and ownability of the last mark.
It’s hard for me to be critical of the new design, very capably executed by Richard Turley of Guardian fame. As a designer I really appreciate a lot of the craft and nuance that went into this new design. I mean, who doesn’t appreciate a gorgeous, soup-to-nuts redrawing of Helvetica? The new type features better kerning, balance, capitals that line up with numerals and great character alternates like this capital ‘R.’
But as a reader, I was a little disappointed. What I really liked about the previous design was its strong point of view in a sea of similar publications. It seemed like a magazine for the internet age: expedient and timely. Now, of course, the redesign has been hailed as a new magazine for a web-savvy, post-print world. Paradoxically, this design is supposed to be better because of the longer engagement it encourages (or requires, depending on how you look at it) by delving deeper. The previous design was a fast read and I appreciated it.
Critiquing a magazine is tricky (especially over the lo-res web) because it’s difficult to separate the design decisions from the editorial ones. Given the amount of content and space on each page, the design team has done an admirable job organizing information and ensuring that it’s all scannable, legible and interesting. My issue, if I have one, is the jack-of-all-trades, overstuffed nature of this new incarnation. It might be that this is simply their maiden issue, which will be refined over time, but the whole thing reads a little too much like a catalogue right now. And the tone, brand, point of view, whatever you call it, seems to be a little watered down.
Defining the future of print is a fool’s errand and I’ll be curious to see how this particular vision pans out. The sad fact is that we will have fewer and fewer magazines. It’s a crowded space of shrinking relevance and there will really be only a handful of spots for singularly great publications. While Bloomberg BusinessWeek is well-designed and backed by the strength and prowess of Bloomberg Media, I wonder if it is unique enough in purpose and point of view to survive. Of course, the only way to appreciate the new design will be to go to an actual store and check it out.