W magazine, first published in 1971, is a monthly American fashion magazine, published by Condé Nast. Its average reader is female, mature and lives in a household with yearly income of $135,840. In response to declining circulation figures, Condé Nast hired Stefano Tonchi creator and editor of the highly regarded T: The New York Times Style Magazine. Tonchi’s first task was to relaunch the magazine, and the logical starting point was the logo or, to use publishing speak, the masthead.
Considering the average household income in the US is around $50,000 (2006 census figures) the above mentioned figure of $135,840 paints a pretty vivid picture of the type of woman who reads W. This magazine is aimed at an affluent audience, and when comparing the new against the old, it appears the previous masthead would have been better off chasing those $50,000 households. When considering W is up against Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue, the need for this redesign is even more apparent. W has long been renowned for its superb photography, and its oversized format all the better for displaying them, but the masthead and typography never seemed to live up to that promise.
The above comparison of new and old covers again makes the case ever more strongly. The old masthead was a bit clumsy, double stroked and looking a little too chubby for the graceful and elegant ideal of womanhood this type of magazine likes to disseminate. To enact the transformation to the new masthead, it appears Tonchi bought W a spin class or three; gone is the bulk and heft, in comes the slender, long, lean. The new logo has a very feminine lean to one side, to the right this time, as opposed to the previous left weighting thanks to the contrasting stroke width on the w.
The covers since the redesign have carried a “Who What Where When Why” tag line that becomes a system for dividing and arranging content, and is also put to good use on the website. Repeating the “w” letter is a neat device, and perhaps here is an example of a brand led approach from the new editor. Tonchi’s previous gig, at T magazine, is well known (amongst designers at least) for its cover designs that featured a newly created graphic “T” every issue. A similarly bold approach has not been taken to the covers for W however, and your standard celebrity portraiture mixed with a dollop of sex and a twist of Barbara Kruger typography have prevailed.
Perhaps Tonchi is “with it” and understands the challenge of old school print magazines in the new, high speed, multi-platform, online, on demand world, or perhaps he just likes the simplicity of using one letter, at most. Is it enough to turn around those rather dire circulation figures? Only time will tell. But by creating a deeper understanding of W as a brand rather than a stack of dead trees, what it’s about and what it’s for, Tonchi has taken some good first steps. And at the very least he’s proved himself ready for what must be the next logical step in his so far stellar career. Anna Wintour’s job.