I learned to design by copying Time Out magazine’s layout, now it’s gone!

The last London print edition of Time Out magazine is the end of an era (although I wonder how many people actually read the print version of the magazine in the past decade or so). Growing up and going out in London for most of my life, much of my social life revolved around the bands, nightclubs and comedy clubs listed in Time Out. If it wasn’t in Time Out (or, later on, City Limits), it probably wasn’t on. So to speak.

But Time Out was also formative in my journey to becoming a graphic designer. After working many late shifts to buy my first Apple Mac (a Centris 610, seeing as you ask) and a copy of QuarkXpress (old school), I taught myself to design by painstakingly reproducing layouts from the articles section of the magazine. It’s not that Time Out was at the cutting edge of graphic design at the time – it was no ID or The Face. But it was just there, doing its job as a communicator – and, for Londoners, that masthead was as recognisable a design brand identity as Coca-Cola‘s is. So using Time Out as a template to practice my new design skills on, just seemed like the natural thing to do. I would open up a double page spread and measure the column and gutter widths, guess the font family and sizes, before replicating the layouts. I’m convinced that this approach is responsible for the fact that, even to this day, I have an uncanny ability to guess the measurements in layouts just by glancing at them (hey, you’ve gotta have a hobby). Although, my font guessing abilities are not as well honed anymore.

The decline of print – at least of the mass market offset-litho variety – has been a thing for many years. Although, it is interesting that rumours and declarations of its death appear to still be a little way away. And that’s a good thing for graphic design. But it also continues to make us ask questions about what graphic design actually is anymore and even if graphic design is the appropriate term for the profession. If we are not necessarily working with graphics in a print medium, what are we doing? Where does our value come from and is what we are working on (and the mediums that we are working within and the skills we were using) in the 21st century still even in the ballpark of what we were doing in the last century?

As I’ve discussed several times, the term graphic design does not appear to be popular with graphic designers themselves and even attempts to update and add value to the profession using other terms (such as communication design within academia) have received half-hearted responses at best (Meron 2021). Graphic design is a more complex profession and academic discipline than it was in the 20th century – brands, identities, layouts and typography generally have to be thought about in terms beyond the linear print production medium. Just as evolving technologies have increasingly challenged graphic designers’ professional hegemony (Drucker & McVarish 2013; Helfand 2002), interactive design has changed the paradigm. But graphic design practice has remained and designers have adapted accordingly (Penston 2016), just as they did when desktop publishing and multimedia brought in new modes of creative production. Graphic design’s innate interdisciplinary approach (Meron 2020) has kept it relevant, just as its essential performative approach to communication (Gillieson & Garneau 2018) has allowed it to adapt to the interactive environment (Meron 2020).

But it’s still a shame when an icon of the print publishing world says goodnight. Not because it was at the pinnacle of what is sometimes seen as ‘high-end’ design, but because it did its job as it was supposed to and created an identity for itself in one of the world’s most iconic cities.

Drucker, J & McVarish, E 2013, Graphic design history : a critical guide, Pearson, Boton.

Gillieson, K & Garneau, S 2018, ‘A Case for Graphic Design Thinking’, in PE Vermaas & Sp Vial (eds), Advancements in the Philosophy of Design, Springer International Publishing, Cham, nlebk database, http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nlebk&AN=1727519&site=ehost-live&authtype=sso&custid=s5445732.

Helfand, J 2002, ‘De Stijl, New Media, and the Lessons of Geometry’, in S Heller, M Bierut & W Drenttel (eds), Looking closer 4, critical writings on graphic design, Allworth Press, New York.

Meron, Y 2020, ‘Reperforming Design: Using dramaturgy to uncover graphic designers’ perceptions of stakeholders‘, Exchanges: The Interdisciplinary Research Journal, vol. 8, no. 1, pp. 71-90. doi: 10.31273/eirj.v8i1.701

Meron, Y 2021, ‘Terminology and Design Capital: Examining the Pedagogic Status of Graphic Design through Its Practitioners’ Perceptions of Their Job Titles‘, International Journal of Art & Design Education, vol. 40, no. 2, pp. 374-388. doi: 10.1111/jade.12353

Penston, G 2016, The Creative Director Role (As We Know It) Will Not Exist in 10 Years, AdAge, http://adage.com/article/digitalnext/creative-director-role-exist-10-years/305623/, viewed 10/8/2018, http://adage.com/article/digitalnext/creative-director-role-exist-10-years/305623/.