My recent Sign of the times post turned out to be the most controversial I have experienced since this blog started in 2008. Over a 7-day period some 8,000 people visited to check out the post. Many added well-considered and thought provoking comments. What they highlighted was a deeply held passion and clear views about the current state of British editorial design.
Grazing through the comments has hardened my view even more.
The heyday of brilliant British editorial design ran from the 1960s to the late 1980s. There was a real spirit of adventure and courage, couple with a healthy rivalry and mutual respects between the art directors working at the various magazines during that period; Tom Wolsey, Dennis Bailey, Michael Rand, Max Maxwell, Barry Trengrove, Roy Carruthers, Geoffrey Axbey, Tony Mullins, Romek Marber, Harri Peccinotti, David Hillman, David Driver Pearce Marchbank and David King. A stellar roll call of exceptional talent, all responsible for some stunningly original work. Yes, it is true to say, and as pointed out in the comments, that they were less demanding times with far fewer distractions – The digital world had yet to arrive. But when it did, things changed forever.
The web gave us an alternative portal through which to view the world, out of that came DIY programming, the explosion of YouTube and a myriad of alternatives to open up new ways of delivering entertainment, information or just plain stimulation. Meanwhile the newspapers and magazines came under increasing pressure to hold onto their readers. The cult of ‘celebrity’ reared its head, I’m not talking about real stars here, they were always newsworthy, I mean the B and D listers who have become famous for well, being famous and contributing very little. Like an insidious cancer they permeated the pages of many of our newspapers and magazines at an alarming rate.
The depressing visual template for 21st century magazines
The advent of publications like Hello, OK, Garcia, Nuts, Closer and Heat etc started to influence their near neighbours and over a relatively short period all covers at the popular end of the market became identical. The inside pages filled with Twitter sized articles about shallow people.
The young and impressionable latched on to them. And these days it is not unusual for kids to say that their ambition is to become ‘famous’, but with little to offer. No talent. No passion. This ambition now plays a major part in our media, especially television. We see cheaply produced reality shows, hyped up karaoke styled talent contests, or the combative scenarios, where constants are exposed to cruel ridicule for the voyeuristic public to lap up, a formula dished up every which way. It is this unpleasant menu that has taken up a large part of airtime.
What has saddened me most about some of the responses to Sign of the times is the acceptance and defence of mediocrity. ‘It’s the way it is’, I hear them say, ‘It can’t be changed’. The old adage, ‘Don’t give people what they want, give them what they didn’t know they wanted’ seems a surreal concept from another time, another place.