Like my colleagues, I am taking a few minutes to look at some of my favorite Prospect projects from the last year. But as I am the magazines designer and all-around visual guy, my list will be a bit different from my workmates, who will be rounding up some of their own articles. While my own rundown features plenty of strong reporting and analysis, I had nothing to do with that part. My job encompasses the look of the magazinethe typography and the visuals used to pull readers into texts and bring story points to life.
In every issue, visual victories and compromises play out across the pages, but if I had to use a single example from The American Prospect to represent what I do professionally, the current issue (November/December 2021) would be my hands-down choice. One of many highlights is Robert Megancks illustration for Robert Kuttners Capitalism vs. Liberty, a thoughtful piece in which Kuttner contemplates embracing the socialist label. The whole issue is also available digitally on Issuu.
One of the main differences between editorial design now and editorial design at the beginning of my career is that designers at all but the most prominent publications (and even at a good many of those) have to (get to?) wear a greater number of hats than once they did. Years ago, I could focus on typography and presentation, hiring out for most art. Today, designers might illustrate, photograph, and even edit video and create social media assets. I do all of that and more for the Prospect. Now, most in-house editorial illustrations, especially on the web, tend not to be the sort of painted or drawn pieces that specialists have the expertise to provide. Rather, in-house work usually takes the form of collages that gather story points into a narrative that represents the piece. You can see a few of these from The New York Times and magazines such as The New Republic, Mother Jonesand oursthat Ive saved for inspiration here. My favorite Prospect-generated illustration from this year, for Olivia Webbs A Shot in the Arm, falls within this general category, but (I hope) transcends the genre into more conceptual territory.
My experience over the years has made me skeptical of illustrations that seemingly delve no deeper than an articles title (and also game board references, but thats another story), so Im a little surprised that Anatomy of an Anti-Union Meeting, by David Dayenwhich illustrates the metaphorical idea of anatomy with, well, a picture of anatomymakes it into my favorites. I like the open feel of the layout, and the 3D illustration, created by the brilliant Wesley Bedrosian (who also works prolifically in a very different retro-ish pen-and-ink style) offers lots of visual treats. What elevates the anatomy concept above what it might have been are the thoughtfully chosen removable body parts in the game that work as pitch-perfect references to story points.
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We had some quite good covers this year, and perhaps a couple that tried to accomplish just a bit too much. An undeniable highlight though is Daniel Zenders Racial Justice Under Fire. Its a simple, stark, and powerful image that seems to allude to some of the history of the civil rights struggle. The slightly differently titled article, by Randall Kennedy, can be found here.
Alert readers of the print magazine may have noticed that we launched a modest redesign with the September/October issue. Our goals for the project included regularizing body type sizes across the magazine (the text had been differently sized in sections such as Notebook and Culture vs. Features) and bringing more legibility to folios (page numbers) and section signage. The only substantive change to content was that the Editors Note was eliminated in favor of a guide to notable offerings from our website. The goal here was to create more overlap between print and online readers, and to help extend the shelf life of some major web-only initiatives, which despite the time and cost involved in making them, might only appear on the home page for a few days. This new web roundup also corresponds to a page on our site.