I feel very strongly that PLAYBOY requires a visionary Art Director for continued growth and success. I don't know what Tom Staebler has been doing for the past couple of decades, but I do know that when I started reading PLAYBOY circa 1980, I was very impressed with his work designing covers. I remember reading "This month's cover was designed and photographed by Tom Staebler" time after time. In contrast, today's formulaic covers are a primary signal of the loss of pride in good design: most of the time, design seems almost irrelevant. That this has happened is inexplicable to me—the good cover design is one of the factors that attracted me so strongly to PLAYBOY in the first place.
So what happened? Is Staebler no longer concerned with designing covers? Are his hands tied? Was his great performance a result of working under original Art Director Arthur Paul? I haven't any idea; but I know I would like to see him flexing his excellent design muscles again. If he can't do that for some reason, someone should be doing it. PLAYBOY's covers have become mundane and formulaic, with little distinguishing them from other titles on the newsstand. This is a great lost opportunity.
I have a strong desire for current covers to recapture some of the beauty, fun and elegance of the best past issues. I would like to see PLAYBOY winning awards for cover design again. Furthermore, I believe that these goals are not incompatible with producing covers which drive newsstand sales.
The Art Director should take charge of revitalizing the cover. He should have an understanding of what PLAYBOY should be about visually. He should work to remove the clutter from the current covers, and to put a strong visual identity for PLAYBOY in place—inside and out.
Where appearance is concerned, the magazine has become an uncomfortable mix of old ("tired") features and layouts with some new techniques grafted on for a sense of update. The Art Director should be charged with visualizing and driving a unified design for the book. He should have the talent, drive, and vision to play a key role in inventing a design concept for PLAYBOY; that concept will then be PLAYBOY's strength. He should also be charged with continuing to oversee design revisions to keep a consistent, attractive look to the magazine as a whole as new features are added and parts are changed.
The visionary Art Director could help rethink how PLAYBOY presents celebrities. PLAYBOY is fighting an uphill battle to get celebrities to pose, and the ones who do pose often come with various requirements and restrictions. A visionary Art Director should be a leader in conceiving and promoting a new role for the celebrity. Why not try other approaches than cover/pictorial (it has become a very rigid presentation in many ways, I think), or invent new features or new types of layouts? (Of course that's very easy for me to say... here's one offhand, good faith suggestion: how about a monthly poster, perhaps with two versions, one modest and one more revealing.) If the Art Director can come up with a great visual concept, he can sell the concept to the celebrity—now, instead of "posing for a PLAYBOY pictorial" and all the restrictive ideas that entails, she could be helping to realize an exciting concept. That could be both easier to sell to potential picture subjects, and an exciting new concept to attract readers.