Changes: Layout and Design

Peggy Wilkins
Sat, 09 Nov 2002 22:49:29 -0600

I asked:

    What specific changes, new content, or other innovation would you
    suggest for Playboy magazine?

I will start by going on at some length about layout and design.

1. Visual impact: layout and design

I feel that the look of Playboy is very important: it is a significant
factor in the feeling readers get while reading/viewing the magazine,
and in evoking this feeling, it helps identify what Playboy is about.
Ideally, all layouts should contribute to an overall "feel" for the
magazine.  Looking at recent issues of Playboy, I see layout/design
styles that seem at odds with one another.  Some of the layout/design
is also a bit unattractive.  Let's look at the current (December 2002)
issue of Playboy for some examples.

There is a category of feature that has a very austere, sterile,
square, old-fashioned look: Interview, Advisor, reviews, Next Month,
etc.  At the opposite end of the spectrum are features which can be a
bit overbearing in appearance: they are laid out in multiple fonts and
font sizes, multiple colors of text, background images under the text,
odd angles, large sections of all caps, and pictures strewn randomly
about the page.  For examples of this latter type of layout, look at
"How to Save Your Ass in a Scandal" (pp.74-77), "Live From New York"
(pp.104-106), and "Centerfolds on Sex" (a real winner of a feature, I
think; p.151).  Sometimes this works well, but most of the time I
think it doesn't: it tends to be jarring and doesn't flow well.  Then
there is the whole Playboy After Hours section, which has the sterile
text layout combined with rectangular (translation: severe looking)
mini-feature blurbs; i find this particular feature visually quite
unattractive.  It's much too square (in both senses of that word)...

I would enjoy seeing a more attractive layout/design throughout the
magazine in general, and in the recurring features in particular.  I
feel this would contribute subtly but significantly to the experience
of reading the magazine.  I am not a graphic designer or an artist, so
I can't give much advice toward this; but some experimentation, or
presentation to editors of many alternative layouts, would be most
welcome to me.  Upgrading the visual style of the magazine would be a
good thing.

I definitely suggest an overhaul for the look of the Playboy
Interview: it looks precisely the same today as it did when the
feature debuted in 1962!  While sticking to the original layout does
emphasize the venerable tradition that is the Playboy Interview, it
looks old-fashioned and so contributes a tired feeling to the
magazine.  I would love to see some color photography, career pictures
of the interview subject (this provides excellent context), maybe even
a full page, formal portrait done by a skillful portrait photographer.
A break from the 3-column format might be nice on occasion as well.

A look at interviews in some of the foreign editions of Playboy would
offer some ready-made alternative presentations for evaluation.  It
would definitely be worthwhile for the US edition to take a serious
look at those and critique/adapt.

The ads also contribute significantly to the look and feel of Playboy.
I would like to see fewer marginal ads (by which I mean, those ugly
targeted ads that tend to run in the margins, especially toward the
end of the magazine -- and they tend to be of marginal quality...),
and more ads for "better" products, the sorts of products that would
be in "What sort of man reads Playboy".  I think a concerted effort
toward upscaling the ads could be nicely combined with efforts to
revitalize the editorial content: those things certainly go hand in
hand, with editorial changes being promoted to the advertisers to win
their favor.

While we're looking at the December issue, I will mention some
features that I really like the appearance of.  "Playboy's Christmas
Gift Guide" (starts on p.88) has a sophisticated, appropriately
masculine look with sharp, superbly-lit photographs, and I like the
red-on-black and brushed-metal-on-black colors.  The red/green titles
work here as well, and are seasonally appropriate.  I absolutely love
the look of the Scott Turow opening on pp.94-95: great font for the
title, beautiful artwork, good spacing between title, blurb, byline,
and text.  The only think I would change would be perhaps not using
all caps for the blurb; maybe a big "I" to start it out, and a more
stylish font.  But still it's great.  "Celebrity Christmas Carols"
(pp.102-103) is also visually appealing.  Here is a case where
adhering to tradition is a good thing, because this is a timeless

There were changes to the appearance of the magazine with the January
2000 issue.  I did like those changes, but they were perhaps overly
subtle: they were hardly changes at all.  I think the 50th anniversary
offers a particularly good opportunity for some more noticable

I hope that these points don't seem petty or trivial; I do feel that
some focused attention on Playboy's appearance would go a long way
toward influencing the perception of the magazine in a positive way.
Certainly I would come to enjoy it even more than I already do.

More to come soon.
Peggy Wilkins                               
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