Today I've been impressed by two items of publishing, both at opposite ends of the media/medium's spectrum.
Firstly, this morning I got my first copy of Varoom through the post. For those who don't know, it is the magazine of the Association of Illustrators. We'll, it used to be, it is now the newspaper of the Association of Illustrators. It is sensitively designed, beautifully laid out, and, suiting its content, tactile. Intelligent writing about contemporary illustration and its relation to society, graphic design and art make this a fully formed publication and it is stuffed with great work.
What is really interesting about this publication though, is that it has rejected its previously 'glossy' magazine format as a response to the economic crisis on everyones doorstep. This has resulted in the price dropping to an affordable £15 for 4 issues (one issue free for subscribers), with no change to its previous high editorial standards. I've only read Varoom in libraries, or been loaned someone else's copy, but I can immediately see this new stance of change for survival sake, sets it apart from many other design/illustration magazine's out there. Instead of trying to impress with some major stylistic overhaul, it has zagged where everyone else is zigging, and is all the better for it. Eye and Creative Review are great magazines for different reasons, and I will continue to get both until they give up due to falling sales, and, I suspect, the strength of the free content available on their blogs. But Varoom really does beat Grafik–which is untrust worthy in its existence, having nose dived several times in the 10 years I've been reading it–and It's Nice That, which is a new kid on the block. While being well produced with varied content, which strangely makes it more transitory than interesting, it does tend to be much more of a surface read and concerned with the über trendy. But then a magazine with the word 'nice' in the title always was going to be more of a showcase rather than a critique.
So, onto my second revelation of the day; I downloaded The Guardian iPad app this morning. I wasn't expecting much, to be honest. I like the paper edition, and usually flit between that and the website depending on whether I want to sit, read and contemplate, or whether I want to get the most up to the minute information. I wasn't sure this was going to be anything other than forced content. However, after 10 minutes getting to grips with how it functions, I must say I'm impressed. It's certainly better than the website in terms of making you feel like you are navigating through the days paper edition. And as long as you've wifi connectivity, it links to the most recent stories on their website, (and external sources). This, on first impressions, is a real contender to the print edition and certainly beats the New York Times app, the only other newspaper app I've downloaded, (but stopped using once I had to pay for it). The layout of the articles is logical, it is clear how to get between stories, suggests other stories that relate, and like the paper edition, as opposed to the website, each page feels like it belongs to the whole. One of the things I don't like about guardian.co.uk is that when I jump to an article, because of the greater blank space around it, I feel like I've left the main website. In design terms, the app has the sense of cohesion between different elements that is lacking online. In this, the design team behind this app have managed to make the interaction relate much more to the paper version than the website, which is an impressive feat in itself.
Whether I will completely go over to the app version once my free trial runs out, or still continue to buy the daily print version, is difficult to say. During the week I can get the paper cheap from the Student Union shop at work. The paper version also gets me away from a screen for a while, which is always a good thing. However, the advantages of getting the Saturday edition for the iPad was that I didn't get the frustraitingly ultra-middle class Weekend magazine, (apart from the odd article). But then I didn't get the excellent Guide either. Nor does the print edition's commitment to commissioning contemporary illustrators seemed to have made it across the digital divide. So I guess I'll have to use my few months free trial wisely to assess the pros and cons between print and digital, but on the current evidence, this app will set the bar for many other cross overs.