Sep 3, 2014

Entertainment Weekly, Reanimated

I’ve got a vested interest in the design of Entertainment Weekly magazine. I was the second design director there, from 1994-96, and have stayed in touch with many subsequent design directors and designers at the magazine in the years since. Needless to say, as the years go by (and this coming February marks the 25th anniversary of the launch issue), the work at EW is increasingly humbling to me, as the magazine’s visual teams continue to come up with new and creative ways of presenting material in constantly delightful variations.

Of course Entertainment Weekly is one of those magazines whose demise has been predicted for years. And there are hordes of former EW employees who bemoan the fact that the magazine “is not what it used to be.” There’s a whole Facebook page called Veterans of Entertainment Weekly where people complain that things were so much better there when all the pages were created in Quark, movies were seen on VHS, and people listened to music hits on cassingles (the cassette tape equivalent of the 45 single). I’m very happy to see the magazine so vital and energetic and forward-looking, and nothing has done as much for this as the recent addition of design director Tim Leong, who took over in April 2014.

One of the great strengths of EW on every level is that it feels like it’s put together by fans, people who not only love every aspect of entertainment and its related business, but also the actual process of writing, creating, and designing the pages of the magazine. “I’ve always been a reader of Entertainment Weekly,” explains Leong. “The writing has always been funny, snappy, and playful. When I came in, I wanted to make sure that the design emulated those core tenants as well. The tone of the design should match the tone of the writing.”

It’s that seamless blend of content, design, and imagery that has always been EW‘s great strength. Of course that starts with the editor in chief, as Leong explains, “There’s definitely a renewed emphasis on alternative storytelling. EW‘s editor Matt Bean is a particularly visual editor, and is constantly getting everyone to ask themselves: ‘What’s the most interesting way to tell this story?’ That’s been great for the art department, because that has translated to a lot of fun charts and graphics.”

EW has always been the home for dynamic, engaging covers and bold, graphic feature openers, and there’s certainly plenty of that in the work that Leong’s team has produced. But most remarkable to me is the way they’ve raised the level of story presentation, through an aggressively brilliant collection of charts, graphics, sidebars, timelines, and layer upon layer of detailed points of entry in every corner of the magazine. From exploding heads on columnist’s photos to complex illustrated stories to funny tidbits snuck into the margins, there’s a smartness and intelligence and a great sense of graphic fun on every page of EW. This is a magazine that is filled with a great sense of excitement and vitality. The genius is in the details, much of which is lost in the small reproductions of the pages below. You’ll need to run out and buy a stack of EW‘s ASAP, to get the full effect of the magic that is happening there.

Leong promises a redesign “at some point,” but for now he and his very talented staff are busy filling the pages with explosive visuals on every level, including a jaw-dropping collection of illustrations, both large and small. “The goal is to surprise the readers each week,” explains Leong. “We want to deliver everything the readers are expecting, but then also wow them with something they never saw coming. That includes the design, the art we use, and how we tell our stories. We’re looking to capitalize on any chance at fun.”

Below are some favorite recent pages from Entertainment Weekly, with comments from Leong.

On September 30 at 7pm, the Society of Publication Designers is presenting For the Love of Entertainment Weekly, an evening with all of the magazine’s 25 years of design directors.

(Above): “This is my favorite issue since I started. I love that the topic is one of the worst things imaginable (The Apocalypse) yet there’s contrasting serif type, a playful nuclear explosion illustration in the logo, and a funny caption.” Designer: Tim Leong.


“This story is a great oral history of making the first Terminator movie, which ran in our Comic-Con preview package. None of the behind-the-scenes photography could run as big as we wanted, so we had to improvise. Jennie Chang created the illustration, completely in InDesign, using linework and graphic patterns that appeared elsewhere in the package.” Designer: Jennie Chang.


“I love the playfulness of this cover—from the hand-drawn type to the butterfly above the logo.” Design: Tim Leong, photograph: Robert Trachtenberg, typography: Ruby Parra.


“My favorite features are ones where the art options aren’t that great. This is typically the case for older movies, as the photos often don’t have the quality to run that big. This was true here, and we had to figure out a creative way to make the spread work.” Designer: Dragos Lemnei.

EW1307p108_109MUSIC“This is a map for Record Store Day that shows different record stores across the country, asking the owners what records they’d be featuring.” Designer: Emem Offong, illustrator: Lamosca.

EW1311p034_035GODZ“The designer wanted to do something special with the headline, so he drew a new display font for the story. We do a lot of typographic and illustration work in-house. There’s also a funny callout on the photo that says, “Oh, crap!” of a plane about to fly into Godzilla. That came from the design department and kicked off a whole series of funny little interjections that are now in each issue.” Designer: Keir Novesky.

EW1316p022_023JUMPST“We wanted the background to look like doodles in a notebook, but none of the typographers and illustrators we looked at felt right. So we asked one of our designers, Ruby Parra, to take a stab at it, and they looked great. So good, in fact, that we had her draw the type for the cover, too. It was great news for us but bad news for the hand cramp that she got from it!” Designer: Keir Novesky, illustrator: Ruby Parra, photographer: Robert Trachtenberg, photo editors: Lisa Berman and Natalie Gialluca.

EW1317p022_023YABOOKS“We had the thought that many classic books would by YA novels if they were published today, so we commissioned a book cover designer to reimagine some of the classics.” Designers: Dennis Huynh and Dragos Lemnei, illustrator: Jason Booher.


“These are the hardest pages to do since it’s essentially a page with five stories on it. Lots of entry points. Clear organization. A great readers experience plus interesting visuals is always a win in my book.” Designer: Aaron Morales.


“This is from one of my first issues. The text for this column about TV gore came in a bit long and a big late, so we didn’t have any time to assign an illustration. We still wanted to do something interesting with the page, so we exploded his head.” Designer: Tracy Toscano.


One of four covers for EW’s The Walking Dead preview. Design: Tim Leong, photograph: Dylan Coulter, photo direction: Lisa Berman and Michele Romero, illustration: Luke Shuman.


“This was a sidebar that ran in the Movies section about Who Would Win a Fight Between…. It’s a conceit that’s been done before, but I love how the design is sleek and modern for a silly story.” Designer: Ruby Parra.

EW1318p028_029MAXDesign: Keir Novesky.

EW1321p094_095Moviedrug“A fun FOB spread that breaks down all the fake drugs from movies, pegged to the Scarlett Johansson movie Lucy.” Design: Dennis Huynh, illustration: Kelsey Dake.

EW1318p036_037PICK“A decision tree to help you decide which apocalyptic movie you should watch.” Design: Dennis Huynh.

interstellar2“This was the opening spread to November in our annual Fall Movie Preview.” Design: Jennie Chang.

gonegirl2Design: Jennie Chang, photograph: David Fincher, retouching: Justin Metz.

The Entertainment Weekly Visual Team:
Tim Leong: Design Director
Keir Novesky: Deputy Design Director
Dragos Lemnei: Senior Art Director
Jennie Chang: Managing Art Director
Jen Kovach: Managing Art Director—Tablet
Dennis Huynh: Senior Associate Art Director
Aaron Morales: Senior Associate Art Director
Emem Offong: Senior Designer
Ruby Parra: Designer
Runyon Hall, Cody Schnedier: Tablet Designers

Lisa Berman: Photography Director
Sarah Czeladnicki: Managing Photography Director
Richard Maltz: Deputy Photography Director, West Coast
Matthew Levinson, Michele Romero: Photo Editors
Aeriel Brown, Kristine Chin, Ahmed Fakhr, Natalie Gialluca: Senior Associate Photo Editors
Katherine McMahon: Design/Photo Assistant