(It's a long read, but worth every inch -- if you're the impatient type, skip to where the first images of the home page begin.)
One thought in particular showed how Monocle sets itself apart from the, ahem, bigger publishing houses in the U.S.:
Thus we were doing the opposite of what most magazine-driven brands when they turn to the internet (often as an afterthought). The obvious choice is to plonk all the magazine editorial online, and augment with a few editors' blogs and such-like. At first glance, we were effectively letting the print material reside where it is best experienced - in the tactile format of the magazine - and instead exploring new facets of the brand with a broadcast-led website. But wanting to have our cake and eat it, the magazine material is there too, just reformatted for the web and immersed in a new navigational framework, appropriate to its new context.
Afterward follows diagrams and explanations: why a certain layout, why certain fonts, why certain choices and under what kind of constraints instituted by the better-known print product:
I inherited a fairly full worked through corporate identity, with typeface choice (generally, Plantin, Helvetica Neue, and Hoefler + Frere-Jones's Strasse from Numbers; all quite beautiful), a 4-way colour-scheme, a strong grid-based structure, and all the small detail elements - end marks, pull quote styles, maps, oldstyle numerals, a Monocle mark as well as typographic treatment of the logo, and so on - that the architecture of a magazine supplies. Further, the identity extended into paper bookmarks, envelopes, letterheads, and the nicest cardboard DVD wallets I’ve ever seen.The same goes for generating content for the web. So many magazines use their website as an incomplete content dump, never really offering their backlog of content but still making it seem like it's a seriously complex site. Monocle went the other way:
The challenge was to translate all that for the internet - something I've done many times before, working with the music or broadcast industries, but I'd never done with a monthly magazine.
In terms of rhythm of updates, we deliberately decided less is more, and flying in the face of conventional wisdom (if you can have wisdom in a medium only a decade old) we produced editorial at a steady rate - essentially a well-made film or two per week - rather than bombarding the user with content. Deciding to filter, reflect and craft rather than immerse the user in a constant flow of data in lieu of information. Again, this was difficult for some to get their heads around, and we certainly have aspirations to increase the frequency to include a snappy daily bulletin, but this sense of quiet calm exuding from Monocle was another important statement: that you don’t have to clutter websites with every possible bit of information you can. And that - particularly for the busy people that enjoy Monocle - information overload is not something we wished to contribute to.And, of course, making stylistic choices that convey the greater message and brand of the publication:
And, finally, the hot topic of the moment -- how to successfully engage readers with user-generated content like comments and the like (the approach may surprise you):
Visually, we wanted to make something that didn't ape current design tropes - the boring, over-used and essentially art-less 'web 2.0 look' of bright palletes, gradient fills and rounded corners - but had a more classical view, as befitting something a little more grown up. Richard Spencer Powell said the magazine design draws from modernism, of course (especially North and Mittel European heritage) but also looks further back into the early 20thC, and beyond the simple serifs and vogue for ornamentation, but look at the engravings, section headers, cartographic styles etc.
So the last thing we needed was a bevelled/shaded button style in yellow or fuscia.
I think there are some incredibly valuable lessons to be had here, and all designers for the web ought to be thinking about these issues in depth. Given recent discussion on this blog, Mark Potts and Avenue A | Razorfish, I'm looking at you with a friendly gaze; but I'm also looking at every online editor and the higher-ups that constrain their efforts at Condé Nast, Hearst, Time, Hachette, Meredith, Rodale, and so forth.
Because honestly: I know The New Yorker site won the 2008 National Magazine Award for General Excellence, but let's be honest -- can sites like that (clean content dumps with unimaginative architecture) and the insanely cluttered sites of men.style.com or even New York magazine's site really hold a candle to the clean lines, forward-thinking, mature site of Monocle?
I don't think so.
To me, they just look three steps behind.