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Smithsonian Magazine Table of Contents (1989 & 2013)

Contributed by Chris Purcell on Mar 14th, 2013. Artwork published in 2013.
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This very active table of contents page shows the most recent redesign of the Smithsonian Institution’s magazine. The original design, shown below, was created in 1969 by Bradbury Thompson (1911–1984), a native of Wichita, Kansas. The magazine used his design for at least 25 years. Thompson used Baskerville types exclusively: note that the body text in the original is set in Monotype Baskerville, but the masthead is in Fry’s Baskerville, a more suitable titling face, which was also used for article heads.

Thompson was noted for his subtle use of white space. The third scan shows the magazine’s famous “Thompson corner”, a blank space that often occurred at the top left of a double-page spread. In an interview, Thompson explained that the white corner was there “to balance a gang of pictures on the facing page and add relief to a page that would otherwise be a gray mass.  Also, it provides a more inviting entry to a new page.” The white corner doesn’t occur in the magazine anymore, though it’s sort of there on the new contents page (but the masthead is kerned really badly).

Bradbury Thompson taught design for over 30 years at Yale. Another of his many famous designs is Westvaco Inspirations, a periodical published by the Westvaco Corporation, a paper manufacturer, to showcase its printing papers. His magnum opus is the Washburn College Bible of 1980, which he did for his alma mater. His design for the Bible features lines set flush left and ragged right, with line breaks occurring where a reader would naturally pause.

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5 Comments on “Smithsonian Magazine Table of Contents (1989 & 2013)”

  1. Mar 19th, 2013  1:04 am
    Edit

    The new logo is heinously spaced. It appears that the designer, in tightening the overall tracking, took it upon himself to make some individual adjustments (or relied on Adobe Optical Spacing?) when he should have trusted Hoefler Titling’s built-in kerning:

  2. chris purcell says:
    Mar 19th, 2013  4:52 am
    Edit

    I think it’s just the (heinously kerned) cover masthead reduced to about 33%, w no tracking or weight adjustments for the change in size.

    Very effective demo, Stephen!

  3. Cheshire says:
    Mar 19th, 2013  6:01 am
    Edit

    That logo is surprisingly poorly kerned, considering the institution it represents. However, it’s a little tough to compare it to a screen sample like that. Though I’m sure H&FJ have done everything they can to reproduce their metrics as faithfully as possible in such a preview, even that sample has problems (Sm, so). And though I too would typically trust H&FJ’s built-in metrics, I don’t think InDesign’s optical spacing deserves such a bad rap; in my experience, it actually does a better job than the metrics in a surprising number of typefaces I’ve used. It’s a great defense against the work done by designers who are (sadly, often far) less rigorous than the craftspeople at H&FJ.

  4. Jaroslav Tvrdon says:
    Mar 19th, 2013  3:53 pm
    Edit

    I think it was used this way intentionally because this kind of spacing makes more interesting (emotional, eye-catching, upsetting.. :) logo. It is an attemt to make the same type of logo with serifed type like M. Vignelli does with sanserif Helvetica. Why not. 

  5. m smith says:
    Mar 22nd, 2013  10:40 am
    Edit

    Why not? Because it looks amateur and ungainly. Even if poor kerning was the intent, it does not suit or honor the content. Sad to see what was clearly a beautifully designed magazine become messy and degraded.

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