1.31.2016

The March Issue

The March issue of Martha Stewart Living is arriving in some subscriber mailboxes and the cover is a delightful hit of spring in the dead of winter: an array of speckled Easter eggs (yes, Easter is in March this year) in beautiful shades of blue, green and yellow. Inside the issue there are flower arrangements and gardens and all those myriad subjects MSL readers love. In her column, Martha shares her secrets for her annual Easter lunch and revisits some of the spring recipes published in the spring, 1991 issue of the magazine in honour of its 25th anniversary - all of them based on Russian traditions. Most lovely of all is Eric Pike's final letter to readers as editor in chief. In it, he thanks Martha for more than two decades of mentoring and guidance and he also thanks us, the readers, for always inspiring him. Elizabeth Graves will begin her role as editor in chief in the April issue. I have not yet received my copy in the mail but I am definitely looking forward to it!

1.27.2016

Office by Martha Stewart

I know many of you were sad to see the Martha Stewart Home Office line at Staples disappear from its shelves in 2014, but the good news is that a very similar line is back, available exclusively at Staples! It is called simply Office by Martha Stewart and is available for perusal and purchase online in the United States at the staples.com website. The line will be hitting Staples store shelves in March.
The new line offers several categories of home-office supplies:
  • desktop organization
  • discbound planners and calendars
  • notebooks, folders and binders
  • boards and decals
  • dry-erase and chalk markers
I'm hoping that there will be additional categories, such as labels, tags and stickers, perhaps envelopes and stationery. That was always a nice feature of the former line, which was produced by Avery. I am not yet sure if the line will be available in Canada. I did speak to a representative for Staples Canada about it and they were not sure whether the line would be available in stores north of the border. We will wait and see!

1.10.2016

Reflecting on Eric Pike's Legacy at Martha Stewart Living

I have never met Eric Pike, the former editor-in-chief of Martha Stewart Living, nor have I ever corresponded with him. I did hear him lecture once at the Good Things Event in New York City in 2006 and I was charmed by his shy demeanor, clear intelligence and his ability to herald the benefits of good design while speaking in front of a crowd of several hundred people.

After working for more than 23 years at Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, Eric has left to pursue new interests - a shock to many longtime readers who came to view Eric as a kind of steward for the quality of the Martha Stewart brand. When Meredith Corp. absorbed the editorial duties of Martha Stewart Living and Martha Stewart Weddings magazines late last year, Eric was offered a position but declined, according to a few reports. What he will do next remains to be seen, but I'm sure he will find new opportunities and challenges elsewhere - after a well-deserved break, perhaps!

Several readers of this blog asked me to put together a retrospective of Eric's work, to look back and celebrate the influence he had on Martha's magazines and his art direction in all areas of her company. It is a difficult task since so much of Eric's work occurred behind the scenes and went more or less undocumented. After pondering a while how I might do this, it became clear to me that I would have to do it Eric's way: simply, effectively and concisely.

The best way to understand the influence Eric had at Martha Stewart Living is to simply read through back issues of the magazine with an eye for detail and design, particularly the issues between 1997 and 2003. Observe the way the text is arranged on the page, the way a feature story is designed to flow from page to page, the quality of the photography and the 'feel' of an issue. As an art director and creative director, Eric oversaw it all. He had the most uncanny ability to make you feel that the magazine you were holding in your hand was unique, special and meaningful - a beautiful booklet of dreams and ideas and possibilities. Look especially at the December issues where Eric's talent truly shined. Known at the magazine as "Mr. Holidays" he brought a passion and a talent not seen in the publishing industry to any and all stories about holiday decorating and design.
The December, 2000, issue of Martha Stewart Living is perhaps the best tribute to Eric's vision. Read it from cover to cover and understand the care that went into producing this magnificent issue. Eric was primarily responsible for ensuring its beauty. Click here to see more from this issue.
Eric's Manhattan apartment was another source of great inspiration to many readers. Its soothing tones and Scandinavian design perfectly illustrate Eric's calm sense of purpose. Click here to see more of it.
In this video segment found on marthastewart.com, Eric demonstrates how he decorates his Christmas tree. I think this video is perhaps the best tribute to Eric's work because it demonstrates the careful attention to detail he brought to the magazine and to all of his projects. It also demonstrates his sensitive nature and his calm approach. You will be inspired by this video and Eric's wonderful results! Click here to watch it.

All of us readers of Martha Stewart Living wish you the very best, Eric. Know that your work was truly valued and appreciated and loved. You will be so very sadly missed!

Below are some links to more of Eric's projects:

Read an article about Eric's apartment by clicking here.
Click here for a look at how Eric trims a tabletop Christmas tree.
For advice from Eric on how to decorate a tree, click here.
Click here to learn how to make Eric's glittered snowflake ornaments.

Trendspotting: Food Magazine Covers Gone Wild

I don't ordinarily post about these sorts of subjects, but as an avid lifestyle magazine reader I notice trends and recurring themes in the design, imagery and subject matter of these publications. I just don't often talk about them. What follows is a completely non-academic post about a growing trend I've noticed in food magazines, specifically the imagery and fonts used on their covers. I'm sure I am not alone in my observation that the imagery used on the covers of popular food magazines today is becoming increasingly 'messy' or 'unruly' - to use a more euphemistic term. Gone are the days of the artfully plated meal or the iconic, singular image of a beautiful cake on a pedestal. Instead, there are stacks, piles, rows, pyramids and heaps of food on many of the covers of the world's most popular food magazines, casually arranged to appear rustic and hastily prepared - an intended reflection, perhaps, of our hurried schedules, designed to be reassuring to the busy cook or hostess who abhors fast food but can't seem to escape the allure of its convenience.
I understand the point, believe me. The editors and art directors are aiming to make the food appear 'real' and appetizing, to give the home cook the confidence to say, "Hey, I made it look exactly like it looks on the cover! I'll buy this magazine again!" That's very nice, but sloppy joes or a plate full of heaping mounds of mac and cheese do not make a pretty cover. Without overstating it, I feel this approach devalues the art of good food styling, thoughtful photography and innovative image making, essentially underestimating the readers' abilities, curiosity levels and intelligence. I suppose, in a way, I find these covers to be patronizing.

Below are some images I've selected of popular food magazines - Martha's included - that have fallen victim to this trend. I say 'victim' because after several years in practice this trend has become cannibalistic. The image of food tossed 'rustically' onto a platter or cheese board is no longer innovative or eye-catching or even pleasant to look at. It is visually polluting the newsstands with too many stacked sandwiches, rows of cookies, pyramids of corn and slabs of grilled meat. Each of the food magazine covers below illustrate, I think, the overuse and saturation of this kind of imagery in the food-publishing industry. Frankly, I think it is time for it to go away. I find it confusing to the eye, cluttered, almost anti-design. And I don't like it - especially not on Martha's covers, which used to be so perfectly styled and beautifully rendered to appear effortlessly elegant. Perhaps you will agree with me, or perhaps you will take a different view. Please leave a comment and share your thoughts!
A cross-section of the food magazines on offer at the newsstand illustrates my point. The copycat imagery renders any sort of brand identity moot because it is replicated ad nauseum across multiple publications. The visual cues are all the same: white background, food that appears intentionally casual and rustic with melting cheese and squishy mayonnaise, stacked, grouped, lined into rows or hastily tossed onto a platter.
Food & Wine and Bon Appetit are two of the biggest abusers of this trend. I'm sure the food depicted in these images is delicious, it just looks messy and cluttered from a design standpoint.
Lucky Peach and Crumbs, two food magazines that appeal to the Hipster crowd, really took the trend to a new level of chaos with clashing fonts all clamouring for attention: scribbles and swirls and arrows and thought bubbles and rocket ships and irony and sarcasm! Perhaps some see a kind of punk innovation here? I see a mess, and I don't read these magazines as a result. (Not really my tribe, anyhow...)
Bon Appetit, once the paragon of beautiful food photography and insightful food writing, has devolved into a kind of comic-book parody of itself with cartoonish fonts: BAM! ZAP! HEALTHY-ISH! (yuck.)
Over the last two years, some of Martha's magazine covers have fallen into the trap as well, as shown above. I wrote about this earlier in my annual review of Martha Stewart Living magazine. The editors have not resorted to using grotesque and garish fonts that scream desperately for attention, thank goodness. However, it is disappointing that they felt the need to follow the trend in the first place: "white background, food that appears intentionally casual and rustic with melting cheese and squishy mayonnaise, stacked, grouped, lined into rows or hastily tossed onto a platter." Of the images shown above, these covers are the most restrained but I am still not a big fan of them. It is the ubiquity of this sort of styling that I am taking aim at, not the imagery itself. These photographs, while perfectly fine on their own, do not deserve cover status. The masthead and subheadings become lost in the visual clutter, rendering them almost useless.
Everyday Food was guilty of the trend as well, although I am more forgiving of this little magazine because on smaller covers the imagery works better somehow. It is less invasive; it's more contained and therefore more palatable.

After a while, it all starts to look the same and ideas get repeated and regurgitated and then forgotten, and then resurrected and recycled again, by everyone in publishing - and that's not fair to the reader.

For the readers - a group I will always vehemently defend, because, well, I am one - it is nullifying to the curious and beauty-seeking eye. Perhaps there is no solution to this. Perhaps magazines are doomed to copy each other and outdo each other by basically cannibalizing each other and morphing into replicas of the competition. I have no advice for these publications, to be honest, because I understand they are all essentially in business to make a profit and will adopt trends, copy competitors that sell more copies and hope that they too will see a profit in return. But identity is lost. Brand recognition is lost. It truly is in the best interest of these publications to own their unique identities by remembering what made them great in the first place and kept their readers enthused. It certainly wasn't by slipping into ubiquity.
DOING IT RIGHT
Here are four food covers that I think do a beautiful job of maintaining good design while simultaneously keeping brand-recognition alive and making the food look appetizing and interesting. Each cover is distinct and identifiable with unique and innovative design details. Clockwise from top:

  • The diminutive title of "sated" recedes to let the cookies take center stage. There is no visual clutter and the subheadings are kept to a bare minimum. 
  • Cuisine did a beautiful job with this cover: a cooked oyster is arranged in a heart shape so that the central theme appears clearly centered: "I (heart) Summer." The words I and Summer are carved into the wood of a dock. It's creative, modern and pleasing to the eye.
  • Martha's July 2009 issue is one of my favourites. The two ice-cream cups are nicely arranged on a napkin and a closer look reveals that the spoons are in fact tiny cookies: carefully considered details!
  • Donna Hay rarely disappoints with her covers. They are classic and timeless but still modern, reminiscent of Dutch paintings but with a contemporary and minimalist twist.

1.07.2016

Martha Stewart Weddings: Winter 2016 Issue

The winter 2016 issue of Martha Stewart Weddings is on newsstands now and there is a lovely feature about a wedding Martha hosted at her farm for her niece, Kristina. With beautiful photographs of Martha's Bedford farm, the feature depicts a wedding that was small but elegant. The entire issue is really beautiful. This is the magazine's annual "Planning Issue" and has all the time-saving and organization tips a bride needs to prepare for the big day. On the cover is lifestyle blogger Jenny Bernheim of Margo & Me fame with her husband Freddie Cipoletti who were married in a French chateau just outside of Paris. The issue also showcases more than 50 gowns and winter flower arrangements that are sure to inspire. Be sure to check out the issue!

1.06.2016

Eric Pike Leaving MSL

I was a bit shocked yesterday to learn that Eric Pike, the current editor-in-chief of Martha Stewart Living, will be leaving the company after 22 years. Replacing him will be Elizabeth Graves, who is the current editor-in-chief of Martha Stewart Weddings. (Replacing her as editor-in-chief of Weddings will be Amy Conway, an editor and writer who has worked for both magazines for nearly 20 years.) These changes were announced along with news about a larger sweep of cuts to Martha's editorial team. Late last year it was announced that Meredith would absorb the editorial duties of Martha Stewart Living and Martha Stewart Weddings as part of a new ten-year pact, essentially giving them control over the decision making processes. According to several reports, Martha delivered the bad news about the cuts to her editorial team personally in a group meeting. A small group of writers and editors from Martha's original team will be moved to the offices at Meredith Corp. where they will oversee the content of the magazines and their respective websites. I am not sure who among Martha's team was let go, but we will likely find out in the coming days and weeks. I'd like to simply take this opportunity to thank Eric Pike for all his tremendous work over the last two decades at Martha Stewart Living. I do feel that the magazine is losing a part of its soul with his departure. We will see what the year ahead brings for the magazine and for Eric. I'm excited to see what he will do next!

1.05.2016

The February Issue

The February issue of Martha Stewart Living is appearing on newsstands and in subscriber mailboxes this week. It looks like a very nice issue! I like the cover with its Valentine's Day variations on pretzels. Okay, so it's another cover with rows of food... I'll take this one on the chin because I think it's actually quite a pretty image. There's also something kind of witty about it, too, since the pretzel was once a religious symbol of unity and marriage. Based on the subheadings it looks like there is a very nice array of content, from Valentine's Day to chocolate cakes to organizing. I'm looking forward to seeing my copy in the mail!