Free Inquiry magazine - a superficial critique
Posted: 10 April 2006 02:45 AM   [ Ignore ]
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I know the following is entirely superficial and shouldn’t really matter. However, I suspect that I’m not the only person who feels this way.

Here goes…
I love FI - I mean, I love the *content* of FI. The graphics are horrible. I’m sorry. They are beyond horrible. I put off subscribing to this magazine for 2 years because of the graphics. "Graphics", you may ask? What kind of shallow idiot are you?

1) Kill the drop shadows. They make it look like a kiddo zine from 1997. Very cheesy.

2) Drop the headshots of the authors (or make them tiny). I love the articles - the content is superb. However, I really don’t care to associate this great content with a smiling face.  I also find it hard to show this magazine to my superstitious/religious friends (and even skeptics) because the format is so embarrassing.  Despite the genious of most of the contributors, most of them look a bit odd. I mean, if you want to appeal to the masses, then it would be beneficial (in my opinion) to either:
a) have no author photos, so the reader can imagine that the author looks like himself or his neighbors.
b) try to show a small author photo that looks more "normal" or acceptable. The freakshow photos (I mean that in a respecatable way) guarantee that critical thinkers will be met with skepticism when getting someone to read this magazine.

Maybe I’m wrong on so many levels here, I should just suck it up. Maybe FI is not intended to be read by non-critical thinkers. Maybe this is preaching to the choir, and maybe the choir can look past the odd headshots and retro graphical layout.

It also leaves me with a strange feeling. I feel like opening FI is like walking into a UU church.  A UU church looks like a church, it smells like a church, people are dressing up like it’s a church. However, the fact that the content can be the most un-church like, I’m left with the question, "why the whole ‘church’ thing at all?"  The same thing with FI - it looks and feels like a mystical, religious rag. Yet, the contents are so far from it, I’m left with the question, "why go through the trouble of making this look anti-intellectual, and ‘religious’?"

Am I alone here?
(I suspect I will be skewered for this post. Apologies in advance.)

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Posted: 10 April 2006 02:45 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Free Inquiry magazine - a superficial critique

I know the following is entirely superficial and shouldn’t really matter. However, I suspect that I’m not the only person who feels this way.

Here goes…
I love FI - I mean, I love the *content* of FI. The graphics are horrible. I’m sorry. They are beyond horrible. I put off subscribing to this magazine for 2 years because of the graphics. “Graphics”, you may ask? What kind of shallow idiot are you?

1) Kill the drop shadows. They make it look like a kiddo zine from 1997. Very cheesy.

2) Drop the headshots of the authors (or make them tiny). I love the articles - the content is superb. However, I really don’t care to associate this great content with a smiling face.  I also find it hard to show this magazine to my superstitious/religious friends (and even skeptics) because the format is so embarrassing.  Despite the genious of most of the contributors, most of them look a bit odd. I mean, if you want to appeal to the masses, then it would be beneficial (in my opinion) to either:
a) have no author photos, so the reader can imagine that the author looks like himself or his neighbors.
b) try to show a small author photo that looks more “normal” or acceptable. The freakshow photos (I mean that in a respecatable way) guarantee that critical thinkers will be met with skepticism when getting someone to read this magazine.

Maybe I’m wrong on so many levels here, I should just suck it up. Maybe FI is not intended to be read by non-critical thinkers. Maybe this is preaching to the choir, and maybe the choir can look past the odd headshots and retro graphical layout.

It also leaves me with a strange feeling. I feel like opening FI is like walking into a UU church.  A UU church looks like a church, it smells like a church, people are dressing up like it’s a church. However, the fact that the content can be the most un-church like, I’m left with the question, “why the whole ‘church’ thing at all?”  The same thing with FI - it looks and feels like a mystical, religious rag. Yet, the contents are so far from it, I’m left with the question, “why go through the trouble of making this look anti-intellectual, and ‘religious’?”

Am I alone here?
(I suspect I will be skewered for this post. Apologies in advance.)

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Posted: 10 April 2006 03:08 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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I largely agree with you, Tom.  There have been many, many issues of Free Inquiry that I would have been embarrassed to be seen in public with, because they were just so ugly-looking.  Fortunately, I read them in the privacy of my home most of the time.

Actually, I can think of a more basic complain—repetitiveness.  They will build an issue around a particular theme or question and there will be half a dozen articles on this subject, most of them saying the exact same things, making the exact same points!  (Although there are also some dissenters.)  I’m not saying the articles aren’t good, but I wish they could cut down on some of the overlap.

A humor column would also be nice.  I fondly remember the appearance of the infamous “shit list” (way back in the day), but they got so many complaints about it, I suppose the editors decided to avoid controversy in the future.  But humor is good, and it doesn’t have to be insulting.

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Posted: 10 April 2006 03:37 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Actually, tom_g, I couldn’t agree with you MORE. I was just thinking over the weekend the same thing. FI is an excellent magazine for its content; the graphics are very poor. It is the sort of magazine that would get overlooked in a magazine rack and taken less seriously by its public simply in virtue of the visuals.

I don’t so much mind the author photos, although I suppose some could be done a bit more professionally, and I understand their willingness to try to “surround” an issue with a number of themed essays. But they definitely need a total graphic overhaul.

Think of the seriousness which this magazine would engender with exactly the same content if it had the look of the New Yorker ...

8)

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Posted: 11 April 2006 08:44 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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[quote author=“tom_g”]Not that my opinion would really matter to the editors of FI, but I’m curious if anyone knows who I would contact to request that FI change their graphics, etc.?

You could try contacting someone on the editorial board, I suppose.

I had a long chat with some of the CfI folks today and they are aware of the issue ...

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Posted: 11 April 2006 08:48 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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[quote author=“dougsmith”]
You could try contacting someone on the editorial board, I suppose.

I had a long chat with some of the CfI folks today and they are aware of the issue ...

thanks

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Posted: 11 April 2006 10:37 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Good Topic and well done.

Hope the editors grab a New Yorker - a Cosmo, and a copy of “Science” Scientific American and Smithsonian aren’t slouches either.

They can use parts of each to great advantage and while they are at it they can do the same for Skeptical Inquirer. It really would be nice to have these magazines attractive enough to sell off newstands.

Jim

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Posted: 12 April 2006 02:10 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Re: Amen!

[quote author=“drkoepsell”]I read magazines like Wired and Discover, and the graphics are modern and appealing in those…Free Inquiry makes me think of Highlights sometimes in terms of graphics…and I’m on the editorial board!

Glad to see you here David! Love the magazine, that’s for sure.

My gut feeling is that FI should be more a New Yorker type style, that is, cooler, more cerebral, but very “classy”. SI could look for something more Wired or Discover-like, “punchier”, since its content is more scientific.

But I know Austin believes that the magazines should have an overarching design similarity. I imagine the interesting thing for your design team will be to manage both at once: to give you a good solid “brand identity” that covers all CfI publications, websites, etc., and at the same time that distinguishes the more philosophical/cerebral FI from the more scientific SI ...

Given your dedication to Free Inquiry about all things, it seems to me fitting that this gets discussed publicly.

Best,

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Posted: 12 April 2006 04:08 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Re: Amen!

[quote author=“drkoepsell”]I read magazines like Wired and Discover, and the graphics are modern and appealing in those…Free Inquiry makes me think of Highlights sometimes in terms of graphics…and I’m on the editorial board!


drkoepsell,
I like the look of Natural History and Science magazines. It would please me if FI and SI looked like them.
Bob

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Posted: 12 April 2006 07:21 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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David Koepsell wrote:
“I read magazines like Wired and Discover, and the graphics are modern and appealing in those…Free Inquiry makes me think of Highlights sometimes in terms of graphics…and I’m on the editorial board!”

Now there’s little accounting for taste: I had a guest subscription to Wired and simply could not read it.  The graphics were just too distracting!

Same thing with ESPN the magazine - I could not even look at it even though I generally like to read about sports.  I cannot explain it.  Dizzying graphics have no appeal to me.

Oh well.

Gerry Dantone

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Posted: 17 April 2006 01:30 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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[quote author=“LISecHum”]David Koepsell wrote:
“I read magazines like Wired and Discover, and the graphics are modern and appealing in those…Free Inquiry makes me think of Highlights sometimes in terms of graphics…and I’m on the editorial board!”

Now there’s little accounting for taste: I had a guest subscription to Wired and simply could not read it.  The graphics were just too distracting!

Same thing with ESPN the magazine - I could not even look at it even though I generally like to read about sports.  I cannot explain it.  Dizzying graphics have no appeal to me.

Oh well.

Gerry Dantone

I agree that dizzying graphics are too distracting. And, you’re right - it does really come down to taste. I would prefer almost any format over the current drop-shadow/headshot madness of the current FI format. Ideally, I’d like to see something simple, clean, and professional.

Point of Inquiry has mastered this in the audio realm. DJ Grothe is an excellent host, and the production is superb.

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Posted: 21 May 2006 05:36 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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I agree with the other posters. The content is superb, but the graphics are so busy and undisciplined, they seriously detract from the experience of reading the magazine.  Even serious magazines like Scientific American, Discover and the New Yorker have crisp, clean covers and text. I suggest that Paul Kurtz, Tom Flynn and Lisa Hunter go to any large local bookstore and spend an hour looking at magazines. It will be time well spent.

I’m not a graphics artist, but I have a serious interest in interior design. When I look at the cover of the April/May issue, I feel bombarded by all the text and images. I feel like I’ve entered a room with wild colors and clashing patterns, and my poor eye has nothing to rest on.

I know nothing about publishing, but it’s obvious that the name of the magazine’ title needs to be a focal point of the page. As it is now, the light grey title “Fee Inquiry” just gets lost in all the white text directly above and below it. You don’t need to make the title larger, but you do need to give it some breathing room of blank space. Eliminate the header that says “fi inside: the crisis and the cartoons,” move it elsewhere on the page, or drastically reduce its size.

There’s so much text on the cover, nothing stands out. Do we really need to see the names of ten authors, most of whom are only known to regular subscribers?  And the text needs to be ordered more coherently. The three columns of text look like they were simply plopped on the page. All the text should be pushed over to the left side in one neat and disciplined column.

The cover image also looks haphazard and amateurish. There are four elements: of Darwin, a green map of the U.S., a wedge like triangle and what appears to be a purple gridlike globe background. Interestingly, the April issue of Scientific American has a strikingly similar cover with the same colors and four elements: hands, some green quantum knots, concentric circles, and a grid back ground.

The key difference is that the four elements are coherently tied together on Scientific American (the hands are holding the quantum knots which emerge from the concentric circles), but remain discrete and unconnected on the Free Inquiry cover. If the images can’t be tied together, simply pick the most important one (Darwin) and eliminate the rest.

Inside the magazines, eliminate all the ribbons and the shadows—they’re clunky and distract the reader. Also the typeface looks heavy. Change it to something cleaner and more modern. The dark blue accent color is too close to black to serve as an effective contrast.  And the ads inside look cluttered and chaotic.

Again I know nothing about publishing, but I’m sure there are dozens of professional consultants who could guide a radical design overhaul that the staff could implement.  I’m sure the readers would be delighted with the new look.

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Posted: 21 May 2006 05:56 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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Can’t disagree with any of that, Nancy.

Seems to me that their biggest issue is going to be finding a new design team that can breathe some new life into the graphics in FI and throughout all CFI publications. SI isn’t as bad, but they could all use a bit of an overhaul.

With FI it seems as though the graphics are at a high-school level and the content is at a university or grad school level. That has to change.

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