Black Ignites Controversy With Magazine Redesign Service

Famed publication designer Roger Black has ignited controversy with his new “magazine-design-in-a-box” service that gives publishers a low-cost alternative to custom redesigns.
The company, Ready-Media, is offering a series of templates for magazines and newspapers, both print and Web formats. Black, the president, said a template package runs $3,000 to $5,000 per publication, while a custom design by his studio would start at around $100,000. He also is planning to roll out an iPad design solution.
Ready-Media hasn’t announced any clients yet, but the very concept of has hit a nerve at a time when art, along with other editorial departments, are feeling budget squeezes brought on by the recession.
The tiff has parallels with traditional publishers’ controversial practice of outsourcing content to suppliers like Demand Media. Such firms have been derided as “content farms” for their cheap material churned out by low-paid freelancers.
A blog post on Ready-Media on the Society of Publication Designers’ Web site has attracted several dozen comments from designers, many calling Ready-Media a blow to design innovation and jobs.
“What a huge setback for designers and magazine makers,” commented Scott Dadich, creative director for Wired magazine and corporate executive director of digital magazine development for its parent Condé Nast.
“This cookie-cutter approach is absolute anti-design and will kill any exciting magazine design innovation left out there (which is already becoming fast extinct),” wrote in magazine designer Dirk Barnett.
Black defended the templates, saying they free an art director to focus on elements that readers notice most, like the cover or front page, picture stories and info graphics.
“What we’re trying to say is, design should be handled by templates so you can focus on the content,” said Black, whose design credits include Rolling Stone and The Washington Post.
The service originally was aimed at small and upstart publications, but Black said he has fielded interest from bigger publishers who he sees using it to help test new or alternative designs.
Black also had his supporters on the SPD site. Luke Hayman, the celebrated designer whose past work includes New York and Time magazines, commented that he saw Ready-Media as an affordable option for the many publications that can’t afford “bespoke design.”
Poster Joe Zeff pointed out that given the use of stock photography and illustration, it was inevitable that stock design would follow.
“If anything, designers threatened by a template or two need to think harder about what added value they offer the publishers and clients that pay their salaries and fees,” he wrote.