There’s a lot we like about the recent redesign of The New York Times Magazine. Beautiful photos, clean layouts and legible text give a modern twist to a classic look. But there’s one thing we dislike: Drop caps. At best, they’re distracting. At worst, they’re confusing.

Consider “hen I woke up the next morning.” Or “ew of Jane Goodall’s hours?”  Warning: Hens can be disagreeable if you wake them up. Objection: The way Jane Goodall spends her time is not one bit ew-ful.

The magazine wasted an opportunity to drop the drop caps that detracted from the previous design. Each one was a tiny letter dot in a sea of white space, as if marking the entrance to a black hole. Instead, the designers came back with big, bold drop caps topped by a thick line.

The new New York Times Magazine drop caps. Not much of an improvement.The old New York Times Magazine drop caps.The only improvement is that now the drop-capped first letter of the word is only a half inch away from the second letter in the word (far right), instead of three quarters of an inch away (near right).

The drop cap debacle got us buzzing about magazine design for interior page spreads in a multi-page article. This is where designers tend to lean on drop caps as a way to enliven a visually dull landscape. Here are some better ways to accomplish that goal if photos or graphics are not an option.

  • DO use eye-catching typography to highlight the first word or sentence of a section.
  • DO pick up on visual elements in the opening spread of the story and use them to carry the design theme throughout.
  • DO use pull quotes in a larger type size and/or a distinctive typeface to break up columns of text or even break the page grid by crossing the gutter between columns.
  • DO use subheads to divide the body text into sections.
  • DO use color in some or all of the display type.
  • DON’T resort to drop caps. Please.

Need help with design for your business website, publication or marketing collateral? Email Kim Landry or call 484.829.0021.

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