Wednesday, April 25, 2007


Wired Magazine Doesn't Look Good in a Speedo

You know those guys on a beach who wear a Speedo and think they look so cool, when they really come off as anything but? That's the way Wired magazine has been behaving lately. Let me explain.

The folks at Wired redesigned the magazine, unveiling their changes in the February 2007 issue (or issue 15.02, if you're into Wired-speak). They explained their changes in the Chat (formerly Rants & Raves) section and, along the way, mentioned that they'd tweaked their logo so that it now obeyed the Law of Optical Volumes. They asked for feedback on the redesign. I obliged with the following:

Wired, you've gone crazy with the Cheese Whiz and now my eyeballs are screaming, "Make the confusion stop!" John Hodgman may like the typography, but did you have to pick FOUR different types? My grandpa, an old-school sign painter who painted the names on ships during World War II, always said that it was easier to get a message across by using a single font. Now, I'm not suggesting you drop three out of the four, but take a good look at page 60 in the February 2007 issue and tell me it's not a complete mess. The one font that doesn't work for me is used in the body text of the article on Brian Eno on page 68. It's squished and difficult to read. I realized there was a problem with the new design when I discovered that I was skipping articles at the front of the magazine, something I didn't do before. When I did a comparison of this month's and last month's issues, I saw a cohesiveness in the previous magazine that has gone missing, especially in the front section.

Okay, that was the rant. Here's the rave: I love the new graphics for Chat, Start, Posts, Play and Found. The words arranged in colored squares the way you've done reminds me of Asian script, or illuminated manuscripts. The slider bar with the "lit" rectangle denoting the page reminds me of a graphic equalizer. Perfection! I also like the new look of Expired/Tired/Wired. The serif-style typography used for the body of the feature articles reads well.

You still have great articles. A little more tweaking to rid your pages of eyeball freak-attacks and you'll have it.

Mary Warner

P.S. I don't know anything about the Law of Optical Volumes, but did notice that you reversed the serif and sans serif letters in your logo.

Wired published this letter on their website.

Then, in the April 2007 (15.04) issue, the folks at Wired got snippy about all of the reader feedback. Their little missive appeared at the top of page 27 as an introduction to Rants (formerly Chat). That got me steamed. If you're going to ask for feedback, you better darned well be prepared to take it, so I wrote another letter, thusly:

Thanks for the bitch-slap, Wired. You redesign your magazine, you ask us for feedback, and when you get it, you accuse us of being unable to embrace uncertainty. And this you do in your Radical Transparency "we're so open" issue. The irony is not lost.

It's not uncertainty that's the problem; it's your flirtation with poor design and your apparent inability to deal with criticism. Grow a pair of Thatchers, take your lumps, and thank your lucky iPods you have readers who are astute enough to use "$10 words" like "gauche, frenetic, and abrasive," which, for the literate, are worth no more that $2.50 apiece.

(Wired has asked permission to publish this too, so they're not completely without Thatchers. Thatchers is a Stephen Colbert word, in case you are unfamiliar with it.)

That leads us to the current issue of Wired, May 2007 (15.05), in which the creators reveal a little secret. Remember that term 'Law of Optical Volumes'? Here's what they have to say about it on page 21:

We said that our new logo obeys the Law of Optical Volumes, and our resourceful readers promptly searched the Internet for the existence of such a law. So we confess: Scott Dadich, our creative director, sort of invented it. We explain his thinking on the Underwire, one of the 60 gazillion blogs we now run (

The excessive selection of new typefaces, the snippiness about feedback, the sneakiness concerning an invented term, this is not the Wired magazine I came to love. There's a pall of . . . hmm, what's the word? . . . oh, yeah . . . arrogance . . . that seems to lace its pages now. Perhaps the magazine's staff is feeling the flush of being ultra-popular, or is recognizing the success of Editor in Chief Chris Anderson's book The Long Tail. I can't be sure, but it's almost as if Wired has become aware of the fact that it's a cool magazine and now thinks it looks good in a Speedo. They can do anything and get away with it. In the spirit of making up laws - The First Law of Coolification is that you can't try to be cool. If you try, you're no longer cool. Wired's cool used to come naturally; now it feels forced.

In all fairness to Wired, I have seen many other organizations attempting to be cool & hip, trying to lure a Gen X or Millennial audience. That's not going to work in the long run. There has been study after study of these groups and what marks them is a resistence to marketing and slick messages. You'd better be authentic and don't even try to be cool because we'll see it for the lame ploy that it is. We'd rather flock to the dude in the swim cap, Burmuda shorts and striped tube socks. Now that's cool.

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