The design of a literary journal is a serious business. One thing the whole editorial team of Lighthouse are in complete agreement on is that we want the journal to be aesthetically pleasing – something that the reader will want to pick up again and again for its look and feel as well as for the quality of its writing. During the process of debating design we looked at a lot of other literary journals. There are loads of them out there and they come in all shapes and sizes. Some of them are highly desirable little objects, some of them are over-designed, some designs are fairly crude and others are downright ugly. There are ones with glossy covers and poorly photo-shopped art – one example which springs to mind is where a photo had been obviously stretched to fit the cover. There are journals that are glossy all the way through – which somehow makes them feel cheap and reminds me of those journals you find in dentists waiting rooms like Reader’s Digest or People’s Friend. Some have illustration that works with the text, others have illustration that seems much more separate – random even, and some had no illustration at all. Some journals cluttered the pages with two or three poems (sometimes in two or three fonts!), which gave the journal a fanzine type feel, whilst others printed the poems so small you could barely read them, so that the poem was floating like an island in a sea of white space. The two journals that the editorial team most liked the design of were 14 Magazine and PN Review.
I have been thinking a lot over the past few days about what makes me like the design of a journal. Out of all the journals we looked at 14 Magazine was definitely the journal I most liked the design of. It is small and square and feels quite classy. Its cover is printed on thin matte cardboard and it has a simple logo with no front picture. Each fourteen line poem is printed on its own page with some simple illustration here and there. The journal is a good size, fitting nicely into the hand, and for me the balance of text to bare page felt just right. I think that I tend to favour smaller sized journals – ones that are easy to hold, and although 14 is smaller than a regular book there is something very bookish about it, which is one of the reasons I like it. I also like the fact that each poem is given its own page. This is something that happens in poetry collections, something I find not only aesthetically pleasing but that also means that each individual poem is being given the respect it deserves. Journals where the work is crowded together give little time for the reader to pause and absorb what they have read before another poem is clamouring for their attention. Similarly, I feel that journals that print the poems so that they are hard to read show less respect for the poem (and for the reader – and a poem is nothing without the reader). I don’t want the reading of a poem to be a physical struggle (unless that is what the author intended). Ultimately I think that the design of a journal should somehow feel effortless – like each element is working in harmony with the rest.
Two journals I feel do this well are PN Review and The Rialto. These are large journals (A4). I like the layout and the way that they use the space – they do sometimes have more than one poem to a page but because the pages are larger this does not undermine the work. I like the way that PN Review uses lines to highlight some of the headings. However the journal does have a very academic feel to it (almost like a research journal), which I think is to do with the fonts used, and while this is not a negative point, it is not quite what we want for Lighthouse.
There has been much debate amongst the Lighthouse team about whether we should use the same design and logo for the website as we will use on the journal. This is a topic that we were initially divided on, but the designers have assured us that continuity of branding is vitally important and I tend to agree with them. Branding seems like an odd word to use when talking about a literary journal – but if I think of literary journals that I respect for example Shearsman, Poetry Review or The Rialto I can immediately picture their logos and what they look like so they have created a strong and consistent image. Of course the brand isn’t what determines whether a journal is successful or not, that is more to do with the content, but it can help to make it more memorable. The website for Lighthouse might have different content and perhaps a different feel to the journal but I think that it is important that they are recognisable to the reader as belonging to one another and that they don’t appear to be different entities with the same name. The Rialto website, for example, is instantly recognisable as that of the journal, it is good to look at but feels clean and uncluttered, whilst managing to contain plenty of information and links. This is the kind of look that I think we should aspire to for our own site. We are hoping to have a submissions page made soon so watch the space.
Posted 9 years ago