Scientifc American gets a face-lift

Scientific American October 2010

Beginning with the October 2010 issue, Scientific American has gotten yet another face lift. I’ve been a subscriber to SCIAM for 15 years and I read each issue cover-to-cover, and in doing so, I’ve become very comfortable with the look and feel, and where things fall in the magazine. So I was ready to complain about any change just for the sake of the change.

But overall, I’m pleased with the result.

In part that’s because the changes they have made seem to mirror the aesthetics of New Scientist, which is my favorite science magazine.  Looking at a page in the first half of SCIAM, it looks remarkably similar in formatting and over all feel to a page in New Scientist.  This may not be the most original move on the part of the designers of the magazine, but it works from a usability standpoint.  For one thing, the non-feature articles almost never span more than a page now.  I think some of the headline news is more condensed than it was before and I like the fact that I can read these pieces in their entirety without flipping a page.  (There are one or two exceptions.)

The magazine has also reorganized the way it presents articles, columns and features.  In this, I generally don’t like the change.  I was used to a very specific rhythm whereby you started with the editorial and letters, followed by the famous 50-100-150 years ago page, and then by the news. That was followed by all of the opinion columns, and then the features, and finally, reviews.  Beginning in October that all changes.  You get the editorial and letters, and then 2 short opinion pieces.  This is followed by the “Advances” section which replaces the science news.  Then an opinion piece on health, followed by a new column, “TechnoFiles” which is an opinion piece by David Pogue.  Then you are into the features which is followed by reviews.  Michael Shermer‘s excellent “Skeptic” column has been moved way to the back (page 98 in the October issue), and Steve Mirky‘s “Antigravity” column follows that, no longer being the last item in the magazine.  That’s too bad because it was always nice finishing off an intense reading of science with a laugh.  Inexplicably, the 50, 100, 150 Years Ago page is now the second to last item (page 102 in the October issue), and the final page of the magazine is a new item called “Graphic Science” which illustrates something of interest using fancy charts and graphs.

There are other minor changes, the most notable to me being the use of Wall Street Journal style illustrations for feature and column authors instead of the photographs they used to use. I’m not sure why one is better than the other, and therefore question the purpose of this change.

I liked when all of the opinion pieces were collected together before the features, but I suppose the magazine designers can’t please everyone.  I cannot for the life of my understand why the moved the 50, 100, 150 years ago column from the front to the back.  I do, however, like the new format of the features themselves.  They are all 2-column and make much better and more efficient use of page space, in my opinion.

My last grip is about the binding.  Beginning with this issue, the magazine goes from a rounded binding to a flat one, presumably because the flat one allows information to be printed on the edge.  It is a mistake.  It may not seem like a big deal, but as a regular reader, I like to fold the magazine in such a way the I am only looking at one page at a time.  The round binding made that easy, the flat binding makes it virtually impossible.  From a usability standpoint, it is frustratingly annoying.

I finished the October issue yesterday and I’m halfway through November.  I imagine by the time I’m through November I’ll be more-or-less used to the new format, and then, just when I’ve finally become completely comfortable with it, it will change again.