Design Magazine Overview

Posted by Alex

magazine spines
As much as I love my Google Reader, I still prefer to get my design fix in printed form. In addition to providing the necessary dose of inspiration, magazines usually include insightful commentary and design criticism. I love this sort of writing on design and it seems like the best place to find it is still in the “unplugged” land of printed media. Additionally, with each one you get an actual piece of design to hold in your hand. It’s easy to forget how cool this is if you’re used to bouncing from blog to blog. After the jump, I’ve put together an overview of a the major players in the design magazine realm. Check out the list!

Design Magazine Overview
Print / +81
I think of Print as the ultimate design magazine. The writing is far superior to just about every competitor. Rarely, if ever, do they have some innocuous article about “How To Be Creative!!!” or something equally useless. With writers like Steven Heller and Rick Poynor at the editing helm, the caliber of the content is always high. If I could only choose one design magazine to subscribe to it would definitely be Print.

My love for +81 is well documented. Released in Japan, +81 is filled with artists and designers I have usually never head of. This is fantastic considering the over-saturation of the usual design suspects throughout most magazine and blogs. Most of the content is interview based, which I like, and they rarely trim for length before things get interesting. They also do a lot of layout experimentation; a great quality if you are an editorial designer looking for inspiration. They certainly aren’t afraid to take chances.

Amazing for many reasons. First and foremost the design of the magazine itself is terrific. Everything from the typesetting to the photography is extremely well crafted. They also work with some really talented illustrators like Adrian Johnson and Andrew Holder; making every article visually appealing and worth investigating. Probably best described as a mix between The Economist, Wallpaper, and maybe GQ — Monocle is a great overall magazine for the design oriented world traveller.

Another Japanese publication — always kind of reminded me of but does it float, in that the quality of the material they cover is exceptional , and curated with an apparent lack of concern for trends or what anyone else is covering. Most issues are devoted to one designer or foundry — most recently Max Huber went under the microscope. I posted some images here. Their release schedule seems to be all over the place, but this is probably a result of weird timing due to import logistics etc. When you find it, it’s worth it.

This addition to the sunday New York Times is always a happy surprise when discovered with the morning paper. Like it’s sister publication, T is perfect in its execution. It has the ability to make topics that were previously of absolutely no interest to me seem fascinating. In this way it’s sort of like 60 minutes…but about fashion, design, and travel.

I’ve always thought of STEP and How as very similar magazines. Both are so overloaded with paper advertisements that it’s impossible to find the content. When you finally do, there are definitely a few articles worth reading, but many border on inane as mentioned above. The annuals are always good to check out, just to see what’s being done out there. Usually a lot of stuff you’ve seen online, but much more diverse. I’ve actually heard that STEP is no longer in publication, but I’ve yet to confirm this. Would be too bad. If you’re interested, I’m in the most recent issue STEP 100 issue in the student winner section (the one with a crazy yellow arrow on the front).

Like STEP, this one is hit or miss. I enjoy the articles that really dive into a topic — often regarding the legal issues surrounding design — but I don’t need to read this one more than a few times a year.

Computer Arts (Projects)
When I started in design, this was the ULTIMATE magazine as far as I was concerned. It’s so vibrant and visually exciting! Pretty hard to miss this one on the shelf. The great thing about Computer Arts is the software tutorials. Unlike most listed here, CA provides information on how to actually make things with the tools. Scott did one a while back which you can still download. They front load the issue with a ton of inspiration and new talent, making it a good all around purchase. I haven’t read this one for a long time, but I remember it being pretty helpful and always filled with interesting work.

Now with a new look! Based in Britain, grafik is definitely on the cutting edge. Over the course of 100 pages, they cover a very diverse range of topics and really succeed in making every article worth reading. Different from Computer Arts, in that they usually cover a more minimal aesthetic. I love grafik for their lack of ads — so refreshing after you’ve spent some time with STEP or How.

You probably have already heard about the info graphics at work in Good. They are really *good*. Decribed as an “entertaining magazine about things that matter”, Good is much more of an issue oriented publication than most listed above. It succeeds in filling this niche and it’s nice to read about design being implemented for change (and succeeding on that level), rather than just looking bad ass.

This is a publication aimed at aspiring creatives. A lot of student work, articles about working for firms, design education reviews, etc. A typical article might be called “Internships: The New First Job” or “90 of the Best Art School Projects.” That sort of thing. Despite being smack in the middle of the target audience, I’ve never really found CMYK to be all that helpful. Most articles about “how to succeed at your internship” etc are pretty much commonsense. Though like most design magazines, it remains a terrific source for inspiration and example work, especially if you’re looking to see how you stack up as a student.

Not to be confused with IdN or i-d, I.D covers mainly product and industrial design, with a little bit of interior design and architecture thrown in for good measure. This magazine is another example of a really well laid out publication with very high quality content. I especially like the photography; nothing too crazy, just a really refined and simple style that works really well in the context.

Sam Grawe’s magazine about the spaces we live in. Do not read this magazine if you get jealous easily — the spaces covered are usually completely amazing and make even the best apartments seem lame by comparison. Every time I pick up dwell I wish I lived in a glass house, perched in the trees somewhere, with furniture designed entirely by Dieter Rams. If you can manage it, dwell is an excellent magazine — full of wonderfully designed homes, usually of the modern variety.

Not sure what they consider to be their *main* focus, but Wallpaper is a great magazine about just about everything; design, travel, fashion, architecture, etc. Not a lot of specifically graphic design, but absolutely worth reading. Also of note are their travel books; great for supplementing standard issue guides like Fodor’s or Lonely Planet. I had great luck with the Tokyo and Milan editions. The San Francisco one was a little off I thought, but as a local I’m probably impossible to please.

Communication Arts
For some reason it has always intimidated me — maybe because it’s usually so damn huge. Anyway this one is regarded very highly in the academic community and is the *one* you want to get your work into, apparently. Of all the ones I don’t read that often, this is next on my list to incorporate into circulation. The most recent issue is the illustration annual.

An extension of Janine Vangool’s Uppercase gallery in Calgary. This one looks intriguing and I remember hearing a lot about it when it launched. An unusual amount of variety represented here. You can purchase the magazine through the website, though sadly the first issue is sold out.

Fantastic Man
Arguably not a graphic design magazine, but worth checking out for the excellent layout and overall production. This is easily my favorite magazine to hold; the paper has this wonderful, almost newsprint-like texture. I have no idea what the cover is made of but it feels amazing. Great typography too — just look at the rags on their paragraphs — perfect! Fantasitc Man is the third magazine art directed by Jop Van Bennekom (Butt, RE-Magazine). You can view some of the issues online here.

Like Computer Arts, I used to be seriously obsessed with IdN. It’s an explosive visual experience to be sure. IdN usually focuses each issue on one particular theme. Volume 15 / No.4 on information graphics is my favorite to date. (link)

Started in 1984, baseline is focused solely on typography. It used to be a platform for promoting new typefaces; now it includes all sorts of type related material and isn’t specific to any one foundry. Great if you like to geek out over type (which I DO).

Some of the best covers in the business. Every time I pick this one up I am glad I did, but I really don’t have much experience with it. As its UK based, cost is often an issue.

Less design magazine, more “culture” magazine. I like it for the layout mainly — haven’t spent enough time with this one to really speak for the quality of the content.

An irreverent exploration of various global concerns, typically unfolding through the use of high impact photography. Like Good, Colors is much more focused on the issues, rather than letter spacing and color palettes.

Anything I’m missing? Let us know your favorites in the comments!

57 Comments Leave A Comment


Nic says:

August 14, 2009 at 2:16 am

Very good list. My favorites are definitely CommArts, Baseline, and Eye, but they all tend to be pretty pricey. I’ve seen a lot of images of 032c and Idea floating around the interwebs lately, I’ll have to see if I can get my hands on them.


koneyn says:

August 14, 2009 at 4:57 am

I bought one issue of Baseline two years ago while on a trip to UK. Maybe it was just about that specific issue, but it sucked big time, especially considering the price. The only cool thing about it was the paper stock used.

Computer Arts was always a safe bet, and I especially like CA Projects – it is so tightly packed with useful informations, advices and overall inspiration.


tobias says:

August 14, 2009 at 5:20 am

Wow thanks for that list.
Didn’t know many of those.
I’m not quite sure about the IdN. i really like the style of this magazine but i think it’s very hard to actually read it since it’s so full of grafiks, illustations etc.

to add another design magazine, check out “Novum” (
it’s a german magazine but (almost) all articles are written in both german and english. every issue has a different special paper or finishing on the cover(they had covers made of wood or with special termo finish). this magazin is running since the 1920ies (called “Gebrauchsgrafik” at that time)


Robert Huston says:

August 14, 2009 at 7:03 am

Wow, I am glad I knew about 80% of those. But magazines are so expensive too. But thanks for the list, definitely valuable from another’s point of view!


marc says:

August 14, 2009 at 7:59 am

I second Robert with how expensive a lot of those are. I used to subscribe to the typical 3 (Print, Commarts, and how), but stopped after becoming bored with a lot of their content (it seems like their design annual was the only worth while issue).

With magazines folding left and right it’ll be interesting to see what happens with some of these.


greg says:

August 14, 2009 at 8:20 am

Eye is easily my favorite, but at $30 or so a copy in the US, it’s usually something I read at the bookstore…


Dave says:

August 14, 2009 at 8:42 am

Step Inside Design is indeed no longer in publication – it was supposed to merge with Create, but the first issue never came out. I spoke to someone there and she confirmed it is no more.


Robert Huston says:

August 14, 2009 at 9:29 am

Yes, I love Eye, but the printed material is priced so high, I’m almost afraid to touch the darn thing. Yes, I also love printed material. Love it. – It will be very interested what folds out in the next ten years in the fields of journalism and publications.

Step is really dead? Wow. That is too bad. I have been some good articles in there and one nice tutorial about systems in InDesign. Are they soon to be collectible items? Haha.


Brian says:

August 14, 2009 at 10:46 am

Thanks for the great list. I think I’ve checked out about 75% of those, so I will definitely have to check out the remaining. I am certainly one of those people that prefers having a magazine in my hand, rather than a mouse, scrolling through a zine.

I know you couldn’t list everything. If you are interested in a purely visual magazine in the extreme Avant Garde sense, take a look at Esopus sometime. It is quarterly, and they even include a music CD which is pretty good. Also, I like Wired a lot, even though it is not design based.


Ian says:

August 14, 2009 at 1:45 pm

If you include architecture in your design list (Dwell) then I think Mark Magazine definitely deserves to be on that list.


torrans says:

August 14, 2009 at 2:02 pm

I’m lucky enough to have a great library(Irelands biggest art and design library) in my college which subscribes to most of these magazine’s which saves me a lot of money. I might ask them to subscribe to some of the magazine’s you have mentioned that they don’t get. And yes eye is my favorite as well. Thanks for the post Alex.


Robert Huston says:

August 14, 2009 at 3:24 pm

What about the O Magazine? Oprah. What? How could that not be on the list! This list of all lists, O should be beaning at the top!

Am I right, or. . .?


Ryan says:

August 14, 2009 at 5:40 pm

thanks, alex!

thanks for your email, and thanks for doing this extended write-up.
your thoroughness is impressive. i always enjoy your posts.

i believe i’ll go after PRINT.


AndresM says:

August 14, 2009 at 7:46 pm

Nice list! I’m going to bookmark this just because i *DO* get stuck in my google reader and forget about my favs like CA, Print, and eye. The current CA Annual kept me busy for week!
you guys should checkout its a mag subscription service. I’m getting Readymade, Dwell and GOOD every month for only 5$! Its pretty awesome. kinda like a netflix for mag’s. you can switch mag’s at any time too. unfort. they don’t carry all the dope creative mags i’d like, but its super convenient if it has ones you like.

good post!


Bigsky says:

August 15, 2009 at 12:13 am

I’m a big +81 fan, but it hasn’t been available in the Uk for years – since Magma dropped it. (Please bring it back!).
Also, FRAME has to be on the list – it’s jaw droppingly good – and even though I always shudder at the price (£14) it’s always worth it. (It’s the brother of MARK magazine.)


Spencer says:

August 15, 2009 at 9:52 am

So whats the best store to find all of these in? Obviously Borders isnt going to have all of them, neither does my local magazine shop.


alex says:

August 15, 2009 at 10:19 am

Spencer – Yeah, tracking a lot of these down can be a pain. If you are in SF, Green Apple Books and Fog City News are two of the best places to find magazines like these. The Borders here is also surprisingly good — probably has about 70%. Otherwise, try Japanese bookstores, usually have good luck there.


OV says:

August 16, 2009 at 3:31 am

Pretty good list. Amazingly I knew all of them. I think because I am a magazine junky myself, and having lived in NYC, Universal News stores carry a ridiculous amount of magazines. Juicy News on Fillmore has a large amount of magazines as well. Also Williams Stout has some pretty good architectural periodicals as well. You can find many other beautiful and obscure design magazines here:


barry says:

August 16, 2009 at 5:45 am

people like google readers? I just dont think I could ever go down that route, be it books or magazines or any print. I need something tactile and thats before the design aspect. you simply cannot beat a bookshelf populated by great books, with equally great coves, iconic photography and authors names combined. this tactile and visual appeal goes for all the old formats, vinyl etc, you simply cant beat it

‘hey, want to check out my record collection, its in ‘my documents here’……no thanks.

some great mags pointed out here, thanks!


Robert Huston says:

August 16, 2009 at 2:21 pm

Magazine, Magazine, Magazine. I love them. We all do. But they are wasteful, – paper, inks, shipping, and they make our wallets lighter.

I would like to see an equivalent blog post about online secrets. Design resources, design blogs and the such. What are everybody’s online loves? The list would probably be much longer, but it would be a challenge to show some we all may not know about. We of course would include this site, the famous ISO50 blog.

I love this post, but I need to pay rent and with my personality if I find these magazines in person I will be too tempted to waste my rent income.


Will Godwin says:

August 17, 2009 at 7:14 am

I will always get my fix in the printed form. My personal library is at 500 books and growing (not including magazines) but I got plenty of those too (never enough though, haha). It’s sad to think about how print is slowly “dying” but I dont think it ever will, hopefully not in my lifetime. Books rule.


Sigurdur Armannsson says:

August 17, 2009 at 3:23 pm

We at our office subscribe to a few of those, Print, How, Communication Arts and Grafik.
What I feel missing are Europar magazines like the fantastic Creative Review (UK) and Luerzer Archive (DE). Novum (CH) is also worth mentioning.

Almost always when we have started a new subscription to a US magazine it takes almost two months to get the first copy (surface). Before the first copy arrives we have got at least one note from the publisher saying: Your subscription is almost over. Don’t miss a copy…etc.

Then it goes on every month a new note untill we are so bored that we forget to renew. Subscribing to 6 US magazines meant 72 notes a year – at least.

In the end I stopped all subscriptions (guess how many notes I got then) and renewed all through a Dutch company called Great service and we get our copies much sooner and not a single theat-note.


RochesterSubway says:

August 29, 2009 at 10:48 am

Monocle is an amazing magazine. I only heard of it recently and now it’s everywhere. It takes a very aspirational view of everything from finding the perfect barber shop to building the perfect city – all with a focus on design.

I designed an imaginary subway map for Rochester NY and they put it in their September issue! I love this magazine!


Joe Snodgrass says:

September 1, 2009 at 5:21 pm

I also get Ready Made and Dwell every month. While Ready made has slowly evolved into a good 1 per 5 issues, Dwell maybe has 1 in 12. Dwell started out as a great magazine about eco-sound architecture that was affordable and full of how-to type knowledge. Now it’s become an elitist modern arch mag full of uncomfortable and over priced furniture (Eames not included – though still insanely pricey). I’ve decided not to continue subscriptions because of that (Dwell).


Mike says:

September 1, 2009 at 6:16 pm

I think the world of magazines is seriously over-bloated. Practitioners are telling us to read magazines yet the spectrum is so overwhelming. I personally think that you should just select the ones that you feel connected with whilst being awe of others that aren’t worth purchasing.

Whilst touching on design related magazines, I always find inspiration from non-related design sources. My choices would be The Wire, architectural magazines, Apartamento and titles like Paris, LA. For illustrators, everyone will probably best name Varoom.


ricky says:

September 17, 2009 at 9:25 am

my top 3:

IDEA (by far the best, amazing choices of paper, layout, subjcts, typography)
EYE – BASELINE (tied) quality articles, adn

PRINT i find too much concerned with US stuff (and lots of ads), much like CR in England, COLORS has gone down..


michael says:

October 7, 2009 at 5:40 am

Found a new (to me) magazine, ABOVE Magazine. I’ve only ever found the one issue that I purchased at barnes & noble, the “Summer 2009” issue. The articles in this “beauty will save the world” environmentally themed issue are well written with quite a few interviews. I’m not sure if the magazines purpose is entirely environmental, but the articles span art; design; culture; politics; fashion; and everything in between. The photography is wonderful and the layout, equally so. The paper is a cross between newsprint and high end card-stock, if that makes sense. Think of it as a higher quality, better written, more interesting version of Wallpaper*.


David says:

March 19, 2010 at 9:32 pm

I really think you would like dot dot dot. Its edited by Stuart Bailey and Peter Bilak. Its distributed by Princeton Architectural Press. It’s a must in my book….


Crystal Walker says:

May 23, 2010 at 12:20 pm

I love Applied Arts Magazine, it’s Canadian. It’s a good mag for anyone, but is especially cheaper ($9) in Canada as opposed to Print, How, etc.


Liam says:

May 29, 2010 at 5:47 am

Have a look at DESIGN> Magazine, one of the world’s most comprehensive design publications focusing on Africa.