Project 1: Structure, System, Form

Communications Studio I

When looking at the magazine issues that we were given, Renee and I wanted to compare the differences and similarities between the US and UK version of GQ because even after a quick flip through, we noticed many differences in the color, size, and typography. After the first day of learning briefly about grids, we decided to focus on a few parts of GQ both print and web to understand the decisions behind the publication’s design choices.

Hypothesis: GQ print is a magazine that utilizes simple grid structure, artistic photography, and few typefaces to convey the idea of simplicity, masculinity, and standardness. Because the magazine’s mission is to inform men about fashion and grooming, careers and business, fitness and self-improvement, and relationships and health. They want their readers to follow their advice on these areas and because all of their readers are influenced by this, the advice and content they present become standard. In this way, their layout is kept very simple to place as much emphasis on the content as possible and make it easy to read and digest. Because of cultural differences, the US and UK versions of GQ use different design elements to create the same idea of masculinity simplicity. With dynamic and experimental typography and illustrations, saturated color palette, and overlapping placement of images, GQ US manages to create simple spreads that cater to men interested in lifestyle and fashion. GQ UK differs in that their typography is less experimental, they use a more vintage and desaturated color palette, and their images are confined within the grid, but it still aligns with their mission to provide men with opinions of fashion and culture.

The spreads that we will be analyzing are

  • Weeknd feature on both US and UK (print)
  • US Weeknd vs US Matt Damon (print)
  • US Print Feature vs US Web Feature (Afropop)
  • Macro comparison of US Web and UK Web (responsive design)

GQ US Edition

US October 2021
US October 2021

Firstly, looking at the grid structure of the US edition, I noticed that the structure is relatively simple with most spreads consisting of 3–7 columns. In the first spread, the illustration in the top left corner and the photo do not fit within the grids however despite this, the 3 column grid makes the information very easy to read because the reader does not have to figure out where the content is. This allows them to focus on the content itself. Similarly, the content of thee second spread all fit within the grid structure and although the content probably follows a 7 column grid, the information is still very digestible. Another thing that I noticed is that in the second spread, the photographs take up almost 50% of the page which shortens the amount of content. This was probably done to make the reading experience more enjoyable because when flipping through the magazine, the readers can quickly notice the photographs which will entice them to read it.

US September 2021

The type that is used in some spreads can be describes as experimental and dynamic. This one in particular has type that follows a perspective line, has a gradient, and breaks thee grid structure. Because this typeface was used as a subheadings it does not impede on the content and enhances it because it stands out more. The dynamic nature of this typeface shows that GQ US wants to create an aesthetic that is bold and masculine but they want to have more fun with it and make it so that the readers would enjoy the experience of reading.

US September 2021

The placement of photographs in GQ US is something that I noticed right away. I found it interesting how in many spreads, there are images that do not have a background and used almost like a sticker in the spread or there are images that overlap each other. One reason I think this was done was because there were images that the designer wanted to fit into the spread but it did not fit the established grid system so they made it overlap. Another reason could be to make the composition more interesting to look at. They knew that this would appeal to their readers because their audience is relatively young men between the ages of 16 and 34 who would appreciate it. The overlapping of images adds a certain element of fun.

GQ UK Edition

GQ UK September 2021

Similar to GQ US, the UK edition has a relatively simple grid structure that allows the content to be easily readable. This spread in particular is different from the others in that the heading is on the bottom. However because of the structure and the sizing of text and images within the structure, it can still be understood as the title.

The typeface in GQ UK is often serif fonts as the main focal point and even for categories of content. I think that this is done because it evokes a mood that is more elegant and classic which is something that GQ US differs in. The serif typeface immediately stands out to the reader and makes it so that the information does not take up the entire spread and breaks up the space.

Regarding the imagery and color of GQ UK, the colors of the images are more toned down and has a more vintage feel. Especially in the spread above, the images look like they are printed and scanned in because the have a border on them. I think that GQ UK does this because their print viewership is only about 200k readers while GQ US has 5M print readers so I feel as though GQ UK has the ability to have more obscure photography styles and less saturated colors because their viewership is not as high as that of GQ US.

US vs UK Features (The Weeknd)

US (left), UK (right)
US (left), UK (right)

The GQ US grid structure differs from the GQ UK structure because there are twice as many columns. Both structures are relatively simple and easy to read but because GQ US has a column specifically for the clothes that The Weeknd was wearing on the previous pages, it shows the level of importance that they place on the cost and fashion because they dedicated an entire column to it and made the rest of the spread follow that structure.

US (left), UK (right)
US (left), UK (right)

I noticed that the type between the two spreads are very different, the US version’s type for headings and quotes is more experimental and fun than the UK version. For the cover, the type overlaps onto images, and is more bold. I think one reason for this is because UK readers may be older and probably won’t appreciate the experimental nature of the US type. The different typefaces also provokes different moods because the UK version has type that is sharper which places more emphasis on the photo while the US places more emphasis on the type.

US (left), UK (right)
US (left), UK (right)

The color palette is neutral blues which is most likely used because of The Weeknd’s audience, often younger people who find minimalist photographs more aesthetic. The images are camera aware and they are very minimal, not showing many props and his outfits are very sophisticated and clean which speaks to his personal style and what GQ is pushing for in terms of what they want readers to wear and buy. The styling is very classic and not like streetwear or anything experimental, which differs slightly from the typography, but the contrast could be intentional to add more visual interest. In addition, the two photos above are the only ones that do not show up in the other’s magazine. This probably speaks to the issue’s allocation of pages because I noticed that the UK version has more pages than the US version.

Matt Damon vs The Weeknd: US (Print)

Despite showcasing different celebrities, both issues of GQ US uses simple column structures for their feature spreads. In the example above, the content is configured within a 3 column structure. Because the grids are so structured and take up the same amount of space as the photos, it places the same emphasis on both, allowing readers to understand that the photos work in tandem with the text and vice versa.

The type for Matt’s feature spreads are more organic and less rigid than The Weeknd’s. It has a more personal feel to them and feels like he is writing a letter to the reader which was probably used to create a softer and light hearted feel to the spreads while The Weeknd’s type creates a rigid and serious mood to it. Both fit the person that they are attached to because of the respective person’s audience which I think is an interesting way to differentiate it visually.

Matt Damon’s photos are brighter, he’s smiling in all of them, the photos are brighter and have more saturated colors, and the photos look very advertisement like. All of these differences are probably because of the people who are interested in both of the celebrities. Matt’s audience is likely older so they would probably appreciate a more lifestyle style of photography while The Weeknd’s audience is most likely younger so more artsy photos and moody colors would appeal to them more.

In conclusion, the analysis of GQ was valuable in learning about print design. When looking at both GQ US and UK, it can be understood by viewers that both are editions of GQ because of structure and content, but the elements to encapsulate that aesthetic is different. They both use relatively simple grid structures to organize their information, however the typography of GQ US can be described as organic, experimental, modern, and bold while the type of GQ UK is more classic with serif typefaces. Comparing the two editions of GQ US, the features cater heavily to the celebrity that they are written about.

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