In-Depth Review of Official Playstation Magazine (UK) Redesign
Three days ago the Official Playstation Magazine (UK) team announced they have revamped the publications design to “reflect the dawning of a new era”.
The next-gen console wars have really been heating up in recent weeks with both Sony and Microsoft preparing for the latest public battle at E3 in a matter of days. Sony’s Playstation 4 and Microsoft’s Xbox One (no comment) will be unleashed upon the gaming world later this year. While we’ve already seen the Xbox One console, Sony has been keeping the lid on the PS4’s new design tightly sealed. E3 will be the first unveiling of the machine’s new look. And that’s not the only new look we’ll see this month. Official Playstation Magazine UK (OPM:UK) have strategically taken advantage of the hype to breathe new life into their publication’s overall design and identity. Something they’ve not done in nearly six years.
Troubling Times for Print Editions
Before we delve into OPM:UK’s redesign, I think it’s important to put this bold move into perspective and reflect on the state of magazine print editions in today’s internet and tablet driven world. It’s a fact that print edition sales are in decline as more readers make the switch to the convenience of holding a library of publications on one portable device. No matter where they are they can simply download an issue from the ever increasing catalogue of magazine back issues and start reading almost instantaneously. Even better they can just access the web for instant up to date information on the latest games and hardware.
This is something the US edition of Playstation: The Official Magazine knows only too well. When they announced in November 2012 that the upcoming December issue of the publication would be the title’s final edition many readers were gutted that five years after its launch they would no longer be able to kick back with a print edition of the magazine. Of course this is just one of many print editions to suffer such a fate – something that saddens me (I’ve reason to believe that for every title that goes out of print, a fairy somewhere drops dead – this saddens me even more).
What’s even more interesting here is that according to Future Publishing’s own 2012 Portfolio, Playstation Magazine was their 6th biggest magazine title, revenue wise, in the US and only 8th biggest in the UK.
Judge a Magazine By It’s Cover
But enough of the doom and gloom for now. I’ll cover the print vs digital divide in another post shortly. For now let’s get back to the exciting news – OPM:UK’s first magazine redesign since 2006. And what better place to start with than the cover…
Unsurprisingly there aren’t any drastic changes to the magazine’s cover. The title and its masthead components remain intact with the notable exception of the PS4 logo replacing the now defunct PSP initials on the title bar. It’s a combination that works and an integral part of the publication’s branding that makes it easily identifiable on shop displays.
The design also retains the “hero shot” as the only image on the cover. When this is done right it certainly packs a punch and without any other sub-images to compete with it’s clear what the main feature of the issue is. But just as these staples of the brand’s identity remain, it’s the smaller more subtle changes that have the biggest impact on the face of things.
The ‘Highlight Cirlce’ that has appeared on a number of covers in recent years has lost it’s colour fill in favour of a thin colour co-ordinated outline stroke. Now I know what you’re saying – this is such a small and insignificant change on the larger scale of things. And you would be right. But I think it works much better now and feels more integrated into the overall design. OPM:UK has had some amazing cover images in the past, but some of them were tainted by a large circle jumping out, begging for your attention. I understand the need to highlight a certain feature inside the magazine to grab the reader’s attention but there’s no need for overkill. The new stroked circle still stands out enough against the blocky and straight lined nature of the rest of the design without it feeling out of place.
“The new stroked circle still stands out enough against the blocky and straight lined nature of the rest of the design without it feeling out of place”.
Another small addition is the sidebar running along the main feature title. Again I think this is a nice touch as it frames the text in a simple way without going over board and it helps tie the overall design together. It looks modern and, coupled with the crosshair graphic, introduces a techie feel similar to elements used within the UI of numerous console games.
These subtle changes however, would be a disaster if it wasn’t for the excellent colour scheme implemented on the cover. OPM:UK really hit the nail on the head here. Each of the four redesigned covers uses a miminal colour palette – black, white and one accent colour. In the Assassin’s Creed example above, the red accent colour just works so well. Too easily could the designers have used a number of colours to highlight various sub-titles. This is a strategy I’ve seen on a number of magazine covers and it makes them look cluttered and messy.
“It looks modern and, coupled with the crosshair graphic, introduces a techie feel similar to elements used within the UI of numerous console games”.
By sticking to one colour the design not only looks clean but it’s also easy to read and to pick out the important parts. This is something OPM:UK have a pretty good record of doing anyway so it’s nice to see them carry it over to the new design. Now if only something could be done with that damn barcode. It really sticks out like a sore thumb!
The Big 10’s Big Facelift
Originally I said there weren’t many changes made to the cover and yet I managed to dissect it to bits for longer than I originally planned, so if you’re still with me congratulations for making it this far!! Now we get into the major overhaul. One of the first regular features encountered in the magazine is “The Big 10” – a collection of the biggest 10 stories people are talking about in the world of Playstation that month. Let’s take a look at the before and after.
The top image above shows the old design of “The Big 10” while the bottom image shows the new look. It’s pretty obvious that this regular feature has had a major facelift. The sublte graphical elements from the cover are carried over and form what comes across as a much more structured, modern and mature design. A small white border along the page edges gives a bit of a breather and makes the feature look much less crampt. Extra breathing space for all the ooohhhs and ahhhs we are sure to make at the larger game screenshots. The minimal colour scheme from the cover has also been implemented well here with the use of black, white and again just one accent colour – yellow.
The only small criticism I would have on “The Big 10” is that there may be a few too many lines running vertically and horizontally along the main body text. The overall design seems to aim to make the feature look more spacious and open and yet both columns of the body text are boxed in by a series of lines. I’d like to see a version with fewer lines so the extra white space around the pages borders can have maximum effect.
“…keep an eye out for those orphans in the typesetting”.
Having said that, I still think it’s a massive improvement over the old design. Just like the cover it’s cleaner and easier to read what you want without being distracted by too many graphical elements. Though I would like someone to keep an eye out for those orphans in the typesetting (but that’s just my obbessive nitpicking when it comes to orphans and widows in print, I’ll get over it some day. I Promise).
Deeper Down the Rabbit Hole
The old “Your Letters” page as been rebranded as “Replies” and continues the tri-colour scheme. Do we see a pattern emerging? A tablet version of the previous issue now sits alongside its sister print edition. This shows an acceptance of the digital ‘revolution’ as does the more prominent placing of readers’ tweets which replace an old side bar previously used to show posts from the OPM Facebook group. Comments from the official playstation magazine site also run along the top bar with generous white space above and in between the page title to the left.
The number of letters has been reduced, but a new square graphic clearly marks the beginning of a new letter. The Star Letter’s previous gold colour has fallen into rank with the new tri-colour scheme. In contrast to the right side’s text heavy letters, the left page now sports a new ‘Most Wanted’ feature with a large circular piechart-like graphic showing which games the readers are looking forward to most. This is a really neat feature that reaches out to the readers as does the monthly poll that finishes off the bottom fifth of the page.
Again, I think it’s an improvement over the old design and it feels more structured and purposeful now.
The ‘Preview’ segment is similar in design to the ‘The Big 10’ in that it has larger screenshots and a cleaner text section levelled off with a coloured sidebar echoing the front cover. A large pullquote above the main body text is layered over the accent colour to grab your attention and draw you into the story.
What’s interesting here is the rainbow colour strip overhangning the ‘Preview’ title. The first colour in the series is the orange accent colour used on the rest of the page. Editor Ben Wilson said that “The colour scheme changes as you progress through the section”. I’m assuming this progression will follow the colours used in the strip. A nice little effect.
This clean redesign sets the text and primary screenshot as the main focus. It’s a stark contrast to the old design that relied on multiple smaller screenshots and various graphical elements to create movement on the pages.
The cleancut and modern design continues into the ‘Reviews’ section. There’s a stronger emphasis on the actual review with all the additional boxouts and little nuggets of extra information now being grouped into a single larger boxout to the side of the main body text. This looks much neater than before and allows you to read through the review without being distracted or sidetracked. Once your done with the review you can then still soak up all the additional stats and facts in one place. I really love this. It’s a much more pleasant experience than it was before.
Perhaps the most controvertial change to the review section is the placement of the final score. Rather than having to wait until the end of the review it’s now positioned alongside the game title at the start of the piece. This is something you will either love or hate. If you’re a fan of suspense and try to guess the final score as you read through the review you might be disappointed, but for everyone else it’s now blatantly obvious what your getting yourself into before you start reading. The reviewer’s avatar and twitter name appear next to the score. Wilson is hoping that this will “encouraging interaction should you feel strongly about the verdict”. Expect 140 characters of strong opinions.
The new issue comes with a jam packed A-Z of Playstation feature. You can see the trend at this stage – clean minimal appearance, bigger screenshots, bold accent colour. It’s all here. I’m a big fan of white space in magazine layouts and thankfully that continues in this feature. It’s clear that OPM:UK are shifting the focus to the content itself rather than filling every available space with unnecessary graphical elements.
The final image we have here is for a new section called ‘RetroStation’. This new addition to the magazine is placed at the end of the flatplan and will focus on classic Playstation games and is sure to bring a wave of nostalgia over the reader. This is the first page we’ve seen to use a full colour fill rather than a plain white background. But it still adheres to a strict colour scheme of just three colours.
At this stage I’d like to point out the triangle graphic elements – did you spot the other iconic Playstation shapes dotted around previous pages? They’re all there!
Overall I’m very impressed with OPM:UK’s redesign. It’s cleaner, brighter, bolder and comes across as a much more modern publication. The focus on content makes it a much easier and pleasant reading experience. The team spent nine month’s working it – a huge investment. To me this shows the confidence and passion they have in their magazine. With print sales declining across the board it’s a risky move to undertake such a gamble for fear of alienating readers and pushing sales down further. A risk not a lot of publishers would be willing to take.
OPM:UK have not only stepped up to the challenge but in my opinion they have pulled it off in style. The new look injects a breath of fresh air into the title and succeeds in reflecting “the dawning of a new era”. A gold trophy well deserved. Speaking of which, I better finish up now, that Far Cry 3 Platinum isn’t going to pop by itself.
Feel free to voice your opinions on the new design in the comments below.
The latest redesigned issue of Official Playstation Magazine UK is on sale Friday 7th June.
All images used in this article are the property of OPM:UK and Future Publishing UK. This article was not paid for and I have no association with OPM:UK or Future Publishing.