Cooking Light: The Redesign Ain't Right

September 9, 2009 | Design Basics, Design Trends

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coverI’m a foodie. My husband and I cook nearly all of our meals, we belong to a cooking club, we have way too many cookbooks, and we have subscriptions to three cooking magazines: Eating Well, Cook’s Illustrated, and Cooking Light. Yesterday, Cooking Light arrived in my mailbox with the following call-outs on its cover: “America’s Best-Selling Food Magazine, Now Better Than Ever” and “NEW Fresh Look!”

Just the day before, my husband and I had been talking about how much better we liked Eating Well to Cooking Light. Compared to one another, Eating Well is more readable. My husband is not a designer, yet he was able to pick up on the fact that Eating Well is a much better designed publication. The recipes are easier to read, the layout is not jam packed, and the overall quality of the design is just superior.

So, I eagerly opened my Cooking Light, anticipating that its layout would now rival Eating Well. Unfortunately, it has taken a turn for the worse.

The type size overall is larger, making elements fit too tightly. I’m guessing that larger type is something that many readers requested, as it can be a challenge to follow a recipe as you’re struggling with a hot pan and too little counter space. But when you make type bigger you need to adjust margins and other elements so things don’t look crowded. This didn’t happen.

Bold italic type is not a good type choice for readability. Yes, those typefaces exist but only for those occasional times when your already bolded headline type includes something like a title that needs to be italicized. It’s a poor choice for a regular header. In general, there is far too much italic type throughout the magazine now.

Too many typefaces and styles. Across the magazine I can see recipe names set in: bold italic slab-serifed font, italic slab-serifs (but not bold), all-cap sans serif, and yet another place where there is a more tradition title-cased serif font. That’s 4 different treatments just for recipe names.

The new recipe index is horrendous. What used to be an elegant table is now a multi-page hodge podge. Yes the type is easier to read because it’s larger, but having the index in one compact format, with an easy-to-see key was actually more user friendly.

Old recipe index (click to enlarge).
Old recipe index (click to enlarge).
New recipe index (click to enlarge).
New recipe index (click to enlarge).

There are just too many competing design elements. Slanted header bars to identify stories; graphics of spiral notebooks and three-dimensional looking notes; heavy dashed lines, heavy solid lines and pictures of whisks and timers. While your aim was to guide and give some punch, the result is overkill and a very strong turn off.

CookingLight-graphics

I read the “Editor’s Note”, and agreed with all of their content changes: a photo for each recipe; more quick and easy recipes, etc. But interestingly the actual design changes and “fresh look” were not written about. Maybe that’s because they weren’t given much thought.

8 comments

  1. Ellen | September 20, 2009 at 10:35 am

    I just miss the beautiful photography. The pictures now make the food look so unappealing.

  2. Emily Brackett | September 21, 2009 at 11:36 am

    Ellen, thanks for stopping by.

    I just took a second look at the photos. They do seem to be shot in a less styled manner. If you followed Bon Appetit’s redesign, you’ll know they took this idea very far and their photos look sometimes very unappealing–burnt food, melting ice-cream, etc. I’m glad Cooking Light didn’t go that far, but they do have a more “realistic” and therefore unstyle manner to them.

  3. Ellen | September 23, 2009 at 12:04 pm

    I was so disappointed with the redesign I sent an email to Cooking Light the day I received my September issue. I agree with you on all points – too many font styles and too many inserts. I find the orange-red ink alarming. This magazine used to be gorgeous and loaded with photography that you wanted to “lick”. The food looks average at best now. Sad, sad changes for a used-to-be Cooking Light fan.

  4. KA Chef | October 24, 2009 at 9:30 pm

    Fantastic site, I really like your writing style. Very distinctive and concise. On a lot of blogs people just drone on and on, but not you – very nice. Keep up the fine work!

  5. R Katzman | February 16, 2010 at 10:57 am

    As an artist I totally agree. I just recently sent a letter to Scott_Mowbray@health.com, the editor @ cooking light. I opened the letter stating how much I loved the elegant look, format ,the articles of the old magazine. Went on to explain that I was an Illustrator ( so he might trust my artistic judgement) and the new format was not elegant, had a vintage betty crocker look and that it was not pleasing to the eye. Then after another paragraph I sadly stated that I would not be renewing my subscription and thanked him for reading this letter.
    My opinion or others obviously do not count, so we must vote with our dollars ( by not renewing subscriptions)
    His reply pasted below:
    Sorry to lose you as a subscriber.
    SM

  6. Emily Brackett | February 19, 2010 at 2:19 pm

    @R Katzman Interesting reply from the editor! Are we in the minority? Will there be more people who like this and flock to it, or more people who find it a turn-off?

    As an artist you are able to articulate the problems. My mother, by contrast, couldn’t articulate what the problem was, but knew she hated the new design. Those are the types of readers who will not renew but wouldn’t write and let Cooking Light know why.

  7. Jimmy | February 17, 2010 at 4:47 pm

    I find your site to be very useful, lots of good information keep it up.

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