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Hugh Pearman

You like it, and we like that – keep watching

This business of magazine redesign is like waking up to find yourself inhabiting a new body. Or what I imagine that would be like, since unfortunately I have to make do with the body I’ve always had. Still, at least we at the Journal are not in the position of Kafka’s protagonist in Metamorphosis. We have moved up the evolutionary scale rather than down. But we did await your response to the new RIBAJ with trepidation because – well, you never really know. What seems good to a team of editors and designers and advisers does not necessarily chime with everybody.

What you want is lots of people to absolutely love it, and some people to absolutely hate it. That way, you know you’ve got something with a bit of zing to it

Nor should it, actually. You don’t want the dismissive ‘It’s OK I suppose’. And you ­REALLY don’t want your redesign to be so light-touch that readers hardly notice it at all. No, what you want is lots of people to absolutely love it, and some people to absolutely hate it. That way, you know you’ve got something with a bit of zing to it. Something that will be noticed.

So we released images of the design first on social media. The response was good, in fact way better than good, it was verging on the ecstatic. We apologise for retweeting a lot of these, but believe me, there were very many more, all positive. People started to speculate on the cover inspiration – was it 1960s Blue Note jazz album covers? James Bond opening credits? The Golden Section? (Answer: all three, but also our own back catalogue). 

Then the magazine started to land on ­people’s desks, and thankfully sanity retur­ned. Along with those offering unsolicited congratulations – the vast majority, to our gratification, from all generations and all parts of the country and overseas – were some complaints. The reader who hates the new design and picked it apart in detail. The one irritated to find it now too large for his filing system. The other one who complained that the postman has to fold it to get it through his letter box. The one who felt we should include a section every month on such-and-such. The one who misses a regular item from the ­previous iteration of the magazine. Some think that there is a case to be made for more Institute-related material, though other readers dislike that. Most like our lovely new matt paper, but a few object to the difference in print quality that results. And so on.

All this was, and is, brilliant. Sometimes, as an editor, you get the feeling you are shouting into a void. You produce a magazine, you get little or no response. What do the readers think? You don’t always know. Well, this time we do know, and your response has buoyed us and your Institute up: keep the comments flowing, please. Here’s the thing: unlike many buildings on completion, a magazine is by its nature adaptable. This design is deliberately very flexible: we can use it in all kinds of ways, and we will. There are already adjustments we want to make. Thank you for talking to us.