October 1, 2011
The way we produce the magazine has changed radically over the past 25 years.
If, by chance, you breezed past our cover and landed on this page, go back now for a special treat. Point your smartphone at that large and mysterious-looking graphic image to see a beautiful animation of a green metropolis.
As you experience the Metropolis cover coming to life, starting with a few shimmering pixels and ending with a bird’s eye view of a great and dynamic city, you’ll be traveling from the physical world of the printed page to the immersive experience that quick-response (QR) codes can reveal.
These small black-and-white squares, reminiscent of needlepoint embroidery patterns, are popping up everywhere. You see them on advertisements, posters, books, even on delivery trucks. They’re most frequently used to market products. Many direct smartphone users to Web sites, providing information that’s much too general and requires some navigation. The code truly lives up to its promise when it’s a portal to specific information—often told via videos or animations—about the item advertised. A magazine ad for a chair, for instance, may link to a short film on its design features, material performance, sustainability, and delivery timetable—things that an architect or interior designer needs to know, now.
As I watch our animated cover, I’m reminded of our first foray into using graphic design software. Here’s how we described the making of our April 1986 cover, which featured the story “Easel of the Eighties: It’s not Trick Photography, It’s Computer Graphics”: “All images were flat art. The pictures were input onto a laser scanner on a computer hard disc and later brought up on a Hell Chromacon video screen. This allowed for a collaboration between the technician and the designer [Helene Silverman was our design director then], who experimented with various options before finalizing the desired effect, such as the background, made of enlarged pixels. The cover was produced by EMR Systems Communication,” since we didn’t have the necessary computing power at the time. That first venture into pixelation led to 25 years of technological progress that has changed the way we produce the magazine and how we make use of evolving tools for information sharing, as well as the way we live our lives.
Today, as we speculate on the evolution of portals that connect the physical world with the electronic realm, we know one thing: they may become something entirely different than what we have now. But for the time being, we’ll be watching how the QR code helps us access highly specific, useful information in a less paper-intensive way. In this mixed-media world where brochures, catalogs, and junk mail can migrate online, there are signs that the highly-visual and content-driven magazine, with its time-honored mix of editorial and advertising, may grow in importance. After all, great magazines have always been indispensable portals to information; now, for the first time, they can also connect their readers to lively animations and films.