There’s been some sadness around this office that New York decided to get rid of their High Priority feature, a half-page graphic that opened their listings section each week. Created by a different designer every issue, High Priority showed off the talents of designers new and established, with the only restriction being that the design be done in red, black, and white.* Chris Dixon, the magazine’s design director, jokes that they “ran out of typographers” after three years, but adds on a more serious note that High Priority had a tendency to be “a little removed [from what the magazine was actually recommending] for the reader’s good.” Agenda, which replaces High Priority, had been around on the magazine’s site for half a year before making it into print. It’s a more standard back-of-book opener (e.g., Entertainment Weekly’s Must List), and it also serves as another way to drive readers to the magazine’s website. Frankly, though I loved High Priority, I see Dixon’s point—Agenda is more accessible (if sometimes accidentally flipped over, since it now takes over a full page instead of High Priority’s half page).
At the same time as the appearance of Agenda, Dixon and his team also bumped the crossword puzzle a few pages and introduced a new back page infographic, Artifact, which the magazine’s editors describes as “pure observation, a moment grabbed and preserved.” Dixon adds that they “had been looking for the perfect end note to the magazine for a year or so,” and that “this seemed to be the best way to finish off the experience of the issue.”
Back pages are always tricky for editors, and a crossword was a standard cop-out (like the beloved puzzle in People). Even magazines that don’t do crosswords often choose a service-y or interactive feature, such as The New Yorker’s highfalutin cartoon contest, Martha Stewart Living’s cookie recipe, or Vanity Fair’s Proust Questionnaire. It will, I think, be hard to come up with an attention-grabbing infographic each week, and Artifact seems awfully like a step in a march toward an all-charticle-all-the-time magazine, as evidenced by the magazine’s (popular) approval matrix and the curve of shifting expectations. Personally, as a long time fan of Maura Jacobson’s puzzles, I’m hoping for a return of the crossword the back page.
*Incidentally, the only colors that Stephanie Green would wear in the tween book series Sleepover Girls. I’m guessing that Chris Dixon wasn’t a Sleepover Girls fan, but who knows? CLAIRE LUI