As you can see, things look quite a bit different this issue: Metro Pulse has been completely redesigned from front to back. This is rather momentous for us because Metro Pulse has looked pretty much the same since original art director Jared Coffin laid out the first tabloid-size issues and integrated those Timothy Winkler illustrations as column icons way back in the early '90s. Since almost any change we make seems to send a few readers into shock, we thought we'd better cushion the jolt with some explanations of why we did what we did. Here are the 10 most pressing design questions we expect to hear, answered now for your convenience:
1. I was fine with the old Metro Pulse. Why did you change it?
It's been over a decade since any major design changes were made to the paper, though a lot of small tweaks were added over the years that did not result in a cohesive-looking paper. It was time for a complete overhaul.
2. What the heck is up with this new page size?
Paper cost has been skyrocketing lately, particularly since last year's merger of the country's two largest newsprint producers, Abitibi and Bowater. So, to save money and paper, many publications around the country are starting to reduce their page sizes.
When warned about the new size several months ago, our initial reaction was dread: "It's a square! Almost!" and "We're going to have to cut copy! What will happen to our precious words?" But we were able to create a new layout that's in more of a magazine style (rather than traditional alt-tabloid format), allowing our typical 700-word columns to remain intact. While this new size is technically considered a "tabloid" in the industry, who are we kidding? It's really a squarish magazine now. But that actually opened up a new design direction for us, as you can see.
3. I miss the icons. What have you done with them?
Who couldn't love Timothy Winkler's icons? They've been identified with Metro Pulse since he created them for us in 1993. But since he moved away and stopped being in the icon-illustrating business, that meant no new icons for new columns; nobody can truly duplicate his unique style, and we wouldn't want to run bad imitations. So, as the years went by and new columns were hatched, they were assigned a plain circle and some type instead of an illustration, resulting in a hodgepodge of mismatched icons. A real mess.
The icons lent a fun quality to the columns, and we'll find some other uses for them in the future. But they've been around for so long that we felt it was time to finally let go of them and fix our column-labeling woes.
4. In the new logo, the "Pulse" looks like it's shrinking—why?
The lettering's skewed perspective immediately catches the eye as your brain attempts to discern whether it's "correct." It's not. But it does give the logo an extra jolt of energy, just like the ascending "s" did in the old logo. Does it mean anything? Well, you could say it represents turning a new corner or warping into the Knoxville dimension... but really, we just like it. (Yes, we do have a straight version of the logo that looks fine and will be used here and there, but it's just not as cool.)
5. The tagline seems different this week. What happened to "Knoxville's Weekly Voice"?
Metro Pulse wasn't always "Knoxville's Weekly Voice." Before that, it was "Knoxville's Alternative Voice." Before that, it was "Knoxville's Local Color" (and earlier, "Knoxville's Banner of Local Color"). And before that, it was "Knoxville's Exclusive Arts & Entertainment Guide." Every major turning point in the paper's history has inspired a new tagline.
Since our most recent tagline is being overused these days, we thought it was time for a fresh take. So we're going to write a new one every week on the cover, in the upper right box, just for fun. But inside the staff box, we also have our new standard tagline: "Knoxville's Best Alternative." Yeah, that's right, we're reappropriating the word "alternative"—we've earned it. (English teachers are no doubt asking themselves right now: "best alternative… what?" And we say: Take your pick.)
6. I am deeply offended by your choice of text font. What was wrong with the old one?
New Century Schoolbook was our old font: big, round, juvenile, and bulky—and just a little obnoxious, like this FAQ.
Mercury? That's what you're reading now. Mercury is bookish and boring. Mercury is unassuming enough to actually let you pay attention to what the words are telling you. Mercury wants you to forget you're looking at anything at all so you can see nothing else but the story. Did you see that unicorn over there while you were reading this rapturously boring font? I did. And he told me to tell you to love Mercury and start letting your friends know about how dull it is.
But Mercury also lets us fit in more copy than N.C. Schoolbook would with this new paper size, and it retains the legibility of the most classic of newspaper fonts. It was designed by Jonathan Hoefler, one of the type masters.
The copy is also a half point smaller than previously. Too small, you say? Compared to other popular alt-weeklies like Madison Wisconsin's Isthmus or Asheville's Mountain Xpress, it's still bigger. And newspapers like The Wall Street Journal? Forget about it. Way bigger.
7. Where is Secret History???!!!
Page 16. Almost always, from now on. One of our most popular columns has been on page 10 for quite a while and people are undoubtedly used to flipping to it. But now, just get used to flipping a little further—we've added some new features and switched the Citybeat news section closer to the front, which has pushed the opinion columns back a few pages. Jack puts a lot of time into these columns, and they are certainly worth reading for their insight into our scenester ancestors; please read all about them on page 16 from now on.
8. Hey—there's an inside cover in the middle of the magazine. What's up with that?
Long ago, in the Second Age of Metro Pulse, the arts and entertainment section was labeled the "Gamut," and it was led off by a cultural feature story. That way, you knew you were in the A&E section. That was a good idea then, so we're using it again now.
9. Why should I care about all this?
You shouldn't really care about this unless you have a deep interest in publication design. Otherwise, you ought to just enjoy (or scorn—your choice, as always) this free magazine intended for all Knoxvillians who care about their city.
10. I am terrified. When are you guys going to stop changing stuff?
Oh, don't worry so much. When does anything stop changing? Expect Metro Pulse to gradually evolve at a much more realistic rate, with tweaks being made as we see ways to improve the design.
Ten-plus years for an overhaul? Not anymore!