I just read the first issue of a new magazine called Distance. In their own words:
Distance, a new quarterly publication featuring long-form essays about design and technology.
There’s a lot of writing about the hows and whats of design, but we wonder where the whys are. So much of the writing about why we design, and the ramifications of our work, lacks the research and analysis that is critical to any serious discourse. We want to change that.
I just finished reading the first issue and I wanted to give feedback, both on how the magazine measures up against its goals and what I personally thought of it.
Distance does a great job of measuring up against its goals. The articles were thorough, long (~15-20 pdf pages), and well researched. There was empirical, historical, and reference data to support or refute any claims made. These are definitely not opinion pieces. Any of these articles would be a useful reference or starting point for further research into a topic. For instance, I know a lot about the rise of Zynga and modern social gaming because I was very plugged into that industry as it was developing. Ben Jackson’s article in Distance #1 covered the important points in that story, both historical and critical. If all Distance essays are held to the same standard of research and documentation, I would have no problem trusting them.
My own personal opinion of the magazine is not so rosy, but that’s because I’m not the target market. Like any scholarly material, you have to really care about the topic to read the much denser, less narrative material. I’m not a designer, so the specific topics (research as part of the design process and local design community organization) were not very interesting to me. The writing and research was of the same caliber but I was less invested in the subject. Also, since the goal is research and analysis, the writing isn’t necessarily entertaining. Given the goals of the project, that’s a feature, not a bug. But don’t expect a page turner.
Finally, I’d like to offer Nick Disabato (creator of Distance) praise for a job well done and the following advice:
- Consider switching from footnotes to end notes. There were a ton of footnotes on every page and it chopped up the flow of each article. For electronic versions, jumping back and forth between text and endnotes is super easy. (I read the pdf version)
- Require an abstract for each article. These are too deep to summarize with a title or sentence, and too long to skim. It will also make Distance a better research source.
- As the number of articles grows, have all the abstracts on the site and a searchable index of the articles on the site. Then you can provide different options for accessing single articles.
If you wonder about the “Whys of design”, you should subscribe to Distance.