Accessibility case study: New York Times Magazine redesign

The New York Times Magazine was redesigned in March 2015 with legibility as one of the top priorities. It provides an interesting case study as it reflects the reasons for lack of visual accessibility in print design outlined in our previous article Print design is failing the elderly and hard of sight

The New York Times Magazine has a huge readership of 4 million a week1 and as Bigelow and Holmes (the founders of the Lucida font family) commented it is “not more legible than its previous design.”2

Bigelow and Holmes calculated that the new x-height of the body copy is nearly at the “critical print size” threshold, measuring in at 4.12 points. Type with a 4pt x-height impairs normal reading speed. Read their full detailed analysis.

It highlights print design's struggle to maintain its heritage and minimise on print costs. As Gail and Editor-in-Chief commented in a New York Times article about the launch they built on the magazine's rich 119-year history rather than taking a ‘blowtorch’3 to it. Instead wanting to create something ‘unusual, surprising and original but not wholly unfamiliar’4.

Given the average reader of The New York Times is 54 years of age5, concentrating on the smaller points of the x-height may not be as nitpicky as it first may seem. A 4pt x-height is a minimum for someone with perfect vision, let alone the older readership or anyone with a visual deficiency. Don’t get me wrong, I admire the designers and love the work they produced. But in terms of designing for full legibility, it just fell short. Maybe they should have taken the blow-torch to it and used it at a shining example of print accessibility done right.

Recommended reading:
A designer's guide to visual accessibility
Print design is failing the elderly and hard of sight - Survey finds


Form for thought - A blog about design psychology and design thinking for graphic designers, web designers, ui designers, ux and illustrators. Looking into the psychology of colour, user behaviour and advertising psychology.