Your-name-here publication design is fill-in-the-blank.

You know how there are companies that  match up a business that needs a logo with a logo designer — actually, with hundreds of designers: companies like HP’s Logo Works. And you know how you can find thousands of free-lance designers on sites like eLance. And you know how there is an entire marketplace (and swap-meet) for open-source Word Press blog themes.

Well, let’s say you shrunk those gigantic marketplaces of free-lancers (and, in some cases, free design) down to a cabal (their word, not mine) of five print and web designers who create a dozen or so templates for magazines, broadsheet newspapers, tabloids and websites — what would you have?

Something called Ready-media, a start-up idea that must have sounded great over drinks because, well, I can’t think of any other place the idea would have sounded great.

I’m sorry. This is not just a bad idea, it’s sad. It’s especially sad because on the front of the website is the photo of a print designer who once was a go-to guy when big magazines needed a new look.

Unfortunately, Jeremy Leslie’s description of Ready-media on his blog, MagCulture, is spot-on:

“It’s a shocking piece of opportunism. Good editorial design is not tailored solely by genre, it’s tailored to the job in hand. Good magazines are all about identity and that identity is bound up in the content and design and how they interact. How can you make a decent magazine using a pre-designed template with no relationship to your audience / experience / opinion? Whether or not the idea costs jobs, it will cost quality.”

I’ll go back to where I started this post: the way the internet works best. It works best when you have marketplaces of hundreds or thousands or hundreds of thousands. Not five.

If a “client” (in this case, a publisher) views print design as a place they can save money by going with a standardized template, they won’t stop at “ready-media” just because it has a half-dozen templates from designers who are well-known for font design or magazines they re-designed back in the day. Such “clients” will follow the pricing down stream to a marketplace  offering endless variety. Such “buyers” will not give a rip about the credentials of the designer. It just needs to “look okay.”

The Ready-media designers may think they are competing with traditional design firms, but they’re actually competing with LogoWorks and the folks who create WordPress themes or who offer their services in marketplaces like eLance and others.

And that’s a competition they are not likely to win.

[Thanks, Eric Spooner]

  • Clay

    Rex,

    Is this not a design version of a content mill?

    It seems the publishing world, in an effort to save money, keeps going in this direction on all levels. While there are, I'm sure, budgets and situations that require “stock” designs and “stock” copy, that limits the full, true strength of content marketing. And those “stock” products simply throw your content into the humdrum of the mundane, and prevents your content from being unique. I argued this for a decade in newspapers, and now face it online. Sigh.

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  • I thought of introducing that comparison into my original post, but it falls apart when you consider that what they're doing is limited to five designers. Those operations being called “content mills” or “content factories” are dependent on the ability to attract a vast network of “content creators.” That said, I believe the folks behind this idea would like for us to believe it can one day have market value of one of those content mills. However, they'll need to generate similar revenues first.

  • I find your take on this interesting. Not that Ready Media is bad for design but that they won't be able to compete in the race to the bottom with spec work.

    I don't know what these templates are going for but I guess I find it hard to believe that anything but a small-time publication might go in this direction. The surprising thing is that it has taken this long for something of this caliber to come out. Photographers and illustrators are probably having a good chuckle about all of it.