The usability of magazine layout

The problem

Readers of The Observer magazine yesterday may have been excited (but probably not surprised) to see it was a Christmas gift guide edition. I flicked to the correct pages, looking forward to quick ideas for sticking fillers, and found the above. After a couple of seconds working out what was going on, my heart sank.

It’s all listed clockwise, from top-left.

There is obviously some nice stuff here, that black t shirt with the fox on it for example. But unfortunately, as the descriptions and prices are ‘listed’ in a paragraph, I need to work my way from the top left image and corkscrew through the layout. Or try and guess how far round the spiral that product might be – you can only really tell by working your way round. I wonder what the promoters / manufacturers of the products think of this when they see their products displayed like this? We all know how important display methods are, if you’ve ever seen a chocolate company rep checking prominence of Mars, etc in a newsagents.

I understand a nice splay of objects like this is quite visually appealing, but it definitely isn’t functional. If nothing else, surely this kind of feature should be functional, without me having to work at it? It’s a Sunday after all, I’m trying to relax. The light orange on red text colour doesn’t help either.

The fix

It’s obvious what can be done here. Number the objects, then number the list. Does that really affect the aesthetic of the design so much?

Also, use a more contrasting colour for the text.

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