Field Notes: Color (Mother Jones)

True to its overall minimalistic presentation, Mother Jones’ use of color seems a lot more subdued that many other publications. Never one to be particularly flashy, the magazine opts for a malleable palette that relies heavily on its white-space, yet changes article to article according to the colors being used in the photos, graphics or illustrations that accompany the piece. In Mother Jones, the images decide the palette. This is true for the cover and the table of contents as well.

Take, for example, the story “Full Green Ahead,” seen below. The illustration to the left reflects a palette of three colors: blue, blue-green and yellow. These three colors, along with black, become the primary palette for the remainder of this story, becoming a easy identifier for the reader that any elements containing this palette are related to the “Full Green Ahead” article. Even the diagrams on the third page of the piece utilize this palette, giving the story, the images and the rest of its elements a uniformity that allows for an appealing aesthetic that also serves the purpose of identification.


“Forgotten Fruit,” another story taken from the same March/April issue (seen below), presents an entirely different palette. This story now reflects the reds, reddish browns and golden yellows of the apples and wood textures in the photos that accompany it. From the issues I’ve perused, the unique palette adopted for each story tend to pull about three different colors from its visuals.


Color is also used by Mother Jones to punch out a word or other text element to emphasize certain facts or elements of a quote.  For the story below, a bright light blue is used only in two parts of the spread: in the molecule in the graphic and “Pb(CH2 CH3)4,” which represents Tetra-ethyl lead. Since this is the primary focus of the story, having these two elements be the sole standouts on the entire page serves as a sort of visual foreshadowing for what the rest of the story will begin to explain. This blue, as well as the burnt yellow and brown, become the palette for the rest of the story, with the blue serving to break up various sections of the article by serving as the color the first four words of each section.


Mother Jones tends to use a color from a story’s palette for their bylines, as well as for the background of any breakout boxes, both of which can be seen in the page below:

Nick DeSantis