The color of Mother Jones

Through the backs issues of Mother Jones, there is no consistency found on covers of the magazine. Comparing the April issue of the magazine to its last issue, this inconsistency on the cover pages obviously appears.

Mother Jones March/April issue 2011

Mother Jones Jan./Feb. issue 2011

First of all, although its nameplate always places at the top of the cover page, its color varies whenever a new issue comes out. The typeface stays the same, but the color seems to change, depending on the background color of the cover page. Based on my observation, Mother Jones uses particular colors for its nameplate. Those particular colors are black, red, yellow, green, blue and white sometimes. White is only used when the magazine applies reverse technique on its cover—placing a very dark image or illustration as the background. However, except white, other colors are very bright, which are easily recognizable. Since Mother Jones doesn’t use a certain color for its nameplate, (unfortunately) I can’t define its theme color, which would enables publications to gain more advantage from readers’ perception. However, since most readers are used to see black and white on books, magazines and especially newspapers, such colors—red, yellow, blue, and green—highly appeal to readers and make them visually interested. Only pattern that I discovered on the magazine’s cover is that Mother Jones doesn’t use more than three colors on the cover.

Inside the magazine, Mother Jones seems to have a color pattern. Like the cover page, every article, including features and departments, contains a 3-color maximum. And, the choice of colors depends on the article’s theme. For example, if a story relates to environment, the magazine uses green as the main (theme) color and other colors, which keep a balance with the green color. In addition, the magazine also tends to use one particular color for an article’s head, byline, cutline and pull quote. This strategy, emphasizing on simplicity, increases readability.

Here is an example. The photos below are one of the feature articles contained in the March issue of Mother Jones. The spread has three photos demonstrating buffalos on the plains. The story (magazine) basically uses two colors—black and brown—for its head, deck and byline. The choice of brown reflects the pictures displayed on the spread.

Also, the pull quotes are written in brown. However, I would say this is an example that colors fail in creating a hierarchy, which should indicate where the eyes go first, second, and third. As the body text changes its color from black to brown to emphasize its secondary story, my eyes didn’t continue to the original article displaying on the previous page. I wasn’t able to follow what I should read first on this page. Its overall use of colors gives uniformity, but it doesn’t look effective to color a half of the body text on a page.

The reverse technique is rarely seen inside the magazine. Only two or three are found in the March issue of Mother Jones. All the articles inside Mother Jones seem to have a very plain and simple pattern: displaying the body texts written in a black type over the white background and using several spot colors to emphasize second important materials such as pull quotes, cutlines, bylines, and so on.

Overall, the color patterns shown in Mother Jones result the uniformity and simplicity, which the magazine might reflect characteristics of both magazines and newspapers. In terms of design, newspapers traditionally used to be black and white because people used to believe other colors bother readability. However, magazines traditionally come out with more photographs and colors that attract readers. I think Mother Jones well applies a combination of the two traditional formats to its overall design. This might be applied to Mother Jones—“color isn’t just decoration.”