Ebony Finally Found Some Design Legs

I heard through the grapevine a few months back that Ebony was undergoing a major redesign. “Fantastic,” I thought to myself. It was long overdue and embarrassing what Ebony had become visually in the last two decades. Growing up, I remembered the huge tabloid issues of Ebony looking like the black LIFE. The beautiful images, the grandiose features and the gallery styled covers all made me want to work for a magazine one day. That dream came true for me but as time went by, many black magazines just didn’t invest in their design structure like their mainstream counterparts.

All I could do after seeing last month’s issue was shake my head. Looking like a broke-ass version of Essence (believe me Essence needs a refresh too), it kept using Helvetica in such uninspired arrangements. HELLO! There are other sans serifs beside Helvetica! Hundreds! The same went for the photos, except for the celebs, and the lackluster illustrations. There was a whole laundry list.

On my regular weekly newsstand run, I see this magazine sparkling in the racks. Do I believe my eyes? I pick up it up and my mouth just drops. It’s the April issue of Ebony. Holy Shit…this thing looks like a real frickin’ magazine. There’s Steve Harvey, Mo’Nique and Chris Rock set against some playful, smart type. Flipping through a few pages, I instantly see that this isn’t the Ebony I was used to at all. Somebody wasn’t playing now. I thought about buying it but I have a subscription. Walking away to catch my train, I turned back. My curiosity of this new Ebony was killing me something fierce. Ah, fuck it. Gave the guy my money and ran back to the train licking my lips like I was about to have a gourmet meal.

Page after page was visual candy. There was a conscious decision to invest in the magazine. Concept photos, engaging spot illustrations, legible page layouts and most of all, ACTUAL TYPE PLAY. Someone had used the type to work with the images to tell the story. Someone had actually gave Ebony a typographic personality. That someone is Darhil Crooks. For those that don’t know, he’s a cat who used to work at Esquire. You can tell the influence when you see the magazine. Never met the brother but have heard of him through the design circles. No disrespect to the previous designers who have left or are still there. It’s just that FINALLY…Ebony has stepped up its game.

Everything from before has been officially (and thankfully) revamped. The iconic logo has been updated as well as the cover treatment; the TOC let’s you know there really is content in here now; there are full-fledged front of the book departments with cool, custom created spot images and illustrations; details are paid attention all over from the dingbats used throughout to the tucked away quotes and edit blips; features are lively (and can actually be called features) with smart photography, delicious type treatments; readable pages that are much more clearly organized to create some openness that was missing before (there was always a LOT of copy but Darhill finally tames it—editorial could cut down on their text lengths) and fun back of the book pages.

The granddaddy of all modern black magazines has once again found its visual voice. Kudos to you Darhil Crooks—I look forward to seeing Ebony in the pages of the design annuals. I’ll be waiting crazily, like a kid on Christmas, for my next issue.


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