Martha Stewart Design Model – Evil Genius?

business, design, inspirational people, magazine

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and in the spirit of the holiday I, naturally, thought of Martha Stewart. The eternal design question is: Martha Stewart, evil streamlined genius or offeror of accessible design solutions?


In my past, I have been obsessed with the super clean use of white space, well-leaded text and beautiful color photography. In fact, I was so obsessed that I had a big part in designing my junior high school yearbook as a piece inspired by the lack of clutter in Martha’s magazines and as an alternative to the over-crowded yearbooks of the past. Luckily I was surrounded by like-minded editors who didn’t think it was weird to love Martha (or page layouts) at age 16.


I have to be fair and acknowledge the work of Gael Towey, Art Director at the inception of “Living” in 1990 and overseer of all the Martha magazines. Towey is the real mastermind behind the Martha print look. She has won several awards for her design work and AIGA has featured her a few times, in addition to featuring her husband Stephen Doyle of Doyle Partners.

Info on Towey:

Video about Towey and Doyle: Article

Brief history lesson over. What does all of this mean? Well, the Martha model has spawned countless other enterprises in a similar DIY, make-the-most-of-yourself genre aimed at a very specific and monetarily lucrative demographic of modern woman. This woman wants to do it all – she wants a fancy job, well-behaved children, handy husband, organized drawers, toned arms and a killer stash of recipes under her belt just waiting for an impromptu dinner party. This woman is me. Except the kids, but I’d settle for a well-behaved dog and cat.

According to this article, Martha’s company made $230.8 million in 2010. And here, I read that $29.1 million of the revenue was magazine sales.

What’s so great about Martha’s magazines anyway? They all kind of look the same, and they all kind of look like Real Simple, Yoga Journal, Organic Gardening and many others inspired by her success.* But I think that’s part of the draw – women know they can open the magazine and find beautiful photographs, endless inspiration for home life (that may or may not be attainable, not that that’s of any concern) and short and easy to understand snippets of DIY tutorials. The design is nothing but comfort for the busy working girl. The pictures are big, beautiful and easy to understand. It oozes clean vibes, room to breathe and the vibrant covers certainly look nice next to the mid-century inspired chair in the living room. You can skip the big paragraphs and save them for weekend catch up reading. The most important information is either bulleted, pulled-quote or in the captions. I, personally, am equal parts thankful for this simplicity and insulted by it.

So the question still stands: is this Martha concept of print-science horrible? Is it horrible that so many others are following suit, or is it genius?

*Caveat: I am a lover of magazines and have read or am currently read all of the mags listed in this post. Having seen some older variations of Yoga Journal and Organic Gardening, I think the jump to what I’ve referred to as the Martha model was a huge step in mainstreaming these magazines. And in the case of those two, bringing healthy living and environmental issues into the mainstream is ultimately a good thing. But is there another way to design successful magazines for the demographic they’re trying to reach?


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