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Introducing the new-look Which? Magazine

Members should now be receiving the new-look Which? Magazine. The redesign was informed by your feedback, so I’d love to know what you think.

Over the course of its 62-year history, our magazine has experimented with different looks.

Our pop-art-inspired 1960s issues are iconic; our 1980s tabloidesque phase best forgotten.

For this redesign, our first since 2014, we’ve freshened things up with new typefaces (Tiempos is our serif, National our sans serif) and a more elegant colour palette.

Difficult questions

A good redesign isn’t just cosmetic. We didn’t shy away from difficult questions. What’s the purpose of a print magazine in 2019?

For me, this was about recognising that the magazine plays a different role in members’ lives now compared to most of its history.

20 years ago, and even 10 or five years ago for some, the magazine was the main way that people accessed our product reviews. Now, our website and app are best for that.

The magazine has increasingly focused more on features, investigations, interesting insights and useful advice, but I didn’t feel like the old design was showing these things off well enough.

Meeting with members

When we met with our members across the country, we were reassured.

They told us they want the magazine to keep them informed, with advice you can trust on a range of consumer issues.

Most agreed our website and app are best for seeking out information when researching something specific, so a magazine should serve a different purpose: it should be more relaxing, inspiring, and sometimes challenging.

It should surprise you, offering insights that you wouldn’t look for online – things you didn’t know you needed to know.

The new-look Which? magazine will be arriving with our members now. It’s informed by their feedback and will continue to be.

Let me know what you think of the new look in the comments below.

Comments

As I have only just received my October issue, this can be no more than “First Impressions”. I found the Editor’s covering letter rather irksome as it refers to what I value when Which? has not asked me or many other members.
I am not qualified to comment on the formatting of the magazine but I do find it odd that Which?, the brand logo, is not presented consistently. On the cover for example it is in both serif and sans serif fonts, in one case it is all lower case and the other starts with and upper case W, and one question mark is black and the other part black and part white.
As others have mentioned there are 10% fewer pages in the October issue than in each of the recent issues. This is particularly noticeable in the test lab section now just 15 pages and the section also includes items that were previously in Product News. The Test Lab is the main reason that I subscribe to Which? so that I can access the objective tests and reviews. I notice too that some of the test labs articles now only provide the two best buys, for example the cameras and home wi-fi, which makes no mention of the BT or Sky offerings.
I think that there is a lot of “filler”, for example the cover graphics repeated as a full page 13 and the crossword that has a closing date of October 1, even ignoring the problems with the distribution for the October issue, I know that every month members often receive their copy days apart, sometimes a week or more, so the deadline of the 1st of the month is unrealistic.
I am most concerned at the reduction in product reviews and the Test Labs section, despite the covering letter claiming that there was now more space for original research and testing, and feel that too much of the magazine now has more subjective views which may or may not appeal to readers.
I can imagine that the November issue is being finalised now so many of the comments received, even if the staff take them onboard, will not be factored into the magazine for some time to come.

I agree with 7oaks on the sense of padding to make the magazine look much better than it is. This does worry me looking ahead.

The reduction in the number of pages could just be the consequence of staff absence during the summer; we shall see. The impossible return date for the Crossword could be because the trial version was prepared for a September launch but not corrected if the project’s progress slid to the right; again, we shall see.

As the number of subscribers continues to fall, but the number of campaigns and the work involved in them increases, it would not be surprising if the resources devoted to the main monthly magazine were reduced. It is noticeable that Which? has been cutting services in other areas so there is probably an intense book-balancing exercise in place under the new Chief Executive. There could have been a reduction in staff numbers attached to the magazine and even perhaps a change in the capability level leading to more of the filler material and less expert reporting. It would not surprise me either if lab testing had become much more expensive limiting the range and depth of the product testing. Overcoating this kind of predicament [if I am right] in a redesign development is a well-worn trick to make less look like more. We shall see. I am not expecting any official comment on my apprehensions.

John,

I fear that at the heart of this is the failure to set out to the members the scale of the issues that face the organisation. That has then been compounded by a failure to canvass opinion on a wide scale, electronically perhaps the most effective way, on solutions that would be acceptable to the members including perhaps a scaling back of ambition or an increase in subscriptions. Maybe a print edition has had its day. It is of course “our” Which? so we should have our say.

Your second last sentence says it all 7oaks , look at all the technical magazines that have disappeared and replaced with cooking /gossip and a Nationwide local newspaper chain who have local newspapers from John O, Groats to Lands End went bankrupted and a US venture capital investment company bought it and made “changes ” like paying for online readership .
As I was posting on a well known one in my area that came to an end when I would have to pay to post.

I don’t think Which? understand why people subscribed in the first place and underestimate the value they place on product testing.

Is the balance of what we signed up to and where Which? is going being tipped in the wrong direction? Maybe it is the influence of younger generations and their throwaway culture who place less value on quality products, but In recent years, Which? has played to the compensation culture where only a few gain and but many pay. Covering some social issues is not a problem, but they should not take priority over what subscribers want for their money.

DerekP says:
8 October 2019

Decades ago, when I first subscribed, product tests were the main reason for that.

But now that most members can access those data online, perhaps the printed magazine should be offering complementary content.

I agree with you, Alfa.

Everything needs a refresh from time to time so I have no particular objection to stylistic changes so long as they don’t impair functionality – like losing the edition date from a prominent position, or reducing the contents list to a useless blurb.

What especially worries me is the diminishing quality of the content. I had not realised how widely this opinion was held. There is no doubt that there has been creeping superficiality for some time that the new look has somehow made more obvious. This was highlighted for me by the grossly excessive amount of space given to an average-quality article on Action Fraud in the October magazine. Perhaps we just have to accept that the subscribers to Which? are drawn from a certain demographic that deserves, expects, and pays handsomely for, a very high standard of research, reporting and expertise that is no longer available from an organisation whose aims and ambitions face in a different direction, and so they will never be satisfied.

I’m not sure where we go from here.

Interesting. This seems rather different to how the topic started.

1. Why did people subscribe in days of yore?

I agree with Derek: it was primarily for product testing. But I also feel that the online offering ought to be complementary, expanding on the Mag version of tests and filling out the detail – a lot of detail for those of us who want to know the rationale, criteria and approach in general.

2. Has quality declined?

I feel it has, but it’s not a new phenomenon. Twenty years ago I observed that the ratio of image space to text space had markedly changed and that pretty as images were they were far, far less germane to Which?’s overall raison d’etre. I noticed, around seven years later, that reports were becoming too concerned with prose style at the expense of consistency and hence accuracy. The car reports still are.

3. The golden demographic

Which?’s membership is ageing; I don’t know the stats (a closely guarded secret, one suspects) but I’d like to bet it’s age heavy. The golden demographic is the 18 – 35 year old generation, those who – according to the perceived wisdom of advertisers – lack experience, have spare cash, like to buy new things and generally lack discernment. These are not insults, BTW; the advertising agencies’ entire purpose is to separate people from their cash in as pleasant a way as possible, and that’s hard to do when the demographic in question is a) wary, b) wealthy enough to have bought what they want and c) discerning – characteristics we acquire with age and experience.

This is the sought after age group in advertising terms, but whether it ought to be for Which? is open to question.

4. A successful response

I’ve been very impressed with the way Which? has responded to the Thomas Cook collapse. A lot of people have asked questions who might never had visited otherwise, and probably ten to twenty times as many have been reading the answers. It was a great example of a targeted response.

Perhaps, then, Which? needs to produce more of this type of report. Highly focussed, but aimed at a specific issue or group.

5, Which?’s demons

Many years ago I compiled a detailed history of Which? using information from numerous sources and interviews with ex-employees and directors. It’s no secret that Which? has made some colossal missteps. Millions lost in India, millions lost on the W? Mortgage scheme, hundreds of thousands lost when the test labs were given away, allowing the obscene salary paid to the previous CEO – many of these tended to reveal a stark lack of management competence.

As a consequence, the new CEO has been making some very tough decisions; valued staff have been, in Malcolm’s parlance ‘let go’ and yet Which? continues to refuse to accept volunteer help which I and some others have been offering for more than twenty years.

Now I get it; I really do. There are many in the W? hierarchy who regard the regulars in here as an irritant at best, not helped by the previous CEO’s hostility toward the internet, and there are also many in the W? staff who fear for their own jobs if we started to help out in a serious manner.

But in that regard W? is not only unique among charities, it’s also loading the firearms and shooting its own feet on a daily basis. My immeasurably better half and I are National Trust members; a huge organisation that couldn’t possibly even function without volunteers. I also work with national charities, most of which are almost entirely dependent on volunteers.

W? has, for the past twenty years, spurned every offer of help from the groups of enthusiastic and highly motivated volunteers it attracts. But what it’s doing is squandering a valuable resource. That resource is both funded by us – the members and is us. So while a topic like this is asking for feedback about some largely cosmetic changes to the magazine, the really important questions aren’t even being given air time.

Which? has to re-evaluate its approach – to the members, the public and its own staff. It really has to shed the institutional inertia that characterises its own bureaucracy and look to the members as a real resource and not simply a minor irritant.

Because if it doesn’t, it won’t last for much longer.

I agree with most if that Ian. The question is, how do we make it happen?

I agree with the suggestion, which I am oversimplifying perhaps, that there is a conflict between the expectations of the actual membership demographic and the aspirational demographic with whom the body itself is more closely aligned. I have hinted before that there is an intellectual challenge that also gets in the way of perfect harmony.

I suspect there’s some truth in that, John, but I also wonder if anyone really knows what the expectations of the general membership actually are.

Hi Duncan,
I would be very unhappy if the print edition were to disappear, particularly if the website was not radically overhauled, an expensive proposition no doubt. I believe that change in the world is accelerating and we all need to take account of that.
I think that Which? should stop and consider this: a person (who has vaguely heard of Which?) is waiting for the Clapham Omnibus and pops into a newsagent for a browse, the October issue of Which? is on the shelf with a cover price of, say, £5. Two questions, would that person find the cover interesting, attractive and enticing and would that person pay the £5? Perhaps if they were looking for a 4k TV or a new boiler.

Hi Alfa,
As you can imagine, I agree with your comment. Product testing and reporting is Which?’s USP. I joined because I wanted a magazine that I could trust to deliver objective reports. I do not object to campaigning as a secondary objective, but today there are many sources of campaigns. I am not looking for a comfortable, relaxing read, just information.

Hi 7oaks,
I agree with your comments.

With all the fake products on the market and influx of cheap products from China, we really need a product tester we can trust.

I envisage there could be a prominent role for Which? to lead the way in product testing, product safety and product sustainability working with Trading Standards, but I don’t see any motivation to take them in this direction and reinstate themselves as the consumer champion of product knowledge.

Hi both, I’ve been speaking with the editor about this, and he has clarified a few points:

With regards to the number of pages – this was a conscious decision and the team does have the option to increase it in certain months (for example, the December Christmas issue will be 76 pages).

As has been covered elsewhere and explained in other responses, the removal of the test lab buyer’s guide tables section, which amounted to six pages, largely explains the reduction. Going to 68 pages has enabled the mag team to use thicker paper stock, improving the look and feel of the magazine. That change was popular with most members in the consultation work.

It should also be noted that, apart from three pages of adverts for Which? services, the magazine contains no advertising. As such, the team is confident that it compares extremely well with most publications in terms of the amount of content it offers in each issue.

In addition, regarding speculation here about staff resources, there have been no reductions to the numbers of magazine staff who write, edit and contribute to the magazine. The redesign strategy was also not influenced by any reductions in staff/services elsewhere in the business. I hope that clarifies.

Hi 7oaks, further to what I’ve posted above, I’ve also had the following response from the team that works on the magazine on your comments here:

They don’t agree that the print magazine has had its day. However, for it to succeed and increase subscribers, it’s essential that it offers clear value as part of a membership bundle.

If it were to replicate similar information to that which members have told us they increasingly prefer to access digitally, it would struggle to achieve clear differentiation and risk serving less of a purpose. There is certainly no scaling back of ambition – quite the opposite. The goal is to offer more compelling value as part of a bundle, for a large, and hopefully, growing audience.

George, thanks for your responses. I did not actually say print has had its day, did I? I merely posed the question.
As for differentiation between the magazine and what is available online, I would suggest that online should be seen as the repository for all tests and reviews and be kept up to date at all times. The magazine perhaps should focus on the latest product testing in a “news” sense and should include the URL links for the series of pages with the full data comparator. The magazine could also include articles on consumer protection issues which may be less appropriate online. Somewhere there needs to be a comprehensive index and links to a buyer’s guide as many members will miss that at a glance comparator of products they are contemplating buying, whether that returns to the magazine or is online may not matter too much.
My opinions are no substitute for a wide survey of members, some of whom may not make great use of the website (or even have access!).

You’re welcome. They thought it best to answer – hypothetical or not 🙂

Everything being said here is being read by the editor and the rest of the magazine team, so they will be aware of everything you’ve said. The feedback is appreciated.

Brian says:
8 October 2019

My main observation on the ‘new’ look is that the general body typeface size has been reduced too much.
If you didn’t need glasses before you probably do now, to be able to read it comfortably.

Received my magazine just before going on holiday. So time to read it! These are just my personal observations and views.
1. Cover. Poor – unclear date and index.

2. Text and layout – Generally good readability and clear.

3. Purpose of print mag.
– I prefer to read from paper, including browsing on the sofa
– A mag. presents a variety of topics you may not otherwise look for in the web pages.
– So I like the magazine to be fairly informative and present reasonably detailed material, with links to the web for more extensive information and detail.

4. “Shrinkflation” – Which? is against it yet the new mag. is 6 pages less for the same price. I don’t accept the “better-paper” excuse – the previous paper was fine. More content, old paper for me.

5. Details on the October content (may apply to previous mags also):
a. Non-compliant (dangerous) chargers – why no brands named to help those who have, or might, bought/buy.

b. Fraud
i. Unnecessary full title page
ii. Too chatty, lacking statistics, details of scams, money lost, where they originate for example.
iii. No real information on why fraud is difficult to deal with.
iv. No proposals on how to improve.
v. Too long for the content presented.

c. Green energy:
i. Assuming the REGO certificates only cover the “green” energy generated I don’t see a problem.
ii. Interesting though that some people think they get different electricity in their homes.
iii. Inconclusive “investigation”.

d. Just Tested:
i. Useful to have quantified details and information rather than just general description.
ii. Headphones – why not list, or link, to all others tested?

e. Test Lab:
i. Whole home wi-fi – link to all the extenders and mesh systems tested?
ii. Security cameras – link to security cameras tested? Repeat earlier security warning.
iii. TVs – description far too effusive and sometimes silly. Leave that to the marketing and
advertising people. I want real information.

f. Rail delay compensation:
i. Too chatty, lacks detail.

g. Home insurance – lacks details of the factors involved and link.

h. Member of the month – what is the point? Some significant contribution to a consumer cause would make some sense.

i. Best buy mattress:
i. A poor article
ii. An objective comparison with others in a similar price range would have been a much more
useful approach.

j. Almond milk:
i. Pretty pointless analysis in my view
ii. Explaining why you might use it would have been a sensible start.
iii. Details of alternatives should be included.
iv. 2-3% almonds hardly justifies the description.

6. Sorry to be lengthy and a bit detailed but I’ve tried to explain why it all gives me the impression of reducing the usefulness of a consumer “journal”, that should have information, detailed analysis, reference material and objective reporting, to a casual read magazine lacking depth in important places. This is not sold in the newsagents to attract the casual reader, but should be compiled to inform Members who subscribe.

7. I have not commented on the many good bits (you might be glad to hear). What I hope is that when a very few more months have passed as many Members as possible will be surveyed for their views before deciding on the future format. Maybe the 30 000 Which? Connect group?

Useful, informative and thorough, Malcolm. Let’s hope that some of your comments are noted for future editions. I think, if I sum up correctly, there are issues with content which is unsatisfying in its detail and approach and, because we subscribe and don’t buy from the news stand, we don’t have the choice of putting it back if it doesn’t do what it is supposed to do: report in depth on consumer issues and thoroughly test products in width as well as depth.
It is easy to knock the efforts of the Which team and to carp, because we can. It is also tempting to take a negative view because we have been invited to be critical of the new product. However, I hope that the Which management will see the constructive side of the many thoughtful contributions on these pages and take heed of the kindly advice that is offered. In the end, we all want the same thing: a well informed magazine as part of a dynamic organisation that makes itself known and valued everywhere it touches down. Many here are prepared to be part of that dynamism and wait hopefully for the call.

Oliver says:
16 October 2019

The revamp feels like a big step backwards to me. The whole point of Which is hard information that’s not available elsewhere. This seems to be moving towards a weekend colour supplement.

I see the November issue is now available online. In it the editor says “there are fewer product reviews and tables reflecting the fact that members increasingly use our website to research purchases and our mobile app to look up products in stores”. So it seems we are stuck with it as it is with no solutions offered. Again 16 pages in the Test Labs section but of those 6 are on mobile phones, 3 on an issue with vacuum cleaners, 1 on tvs (again), 3 pages headed Insight and 2 on Just Tested and 1 on First looks. Arguably of these 16 pages just 10 would have previously been in this section of the magazine.

Why does the on-line Which? magazine appear so early? Surely it means it is always two weeks out with the latest news and since the posted version is identical that is even more out of date by the time it arrives. Some of the paper copy subscribers have only just received their October magazines.

I remember when computer magazines seemed to be issued a month earlier than the cover date. I’d like Which? magazines to all be despatched to reach us at the beginning of the month, at the same time as the online version.

The response from Which? to comments made on the new version seems to have died down. Will there be another flurry of comments and, hopefully, responses when we see the next paper version?

A number of home and lifestyle magazines , and others probably, are often published weeks ahead of the month shown on the cover. The [old colonial] argument used to be “to allow time for them to reach Australia and New Zealand”. Those days are over and the internet can achieve simultaneous delivery worldwide on the 1st of the month. The posted copy should arrive no later.