Playboy’s Swap for Good Design Instead of Nudity Seems to Be Working

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Playboy‘s spare, newly designed cover is a play on Snapchat’s interface. Shot by Playboy/Theo Wenner
Playboy‘s spare, newly designed cover is a play on Snapchat’s interface. Shot by Playboy/Theo Wenner

The March issue of Playboy has undergone a major redesign, and after 60 years of bold nudity, the publication has traded in scantily clad women for good design. To some dismay, Playboy announced in October that their decades-old tradition of including photos of undressed women would soon come to an end.

With the arrival of the internet and online pornography, readers have plummeted from over 7 million copies sold in 1972, to an annual circulation of just 800,000 copies by 2015. It was clear to Playboy chief executive Scott Flanders that nudity is “just passe at this juncture.” Today’s adult content seekers are interested in a quicker and more imaginative fix.

Playboy first saw a desperate need for change in 2014, when their editors re-launched Playboy’s website as an online publication that was appropriate for the work place. Results of this change concluded that viewership shot up 400 percent. Within months, Playboy’s unique view count went from 4 million views to 16 million views. Additionally, the average age of site visitors declined from 47 to 30.5.

The success of the website redesign was a clear indication that the time had come for Playboy to update not only their magazine, but also their brand. Instead of brazen nudity, women will only appear to be naked, and can be found covered up in bed sheets, t-shirts, and nude leotards.

Playboy’s new no-nudity policy is just one element of the redesign. The new guidelines have called for a more refined editorial direction, involving the hiring of all new photographers, illustrators, and writers. The editors have also eliminated the dated cartoons, the products regularly featured in the front-of-book, and the centerfold data sheets. According to Lewis, “This was a clean slate. At first, it was really about breaking apart that skeleton and figuring out how we would do it the new way. As the ideas developed, you could start to see the cleanliness that we wanted.”

One of the biggest and most noticeable design changes to Playboy is the use of only one typeface. Instead of continuing with what Lewis calls “the mishmash of 10 different typefaces, which Playboy was famous for in the past,” Playboy will now use a custom font created from Okay Type. By changing to one universal heavy and expressive font, it is easier to keep the rest of the magazine’s layout clean.

Playboy’s new typeface may also lead to greater audience reception. According to Sarah Hyndman, a graphic designer who studies how we emotionally perceive typefaces, Playboy’s updated typeface has a masculine feel to it, but reads as prestigious when in the context of a lot of white space. Ultimately, these design components may create responses that relate to those of arousal, such as relaxation and intrigue. It is clear that going forward, Playboy’s design decisions will continue to allude a feeling of sensuality and sophistication.


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