My first thoughts on opening a PDF of the fifth edition of Dabiq (Remaining and Expanding): What is its purpose? Why does it exist?
Magazines are a key medium for community building, a focal point for broader activities. If a magazine can address a need and fulfill a promise, can direct itself at a deliberate public, then readers will respond.
Dabiq treads a very skilful path between appealing to its main constituency, IS supporters, and those less certain but intrigued by the group. By expressing strong support for and belief in the actions of IS it reassures its supporters and confirms their position on the side of the ‘just’. This very strength and confidence opens it up to others, those less certain about their part in the conflict. From the outside the group appear organized, in control and accessible.
Dabiq clearly doesn’t model itself on a glossy mainstream magazine or a matte indie title. It reminds me most of a business-to-business magazine, a niche title aimed at specialists, members of a club or society. It is positioned as an update for those already committed to the cause, giving a clear alternative to the mainstream media for those “in the club”, and offering a global overview in the context of religious conviction alongside detailed on-the-ground reports of how daily life has been improved by IS. The issue is put out in English, signaling its target audience, with translations sometimes occurring informally into French, German, or even Indonesian. While the objective is to make their cause heard, some people photographed have their faces blurred to avoid recognition, suggesting the publishers know Western intelligence agencies are also among their readers.
The pace of the stories is subtly planned, just as in any magazine. The narrative arc has been compiled by an expert. It quickly loses its light edge but the concept is pure magazine tradition.
The magazine seems to be only available digitally as a PDF, but while there’s no evidence theta print edition has been produced, the visual language of the PDF is that of a print magazine. Just as the editorial follows an intelligible and familiar magazine structure, so does the design. This is important: the visual tone is vital to its authority. The PDF suggests that Dabiq is printed: its pages are designed as spreads, with imagery and text combining and the texts displayed in strict column structures that relate to best practice for legibility. The text is large and clear, with line breaks between each paragraph that break up the reading experience and emphasize the proclamatory style of much of the material. According to its metadata the file has been created using Adobe Creative Cloud on a Mac, setting an intriguing context of a fully equipped design studio behind the magazine. Do they have a pirated or official copy of Adobe CC?
Yet there’s a curious mix of attention to and lack of attention to detail: text aligns across columns but often hangs from a different point on each page, and if a line break falls at the bottom of a column no attempt is made to resolve the gap, the column lust sits a line short. This means that there are some very ugly widows and orphans, odd words left at the start or end of paragraphs.
More care is taken over the images. Photographs are used to great effect, carefully selected and edited. They’re often presented in a kind of widescreen TV format with captions echoing the design of rolling news shows. Stacked in threes to fill a page, they act as storyboards, stepping closer to a situation frame by frame or showing a before-and-after reveal.
The color quality throughout is rich and screen-orientated; it’s not possible to identify whether the pages have been created in RGB or CMYK, but the images are all optimized for screen. Although most text is monochrome there’s a motif throughout where words of headlines are split between black and a color.
Pages are numbered, with running heads and feet highlighting the nature of the content. Pull quotes, picture captions and headlines all conform to expected usage, and where no image exists (for instance that new currency) vector illustrations are created.
Other elements of the IS media campaign — the video footage, the use of social media — have been hugely professional, and Dabiq matches those channels in most ways. While its design details are sometimes rudimentary and coarse — for all the structure and functionality, the end result is rough and ready — perhaps it’s more effective that way. That roughness may even be a conscious effort to be natural’, pure content rather than a mediated piece of graphic design. It relates more to the visual language of phone cards, mobile websites, and even other religious publications (The Watchtower, for example), than to the carefully branded world of consumerism most of us inhabit today. As such, it is probably perfectly on-brand and targeted at its audience. Not slick, but real.
Jeremy Leslie leads the magCulture studio, dividing his time between designing, consulting and writing, and is editor-in-chief of the magCulture Journal website, which posts reviews of magazines on a daily basis.