"The time had come for Time to acknowledge the visual impact of other magazines," said Walter Bernard, falling into the old style of the magazine which he has just given a new look.

This week's issue of Time is what art director Bernard calls "the dress rehearsal" of its fourth format. The magazine, which first appeared in 1923, was "modernized" visually in 1938 and in 1971.

It now has a new headline typeface (Franklin Gothic), sub-headlines, column rules and tinted backgrounds for some drawings and opinion pieces. The color bands heading each section are gone. The index, which used to consist only of department listings, has pictures and story summaries.

And the upper right corner of the cover is drawn to look as if it has been bent back. A photograph from the issue's "secondary story" - next in importance after the "cover story" is revealed there.

Bernard said that he had suggested re-designing the magazine, which he did on a free-lance basis while on a leave of absence from New York magazine. His agreement was that he would become Time's art director if the new look were accepted.

"The public is more sophisticated visually from seeing magazines like New York and Rolling Stone," he said. "In the news magazines, the photographs have always been secondary. The layouts were done by getting the pictures out of the way first, and if three more lines were needed for a story, the pictures would get pushed in the corner. "We're made that harder to do now. The purpose of the new format is a kind of bold elegance for the increases use of pictures, and of color photograhpy.

"Three weeks ago, it would have been possible to pick up Time or Newsweek without the cover and flip through it without knowing which on you had."