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Luke Hayman: Cosmopolitan redesign

Posted by Rob Alderson,

The chance to redesign a wildly successful, established publication is one that most designers dream about. But with such a fantastic opportunity comes great pressure and a responsibility to the publishers and readers alike. All eyes were on the new Cosmopolitan when it hit the news-stands late last year, and we spoke to Pentagram’s Luke Hayman to find out what it’s like to work on such an anticipated, and scrutinised project…

Tell us about the project came about. What was the brief like? What did Cosmo want to achieve?

We were one of a number of people called in to meet Kate White, the editor-in-chief, Ann Kwong, the creative director and Abigail Green, the managing editor. It was a bit of a leap of faith on their part – we’ve done a lot of magazine redesigns but nothing quite like this before. But with every redesign we focus on finding the appropriate voice for the project rather than imposing a style.  

The brief: we were asked to rationalize the departments, look at reducing the number of sections and make the navigation elements clearer for readers. We had to freshen up the magazine, make it more contemporary and to make it fun to look at – both for browsing and reading.

And most interestingly we were asked to make it not look like a magazine. What they meant is that they wanted to move away from the rigid and formal three column justified text columns that they’d been using for many of their departments, columns and longer text-based stories.

Cosmo has such an established brand – what impact does that have on your ideas and the final designs?

Cosmo is a very established and hugely successful brand. But we realised it was the written voice, the spirit and story ideas that are the essential pieces rather than any particular fonts or graphic devices. So we worked on visually interpreting that particular tone.

When we came to it, the magazine had several different graphic looks across the different parts of the magazine. As often happens at magazines, new sections are added and they get developed on the fly. The new pages are often developed in isolation and start to stray from the original big picture.

Having said that it was also important that this magazine in particular not feel too formatted and rigid. So although we created a set of tools – fonts and graphic devices – they were applied  in quite a wide range of combinations but always with the same spirit to create an over all unity. There was a looseness built into the system.

What for you are the key features of the new-look magazine?

I think the fonts are always a core part of any magazine. We usually use a couple of families but for Cosmo we used four. The spirit needed to be young and lively so for text we used Parry which has chunky serifs, almost typewriter like. The sans we used is Helsinki which like Parry has a bold character across a lot of weights. We deliberately stayed away from overly-refined, pretty and elegant fonts.

The colour palette is bold, feminine but not too sweet and girly. And we added some graphic bars that have an irregular width – we called them chopsticks. There are wiggly rules and captions in thin bars and these were placed off the grid at angles all with the intention of feeling immediate, casual and spontaneous.

We also worked with photography director Liane Radel to evolve the photography. We wanted the spontaneity to come across with more aggressive cropping and a graphic pop sensibility.

How does a design process differ for a publication that has a relatively short shelf-life such as Cosmo?

This redesign embraces the fact that for a lot of the audience Cosmo is a quick read. These women have many other choices for spending their time so the editor was very clear about making the pages feel light and approachable.

We reduced text significantly on many pages and avoided long blocks of grey text. Display copy, sub heads, pull quotes, captions and web touts were deployed to provide multiple entry points.

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Posted by Rob Alderson

Editor-in-Chief Rob oversees editorial across all three It’s Nice That platforms; online, print and events. He has a background in newspaper journalism and a particular interest in art, advertising and photography. He is the main host of the Studio Audience podcast.