In the third interview for our Review of the Year series, we speak to The New Yorker about the risks they’ve taken this year and how important collaboration is to the publication.
Throughout 2016 we’ve written about The New Yorker and its ability to consistently commission content and covers that communicate a mood or issue that resonates with its audience and beyond. The New Yorker’s first issue came out in 1925, and while they’ve cemented themselves as a print publication, this year especially saw them be one of the first magazines testing out new medias with its first augmented reality cover created by Christoph Niemann.
Other illustrators who graced The New Yorker’s covers, include Malika Favre – who described it as her “dream job” at our annual symposium Here, back in June – and Bruce McCall who created his 71st cover for magazine. This roster of incredible talent is set to continue in 2017, with its focus on exploring digital technologies for the printed word through augmented reality and virtual reality being developed further.
It’s also been a politically-charged 2016 for The New Yorker, with the most divisive US presidential elections of all time taking place this year. The magazine made sure its voice was heard outside of just the newsstand through its reactive coverage and analysis, drawing upon the articles and visuals created by its writers and collaborators.
Here to talk to us about the publication’s year and some personal highlights is art editor Françoise Mouly and creative director Nicholas Blechman.
What was your creative highlight of 2016?
Françoise Mouly: At The New Yorker, we aim to put on the cover images that chronicle our times. As artists depict our quirks and revel in our foibles, we can now relive the past election year through a suite of Barry Blitt’s covers.
Christoph Niemann is at heart his own editor and sometimes working with an artist so well rounded can be difficult: as you discuss an assignment, you risk being made to feel like you’ve wound up a toy and you now watch it go through its motions, with little room for interaction. But the beauty of working with Niemann is that even if he’s something of a genius, he remains open about his own process. Working with him is interactive and engaging – not only do I love the results, but I also learn a lot.
When we usually start, neither he nor I have much of an idea where our project will be going (at least I seldom do), yet I always trust in the process. I know we’ll thoroughly explore the field, conceptually and technically, whether it is flash or gifs, or even something as vast as virtual reality. We’ll dig into every corner, discuss every possible approach, then quickly develop a strategy that can encompass many variations and counterexamples and then Christoph will build some multi-part zany concoction that is exquisite in its simplicity. On the Go and Serve! are two examples of Niemann projects The New Yorker published this year. Both redefine what a cover can be in that they’re deceptively simple on the face of it yet unfold into worlds a viewer can inhabit. I strongly urge you to take the time to explore them in all their facets, both in print and digitally.
Nicholas Blechman: The year was full of subtle, behind the scenes innovations at The New Yorker. In print, we updated the typography, refreshed the Goings On About Town section, and continued our commitment to commissioning strong, evocative illustration and photography. On the digital front we launched a new app (The New Yorker Today), a new online vertical for the Goings On About Town section, and developed new web templates for feature and interactive stories.
I’m especially pleased with our redesigned Cartoons of the Year (which just hit the newsstands). The logo lockup was hand lettered by Dan Cassaro and the cover was drawn by Argentine cartoonist Liniers and designed by Aviva Michaelov. The challenge with The New Yorker is to keep a magazine that is almost a hundred years old looking fresh each week.
What was your lowlight of 2016?
NB: After all our coverage of Trump’s contradictions, hypocrisies, conflicts of interest, narcissism and inexperience, his election was a low point.
What do you think are the markers of a good year creatively?
NB: When you can look back at risks you’ve taken, or unorthodox decisions you’ve made that have yielded innovative solutions, then you’ve had a good year. If you play it safe, the results are inevitably going to feel predictable and stale. In 2016 we’ve expanded our roster of new illustrators and photographers, and in new mediums (AR and VR).
Which piece of work from the last year has been your favourite to work on?
NB: Working with Christoph Niemann, whether on new icons for all our blog pages or set of iMessage stickers for iOS, has been amazing experience. I am particularly happy with the ad campaign he illustrated for the New Goings On About Town website.
How has your work evolved over the last 12 months?
NB: My work has become less about me and more about collaboration. I’m less interested in what I can design than what we can pull off as a team. The talented staff of writers, editors, designers and photo editors that make up The New Yorker are a continual source of inspiration.
What’s been the most important thing you’ve learnt in the last year?
NB: To make strong cocktails for the staff on Friday afternoons. Among my favourites: Corpse Reviver No. 2.
Who has been the most influential creative for you in the last year?
NB: I can’t narrow it down to one individual, but among my heroes for 2016 are Paul Cox, Thomas Heatherwick, and though he is not a designer, Barack Obama.
Describe 2016 in five words…
NB: Fast, fun, but also unsettling, challenging, and historical.
What are your hopes for 2017?
NB: I am always trying to increase diversity among the designers, illustrators, and photographers we work with, and to improve our multimedia and interactive storytelling capacity.
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