The Copenhagen-based studio Alexis Mark received the commission to redesign the Harvard Design Magazine through a “classic case of an out-of-the-blue email”, explains Kristoffer Li, one of the three founders of the studio. As out-of-the-blue emails go, we’re sure this was a pretty exciting one to receive. And after reviewing the editor’s reason and references, the studio immediately realised that the project was a perfect match. The studio certainly isn’t wrong. Since collaborating with the publication – and so far producing two editions – the studio has further demonstrated its ability to bring a dynamic, visually streamlined and arresting aesthetic to every project it completes.
When approaching the brief, the studio saw the main incentive as making sure “that the visual aspects of the magazine feel as lush and culturally relevant as the content and stories it brings”, says Kristoffer. Because, while the publication has its roots in academia and theory, it equally touches on important contemporary political and cultural themes. So eventually, the team began “exploring a visual expression that sits both playfully and seriously at the intersection between an academic journal and something more pop-culturally oriented, like a fashion magazine”.
Throughout the project, the studio was enlisted to design every forthcoming issue, with the core approach being that the redesign will be “defined and unfolded” over the three issues – 48, 49 and 50. The redesign has so far been centred on two typographic concepts, the first involving sans-serif typeface for use in the body magazine. The resulting “family” of types, named AM Kosmos, is a series that the studio has been working on in-house for a number of years. "From each issue we’d learn more about the requirement for space, legibility and type sizes, meaning we’ve been able to adjust both the typeface and the layout principles accordingly," Kristoffer details.
The second concept was the studio’s creation of a bespoke display typeface for each edition. For the most recent issue of the magazine themed on Publics, a stand-out design element arose: its bold title font. Surveying the theme quite literally, Kristoffer explains that the studio sought to emulate the kind of typography often found in public spaces. “From street signage to barricade tape, the font is inspired by letters used to convey authority, often with the aim of controlling behaviour or groups of individuals navigating the public space – much like architecture is able to,” Kristoffer expands. Conceived as a blocky, geometric type that switches between a fluorescent orange to a simple black, the lettering is instantly impactful with all the immediacy and urgency of the signs the studio wanted to replicate.
But, perhaps what makes the typeface most eye-catching is its unique composition and shape. “The font has a reversed distribution of contrast giving it a feeling of being stretched in the same way as road lettering on the pavement, in order to compensate for the low perspective point of drivers in cars,” Kristoffer explains.
Besides allowing the studio to further expand its already vast repertoire into the print industry, the project has also resulted in some steadfast working relationships. “As much as it may sound cliche, the wonderful collaboration has been one of the best aspects of working on the project,” concludes Kristoffer. “The team behind the magazine is amazing and, during a recent trip to New York, we finally had the chance to meet and go out in person, which felt like meeting old friends.”
Alexis Mark: Harvard Design Magazine Issue 49 (Copyright © Alexis Mark, 2022)
About the Author
Olivia (she/her) joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in November 2021 and soon became staff writer. A graduate of the University of Edinburgh with a degree in English literature and history, she’s particularly interested in photography, publications and type design.