While magazine redesigns often receive a great deal of attention, few are likely to be more scrutinised than the new-look New York Times Magazine which debuts on Sunday. The Times is the leading newspaper in the US and its magazine is read by nearly four million people every week. When listed, the changes design director Gail Bichler and her new art director Matt Willey have implemented sound exhaustive – redrawn fonts, a redrawn logo, a new approach to lay-outs, a new-look version of the online magazine. Add to this a raft of new features and editorial changes (such as a new weekly poem, a column that rotates between four critics and a dispatch from the frontline of internet culture) and you’d be forgiven for thinking that the new magazine will be unrecognisable.
But both Gail and editor-in-chief Jake Silverstein are adamant that they’ve built on the publication’s 119-year-old legacy, rather than steaming in and ripping up the work of their predecessors. As Jake explains: “We have used the hammer and the tongs but perhaps not the blowtorch; we sought to manufacture a magazine that would be unusual, surprising and original but not wholly unfamiliar.”
Gail worked with some of the most-respected designers around on the new look; as well as Matt she had Anton Ioukhnovets in-house, while Matthew Carter and Henrik Kubel worked on the logo and fonts respectively. We chatted to Gail a couple of weeks ago about the redesign…
How challenging was it to work on a redesign while also producing a magazine every week?
That can be tough. It’s a multi-platform redesign so there was a huge amount of components that went into this including redrawing all the fonts, redoing the print edition, redoing the online version of the magazine, redoing the identity. There was a huge number of things to juggle and the idea was we’d have a huge number of collaborators working on different elements and I would be directing it and managing the regular magazine. In a way it was great to have Anton working specifically on the redesign but there were still a lot of components to keep on top of so we could have a more cohesive outcome in terms of all the different elements we produce.
How hard is it to balance the very short term keeping on top of every detail of every issue, alongside the long-term strategy of thinking about the magazine’s design direction holistically?.
That’s something I think about a lot. Oftentimes you really have to prioritise and think, “Ok I could focus on this page or this cover or I could focus on the bigger picture thing which is the future of the magazine.” You really have to be conscious of picking and choosing and prioritising things and I had to do that with this redesign.
It was a bit of a struggle because I love making that magazine and you get drawn into conversations and wanting to work on making something particular for something that’ll be out there this week. But you have to refocus and look at what’s good for the future of the magazine.
What do you want to achieve?
The idea was to give the magazine a more cohesive identity. It’s a sub brand of The Times and when you look at what we put out digitally, readers sometimes get confused. So we wanted a much more distinct identity that readers could understand as part of the magazine.
We are planning on releasing some columns online that won’t appear as frequently in print which is a new thing for the magazine. There’ll be some columns whose primary format will be a podcast and then we’ll publish a transcript of parts of that podcast as our column.
So part of it was about making a more cohesive digital identity and having content that was a bit more digital. And we also wanted to make a product that felt a bit more literary, that was a really good reading experience that capitalised on all the things that are great about the magazine in terms of it having really fantastic photography and great writers. So we wanted to look at things which have been part of the magazine’s heritage and brand and things that readers really love and make something that really celebrated and leveraged those things.
As you say your magazine has a lot of history; when it comes to a redesign do you try and pay homage to that or ignore it in case you get bogged down?
It’s a really interesting challenge because you want to make something that is fresh and new but at the same time the magazine has a really celebrated history. It can’t come out and feel like a magazine that launched two weeks ago. You have to have that sense of history. There’s been a number of really amazing art directors at the magazine like Janet Froelich and Arem Duplessis – really visionary people – so we looked at what’s been done in the past, taking some of those strengths and figuring out how to do something new with that.
I’d imagine the Times Magazine has a particularly design-savvy readership – does that bring extra pressure?
The magazine definitely has a design-savvy readership, also there’s a certain pressure in terms of the readership in general. We had a new body copy font redrawn and that can often be the thing that gets most commented on; the readability and legibility of the writing is so important. But every time you put something new out there people have a lot of response to it, particularly something that has design heritage like this magazine does.