Claudia Rubín on designing at pace for The New York Times Magazine
Having landed her dream role, the graphic designer tells us what it’s like to work for such a dynamic and high-speed publication.
- Ayla Angelos
- 19 February 2021
Claudia Rubín’s path into graphic design was a steady one. Born and raised in Puerto Rico, she grew up surrounded by creativity, with her parents working in advertising and photography respectively. “I grew up watching them, what they watched and everything they worked with,” she tells It’s Nice That. This transferred directly into her hopes and dreams for the future, as she always knew she wanted to become a designer. “I thought I would end up in advertising like them, but it wasn’t for me.”
Instead, Claudia fell in love with editorial design – in part due to the collaborative nature of the discipline, which involves working with photographers, illustrators and writers to stitch everything together. She continued to pursue this interest through a Communications Design degree at Syracuse University, which is when Claudia first learned about The New York Times Magazine. “I made it a goal to work there eventually in life,” she says, “but never thought it would happen straight out of the gate.”
Much to her surprise, art director Ben Grandgenett asked her to come in and show her work, alongside Gail Bichler – then-design director and now creative director at the magazine – who “took a chance on me,” as Claudia puts it. “I also believe luck and chance were parts of the equation, since the industry moves so fast and people move around so much.” Claudia now has her dream job, working full-time as a designer at The New York Times Magazine, which means she can focus on storytelling and how best to build a narrative through design.
At The New York Times Magazine, Claudia works under both Gail and Ben to establish all aspects of the visuals for the weekly magazine. It’s a fast turnaround, to say the least. “Each week it’s a little different,” she says. A usual week begins with a draft on Monday, photo selects for layout on Tuesday, design all of Tuesday and Wednesday, and then showing the layout on Thursday. “Fridays are for final details and then the story ships.” Occasionally, if there’s no photo story and art direction or illustration is needed, then the process will start a week or two ahead. “It’s definitely very fast-paced – as you can see, each week we start all over again!” Yet the dynamic and ever-evolving nature of the role is an aspect that Claudia utterly adores; no two weeks are the same.
The New York Times Magazine recently launched its Tech and Design issue, which saw a collection of four written pieces tackling completely separate topics – one story looked at working remotely, while another explored the development of the vaccine. “The common thread was that they were all tech and design-related, and that they were in the age of Covid-19,” says Claudia. Coinciding with the broad mix of storytelling was a variety of illustrations for the issue, all commissioned by a selection of artists. This meant that the design needed to bring everything together cohesively. “The inspiration for it was the connection of pixels (tech) and the virus (Covid-19), both being tiny specs in space,” she explains. “Since the design direction was so minimal, I went with really bright colours.”
Claudia points to another example, this time looking at the magazine’s Culture issue in 2020. This one was packed full of stories – again navigating around various topics – and aimed to define what culture means today, and thus what it holds for the future. “Traditionally, I think what has defined culture in the past has been seen as more highbrow: classical music, opera, the theatre,” she says. “But culture has and continues to shift and evolve, and many new voices and experiences are giving it new meanings.” Claudia opted for classic blackletter typography and used it in a modern way, painting it with an “unexpected” colour palette. “Blackletter is intrinsically very rigid and structured, but quite beautiful. I wanted the type to be fluid and move around organically on the page.”
Alongside Claudia’s role at The New York Times Magazine, she’s also been developing a few projects on the side. Even in these projects, though, her focus on storytelling is clear. One project she’ll be releasing soon is the third issue of Forgotten Lands, a small publication about Caribbean arts and dialogue. She cites her upbringing in the Caribbean as a huge influence on her work, particularly her love of bold and bright colours, which matches how the places of her childhood were “full of life, colour and energy”. But her main focus remains with the day job: “Other than that, let’s see what story I get to work on next for the magazine. It’s always exciting.”
GalleryClaudia Rubín: The New York Times Magazine (Copyright © Claudia Rubín, 2020)
Claudia Rubín: The New York Times Magazine (Copyright © Claudia Rubín, 2020)
About the Author
Ayla is currently covering Jenny as It’s Nice That’s online editor. She has spent nearly a decade as a journalist, and covers a range of topics including photography, art and graphic design. Feel free to contact Ayla with any stories or new creative projects.