“Many of us – most of us, probably – fear change, even (perhaps especially) of the new-hairstyle variety. Change is scary, upsetting.” This is how Esquire editor-in-chief Alex Bilmes sets up the magazine’s redesign in his editor’s letter and with a new masthead on a bright coloured bar, a new colour palette focused on deep reds and blues, new supplementary typefaces and some structural changes to the culture and style sections, it’s fair to say creative director Nick Millington has overseen more than a “new-hairstyle” change.
Nick has been at the title for five years (barring a brief stint at Mr Porter), working his way up under the tutelage of former creative director David Mckendrick to his present role. And although the changes he has brought in are fairly substantial, he says there was little of the agonising that often accompanies big design decisions.
“It was pretty straightforward really – four years is a long time to keep anything the same and Alex and I agreed it was time to shake it up. The direction seemed clear to both of us. I think the ‘profound internal transformation’ Alex talks about in his editor’s letter has been happening naturally over the last four years. The features have become more challenging and substantial, the fashion has moved more high-end and the photography has become more sober and elegant.
“Esquire has essentially grown up and so the design brief was to do the same. I agree if it ain’t broke don’t fix it – our main body copy font Galaxie Copernicus hasn’t changed for example but we have moved it on in other ways to make it feel fresh. We have introduced new font sets throughout, a more generous grid and re-envisioned sections in order to achieve a more modern, clean, consistent feel throughout.”
It’s striking that almost every time we feature an editorial redesign on the site, we’re told the aim was to make things feel cleaner. What is this obsession with visual tidiness? “I think partly because of the sheer amount of noise on offer at the moment,” Nick says. “Everything’s loud, fast and free and took less time to make than it does to enjoy. If you pick up a magazine, that’s personal. It’s your choice and your time and I think people appreciate being offered something considered and sophisticated. Also if it’s four years before you’ve cleaned anything, it’s probably due a scrub.”
This ambition is probably best reflected in the new-look covers (which this issue feature Mark Ronson), where a bold colour band – red or blue on the newsstand and subscriber versions respectively – quietens down the first hit we get as readers.
Nick explains: “I wanted to restore a bit of order. The covers were always strong but we were treating them individually rather than a series and over time that can begin to look like a loss of direction. I wanted to inject a bit of structure to the design to free the floor for more diverse or less conventional cover imagery. The newsstand is busy enough without us obscuring our own logo with a celebrity’s hair. I wanted to celebrate who we are and keep the brand at the forefront. There is something satisfying about adopting that classic format and putting pressure on strong photography. We are still a magazine after all.”
“The newsstand is busy enough without us obscuring our own logo with celebrity’s hair.”
Other changes are less immediate, such as the three new typefaces introduced alongside the aforementioned Galaxie Copernicus. Plantin, Suisse and Euclid offered Nick the three things he was looking for from the additional fonts: “A bold and classic condensed serif that carried authority and set the tone of the new grown-up Esquire; a characterful sans serif that could read clear on covers but sit back on page to let the content stand proud; and something completely new and different to the last design that looked smart amongst slick fashion photography yet appropriate opposite a complex think piece.”
“I’m no type nerd,” he admits, “but these three seemed to cover those bases.”
Nick is very proud of the new look and in particular of his team for making it happen, but he admits some battles he had to fight were more challenging than others. Do any in particular stand out? “Persuading our subbing department to let us hyphenate body copy. I get it.”
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