From an Orthodox Jewish drug dealer to performing burlesque during Covid, Brooklyn Magazine illustrates the most left-field stories
The creative team behind the magazine talks us through the design choices and visual engineering that went into this collation of New York-centric tales.
- Dalia Al-Dujaili
- 24 November 2021
A melting pot of cultures and a meeting place of all the extremes of a city like New York, it can be a challenge for creatives to encapsulate what the neighbourhood of Brooklyn means for its citizens, and how to translate it for non-Brooklynites. Now, though, New York’s most populous borough has its own magazine, relaunched in early 2021 under new ownership and with a new brand identity from SJR.
With headlines you never thought you’d read, the publication’s written content isn’t the only wonderfully dynamic and fresh thing about it. This autumn, “issue one just dropped in print with a split run of four different typographic covers, which meant translating a design system from digital to print,” says creative director Joelle McKenna. Brooklyn is a hard place to summarise, but Joelle hopes that “wrapping your hands around the printed piece feels like you can almost wrap your head around the place itself.”
She continues: “The contrasty energy of Brooklyn is reflected in the brand identity through imagery, colour and typography that balances the big and boisterous with the subtle and stoic.” On the team, Bardia Koushan is senior art director, Jess Ulman is designer and illustrator, Catherine Choi is designer for print and web, Sebastian Longhitano is a designer, and Christophe Marchand is another designer and illustrator. For the new visual system, Joelle explains that the team used “lots of black and white, loud and fast primary colour pairings, and a variety of illustration styles, done in the unique hand of the individual contributor.”
In order to define a place like Brooklyn, the magazine needed to be, from a storytelling perspective, “a vessel for the serious and not-so-serious alike”. The goal of the creative team, therefore, was to create “a system flexible enough to unite these different Brooklyn voices in any format – editorial, advertising or sponsored content. The aim was cohesiveness.” Full-bleed colour spreads which make use of a limited palette, white pages that pull in the broader colours of the magazine’s identity, and “moments of just black and white” help bring this cohesiveness to fruition.
Whilst for the typographic design, Fercozzi’s typeface Gabriella is the base for Brooklyn’s logotype. “We love Fernanda Cozzi’s super heavy-weight typeface,” says Joelle. The team had a custom “K” created to balance the “R’s” “flat, funky slab leg,” she says, whilst the double “O’s” in “Brooklyn” exist static in print or animated “like a pair of eyes tracking the mouse on bkmag.com”. The low and wide font with rectangular counters means it’s useful in scaling large for section titles. And Frere-Jones’s Empirica, a monumental serif for contrast, is used in Brooklyn Magazine’s headlines. “A typeface with natural authority and ‘empire’ associations felt like the right counterbalance to Gabriella’s chunky flare,” argues the creative director: “Our body typeface is Rongel by Feliciano, another historical serif with interesting angles.”
Upon flicking through its pages and scrolling its website, it’s quickly discernible how unique and attention-grabbing the illustrations are, whether they are organic and fairly simple, or bold and technically complex. The Brooklyn Magazine brand is built with a playful illustration style at its heart, claims Joelle, “that gets translated in hand-drawn charcoal or vector line-work.” Look, for example, at the paper airplane in the table of contents and the little spot illustrations on the covers and peppered throughout articles. “Editorial illustrations are varied and done in the hand of the contributor,” Joelle says, “but united by our colour palette.” A few of her own illustration favourites? Sarah Cliff’s piece for “Confessions of a Man without a Pot to Piss” and Bridie Cheeseman’s piece for “A Lebanese Market Thrives Where a Polish Grocer Once Served Greenpoint”.
Jessica Ulman, who designed some of the more “playful spreads,” wanted each piece to have its own voice whilst remaining identifiably Brooklyn Mag-esque. “The ferry piece is about travel and exploration,” says Jessica, “so we took the contents of a map and wove it throughout the article. Text boxes curve to the form of colourful ferry routes and title of the article.” Whilst “For The Moment of Venn”, where there wasn’t much copy, Jessica “really took advantage of the space and brought the type into play. Overlapping the letters in the word ‘Venn’ as a Venn diagram alongside the actual Venn diagrams was a fun exercise in when too much is okay.” And for “Looklyn,” a street-style series that first ran online, Jessica loosely anthropomorphised each letter “as a nod to the characters we see around the borough”.
Joelle, who’s done a few illustrations for the digital magazine herself, likes working in different mediums and trying new ways of image making – “especially physically with my hands.” For the piece “The Burlesque in the Year of Covid,” she created a photo illustration made from clay. “During lockdown as a break from screens, I started experimenting with air dry clay,” says the creative director. “I hadn’t done a detailed character sculpture before, but was interested in building a scene that breaks from 2D to 3D for more texture and depth.” Joelle is a lover of the unexpected tactile details that surface when making things by hand. She explains that the idea behind this piece is to show the “duality of life as a performer in quarantine, live-streaming from your living room. Half glamour, half remote wedged in the couch cushions.” Meanwhile, the illustration for “Holy Rolling: Confessions of an Orthodox Jewish Drug Dealer,” a wide and bold chilled-out silhouette with deep and mellow tones, started with reference images of Joelle’s own body as a model, which then worked up into fuller physiques that fit the frame.
Brooklyn Magazine is available to read online.
Joelle McKenna: The Burlesque in the Year of Covid (Copyright © Brooklyn Magazine, 2021)
About the Author
Dalia joined It’s Nice That as a news writer in July 2021 after graduating in English Literature from The University of Edinburgh. She's written for various indie publications such as Azeema and Notion, and ran her own magazine and newsletter platforming marginalised creativity.