As one of the biggest independent magazines in the world, Kinfolk, has become a strange publishing phenomenon – a print-only title published in multiple languages that’s managed to find huge captive audiences in nations as diverse as Japan, Russia and the USA. It tips itself as “a slow lifestyle magazine… that explores ways for readers to simplify their lives, cultivate community and spend more time with their friends and family.”
For its fourteenth issue it took on the daunting task of a redesign, enlisting British designer Charlotte Heal – who possesses a wealth of editorial experience designing titles like Lula and Love – to refresh and update the brand. We caught up with Charlotte to find out about the process, her typographic choices and the pressures of redesigning such a cult magazine…
Why was it time for Kinfolk to look at a redesign and why were you the person for the job?
Kinfolk has really been a pioneer for this genre of lifestyle magazine and there was simply a feeling of maturing and wishing to stay ahead of itself. The team is growing up along with its audience and it naturally felt like the time was right for a refresh and an evolution of the design. I think it’s important to remember the magazine was born out of a very organic and honest place. The company continues to be very instinctive in its approach. As for why I was the person for the job? – now that’s a question for the founder, Nathan Williams!
What are the main changes you’ve made to the design of this issue?
A fundamental change was restructuring the magazine to have a front-of-book section, Starters, followed by a middle-of-book section, the theme, which leads on to new regular features such as Home Tours, Recipes and Neighborhood. As the team felt that Kinfolk was maturing, we wanted more varied content, with small articles alongside lengthier features.
To show these differences and enable the reader to understand where they were within the magazine I developed a look for each section. I wanted Starters to feel quite unique from the rest of the magazine, and be more visually aligned with the past design than other areas, so retained the large white borders for all photographs and set the body copy in Garamond, the company’s brand typeface. However, breaking away from Kinfolk’s consistently centred headers, all heads and decks were left aligned and text credits were coloured, creating a three-tier unit. The grid itself is very flexible so the smaller articles are rhythmically set across the pages.
"The team is growing up along with its audience and it naturally felt like the time was right for a refresh and an evolution of the design."Charlotte Heal
The magazine celebrates a classic timeless quality, which was fundamental to retain, but I also wanted it to continue to feel current and modern. Though I kept Garamond, all other typefaces have been replaced. I introduced Avenir as an additional sans-serif body face plus chose two new fonts for the headers – Fortescue Pro and Tw Cent MT. I then chose Swift for all the decks as this added a contrasting texture alongside the other typefaces.
Within the middle of book I also varied the treatment of the images. Previously all images were statically set within large white borders with only a few full bleed. Again I brought more flexibility to the page by extending the amount of full bleed images, introducing a slim white frame on some photo essays, and varying the size of images – as most evidently seen in Home Tours or the Neighborhood feature.
Among all this internal design I also commissioned and art directed Abi Huynh to rework the Kinfolk logo. The original was very uneven and didn’t have the weight that I felt was necessary for the direction moving forward. We wanted to retain its slightly quirky character but give it a more confident presence on the page.
There have been some clear developments in the style of illustration and photography used too. Can you explain why?
I was brought in to head up the creative direction along with the re-design and in doing so introduced many of my own network of collaborators, like Andersen M Studio, Rokas Darulis, Rahel Weiss, Laurie Griffiths etc. In restructuring the issue to have more regular features and some longer and more diverse articles I felt it was important to similarly extend the visual personality of the magazine. As with the combination of fonts, I also wanted the illustrations to be looser in style. By developing the illustration and photography in this way I hoped to enliven the page and bring a level of warmth and energy that I felt was previously missing.
The team at Kinfolk seems pretty close-knit; who else were you working with on this project and what input did they have?
It’s an incredibly close team so everyone gets involved. The editorial team only consists of Nathan Williams, Georgia Frances King, Gail O’Hara, Anja Verdugo and the rotation of interns. The founder and brand director, Nathan, is obviously at the forefront but we would collectively decide upon the theme for the issue, individually pitch story ideas and generate content and then discuss potential contributors who we felt would be right for those stories that made the cut. In the true Kinfolk spirit it’s a real community with everyone sharing their ideas, inspiration, fears and excitement.
Given a title like Kinfolk trades so much on its aesthetic did you feel a lot of pressure when undertaking the redesign?
Yes! In honesty it was a very daunting task as the entire design rested on my shoulders. There is a huge following across the globe, but especially in the United States, so I certainly felt that pressure. Equally I personally liked what Amanda Jane Jones had done with Kinfolk’s original design, so it was hard to initially begin. But Nathan was incredibly open to ideas and I also had a very clear view on aspects that I knew I wanted to change. The fact that I had so much to do in such a short space of time helped relieve the pressure somewhat!
Talk me through your favourite visual feature in this issue?
That’s a tough question, there are many I love for different reasons! I think I would have to go with Aurora Folklore. When we decided to do a series of articles on light I pitched the idea to use shadow puppetry and immediately knew I wanted two things: firstly for Andersen M Studio to create the visuals, and secondly for the puppeteers and the puppets to have equal weight within the image. Art directing Martin and Line was such a pleasure and the resulting imagery went beyond my expectations.
"It’s an incredibly close team so everyone gets involved...In the true _Kinfolk_ spirit it’s a real community with everyone sharing their ideas, inspiration, fears and excitement."Charlotte Heal
And your favourite article?
The Meaning of Light. I have always really enjoyed Georgia’s writing style and was excited to see her write a longer piece than previous issues had catered for. Her enthusiasm knows no bounds and the initial excitement she had after interviewing the artist and neuroscientist, Stephen Auger, was translated so maturely onto the page. It’s fascinating how we overlook such a fundamental element of our lifestyle like light and how much we could benefit from re-evaluating our relationship to it. The fact we managed to secure Uta Barth’s artwork alongside the article also felt like a dream come true!
What’s been the response to the issue so far?
Really positive which is wonderful! It apparently sold more copies in three weeks than a previous issue sold in a year. Obviously that’s not all due to the redesign, but it shows it’s gaining ever more traction and the response is good. As a team we knew the audience was maturing alongside the magazine and I do believe the design and content caters for that. It’s been exciting to hear people’s positive responses on social media reiterate my own intentions with the re-design.
What have you got planned for the next issue?
I can’t give away the theme but it’s a good one! It hits the shelves in March and simply continues to expand its content. I have also brought in a few new contributors – Pelle Crepin, Aradia Crockett, Katie Fotis, Sarah Maycock – which has been rewarding and added new sensibilities to Kinfolk’s visual evolution.