The MIT Technology Review design team share their love of printed matter

23 August 2017
Reading Time
6 minute read

Since 1899, MIT Technology Review has been reporting on important technologies and innovators with the backing of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The magazine’s mission is to “equip our audiences with the intelligence to understand and contribute to a world shaped by technology”.

Over the years, the design of the mag has inspired and influenced many. In particular the issues of Technology Review from the 1960s and 70s have informed today’s iteration of the publication, which currently adopts a “Swiss-inspired house style”. The design team at Technology Review is led by chief creative officer Jordan Awan, and we asked him and his colleagues to put together a bumper bookshelf that any design aficionado would be happy to devour. From classic design staples such as Bauhaus and Müller-Brockmann, to the artwork of Baldessari and Ruscha, the crescendo is a joyful celebration of all things magazine related.

Hans M. Wingler: Bauhaus: Weimar, Dessau, Berlin, Chicago

The Bauhaus Bible was published in 1968 by the MIT Press and designed by Muriel Cooper; it’s still the definitive guide to the Bauhaus, and also the best and clearest example of Cooper’s print design. This book is important to me and the work I’ve done at Technology Review for several reasons, but chief among them is the powerful design philosophy it offers, both in subject and in presentation.

Like the approach championed by the Bauhaus, Muriel Cooper prioritised process over product. She also led her various design teams at MIT in a way that fostered collaboration and creativity, encouraging experimentation and curiosity within the bounds of sometimes very limiting design constraints. I’ve endeavoured to run our department in a similar spirit; in many ways, we have functioned more like a design studio than a traditional magazine art department, mixing practice, production, experimentation, and research into a continuous collaborative learning process.

— Jordan Awan, chief creative officer at MIT Technology Review

Walker Art Center: Hippie Modernism

Everything that’s old is new again — The Walker Art Center’s Hippie Modernism captures a period in history of radical thinking, social unrest, and explosive creativity. The work feels especially important now as the country and the world is experiencing another transformative phase.

Hippie Modernism not only serves as a reminder of how much design has changed in the digital age, but also how much we still rely on established paradigms. The work is stunning on its own but the layout and production of the book compliments the content in a manner few art books do. I find myself noticing new details every time I open it.

– Sam Jayne, previously art director at MIT Technology Review (now at Axios)

Josef Müller-Brockmann: Grid Systems in Graphic Design

Grid Systems is a comprehensive guide on designing within the grid from its biggest proponent, Josef Müller-Brockman. This book has become a great resource to us to come back to whether we’re stuck on a troublesome layout or just looking for a starting point. I find myself going back to it whenever I feel like I’ve run out of ideas for how to best arrange elements on the page, and it always reminds me of the endless variations and combinations possible. Like Müller-Brockman says: “The grid system is an aid, not a guarantee. It permits a number of possible uses and each designer can look for a solution appropriate to his personal style.”

– Lynne Carty, senior designer at MIT Technology Review

Experimental Jetset: Statement and Counterstatement: Notes on Experimental Jetset; & various printed matter

Statement and Counterstatement is a handbook of sorts – it helps that it is almost pocket size. Even a casual flip-through hits you with an almost overwhelming and wide-ranging collection of the studio’s work and writings from the founders and others. I admire how challenging and innovative Dutch design often is; and the way that Experimental Jetset brings that ‘push the limits’ attitude to the a late-modernist aesthetic has been particularly influential and inspiring to us.

– Bryan Fountain, junior designer at MIT Technology Review

John Baldessari: Pure Beauty

John Baldessari’s work has always struck me as uniquely impactful and relevant in almost any context. His work feels accessible and contemporary decades after it was produced. When art directing and designing for TR I’d look to his work for inspiration and guidance it helped me to think about reduction, framing, and balance as required steps for any layout.

– Sam Jayne, previously art director at MIT Technology Review (now at Axios)


Ed Ruscha: Various Small Books

Ed Ruscha: Various Small Books

Conceptual art was something that Sam and I talked about often as we collaborated. Ruscha, Baldessari, LeWitt, and others were important influences and reference points, and informed how we would try different approaches and ways of thinking outside of the expected treatment of words and images. The way these artists would follow guidelines or a set of rules is not dissimilar from way we approached design problems. This book in particular was one we returned to – what’s better than a book about books? Probably not coincidentally, we’ve featured art by both Baldessari and Ruscha in Technology Review in the past year or so.

– Jordan Awan, chief creative officer at MIT Technology Review

Christian Brandle, Karin Gimmi and Barbara Junod: 100 Years of Swiss Graphic Design

100 Years of Swiss Graphic Design highlights some of the standout pieces in the history of modernist design. Many of the examples work within a similar method to how we design at Technology Review – expanding upon our Swiss-inspired house style and pushing it as far as we can, even to a breaking point at times.

Using the constraints of a modular, grid-based approach as a launching point for experimentation has allowed us to challenge the different systems we begin with, and when the process is successful, to breathe new life into a familiar and well-established aesthetic. It can be difficult to break those systems without calling too much attention to the fact; but when this method works, you can get some super satisfying results.

– Bryan Fountain, junior designer at MIT Technology Review

David E. Carter: Corporate Identity Manuals

Despite corporate identity manuals feeling like a bit of a novelty in 2017, this book highlights a pre-digital era when designers considered and mapped out branding applications well beyond corporate swag and social assets. It’s nice to see a variety of companies that range across multiple industries rather than a deep dive into a notable widely recognised identity system. The book serves as a reminder that the best branding lies in versatility rather than trends. We referenced this book heavily for our 2017 Business Issue.

– Sam Jayne, previously art director at MIT Technology Review (now at Axios)

Technology Review back issues, 1960-1979

The issues of Technology Review from the 1960s and 70s are definitely what the department and I have taken as our design heritage here. We love the strict adherence to the International Style in the type, layouts and graphics. These issues (like modernism in general) can certainly be an uneven mix of avant-garde and boring, but still have a definite beauty in their rigorous dedication to function and an obvious mastery of their style.

The magazine was designed during these years by the MIT Office of Publications (later renamed the Office of Design Services), a group founded by Muriel Cooper in the early 1950s that also included Jacqueline Casey, Ralph Coburn, and Dietmar Winkler. Using the MIT Press, Technology Review, and other MIT-related outlets as their platform, they created a lasting legacy of Swiss-influenced type and flat modernist graphics at MIT.

– Jordan Awan, chief creative officer at MIT Technology Review


We all love magazines! We’re constantly introducing each other to new publications, and looking back at our favourite classics. These are some of the ones we consistently check out and go back to. Long live print!

– The design team

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About the Author

Rebecca Fulleylove

Rebecca became staff writer at It’s Nice That in March 2016 before leaving the company at the end of 2017. Before joining the company full time she worked with us on a freelance basis many times, as well as stints at Macmillan Publishers, D&AD, Dazed and frieze.

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