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Vice: The Burnout and Escapism issue, illustration by Lia Kantrowitz and Kitron Neuschatz, photographed by Elizabeth Renstrom

Work / Publication

Vice magazine’s creative team talks us through its new and unexpectedly different redesign

Pretty much every magazine reader, writer, editor or designer has some kind of relationship with Vice. And, while considered a multi-media publishing conglomerate by most, its print iteration still has a relatively small team working hard to ensure the physical embodiment of Vice still has a publication fanatics seeking it out and picking it up.

Following a long tradition of publishing monthly, the magazine shifted to a quarterly schedule earlier this year and for its last issue of 2018, the title has released an issue with an extensive redesign.

Packed with a list tranche of new contributors, an eye-widening lead typeface choice and even a new grid its designers are aptly choosing to ignore, It’s Nice That asked editor-in-chief Ellis Jones, photo editor Elizabeth Renstrom and art director Kitron Neuschatz to talk us through this bold redesign.

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Vice: The Burnout and Escapism issue

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Vice: The Burnout and Escapism issue

It’s Nice That: Can you talk us through the reasoning behind the redesign?

Ellis Jones: Essentially it all revolves around us going quarterly for the first time. We’d been a monthly magazine for more than 20 years and when you print that often readers need a bit of structure and a feeling of familiarity when they leaf through an issue, which is why we had distinct sections and layout formats.

But since we’d be printing quarterly now, we wanted the final product to feel more impactful and special, for each issue to feel completely unique from the last, like something you’d want to display on your coffee table or save on your bookshelf. That’s why we decided to go larger (both in dimensions and page count), swapped to a matte stock instead of our usual glossy, and approach each issue’s design as if it was a standalone product with its own unique properties and stories to tell.

Kitron Neuschatz: It’s a rare and welcomed opportunity to shake the structure of traditional magazines. For one, we have a bit more time between issues to conceptualise and focus on art direction with a distinct design and visual language. We can collaborate with various illustrators, photographers, and artists whose work coincides stylistically with the particular theme of that quarter. The final end product just feels more tactile, more memorable, and significant.

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Vice: The Burnout and Escapism issue

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Vice: The Burnout and Escapism issue, illustration by Seba Cestaro

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Vice: The Burnout and Escapism issue, photography by Anita Bugni

INT: How do you think publishing quarterly has changed people’s perceptions of the magazine?

EJ: I’d hope our readers would be into the changes we’ve made while simultaneously attracting a new audience or subscribers we hadn’t reached before. When I became editor-in-chief back in 2015 we did a redesign which was about updating layouts and all of that, but it also focused on the kind of content we wanted to publish going forward and the changes we made then, I think, helped change perceptions of the magazine. I see this latest update as a further extension of that plan.

INT: What do you hope readers gain from a redesign such as this?

KN: Ideally I’d hope this enables the readers to have a more complete, immersive interaction, consumed by the issues theme. With each now having its own visual concept, its own personality, it can become an individual — an entirely new experience every quarter — something new.

Elizabeth Renstrom: It’s been my hope since the magazine went quarterly to deliver an immersive experience through design and photography for the actual editorial of the magazine. We always curate fantastic written pieces and photo essays that are diverse and relevant to the theme, but I feel like this past year we’ve really hit our stride in terms of delivering an added narrative with things like font, colour, and backstory in our design.

This also greatly informs how readers take in the photography of the magazine, which I really value as photo editor. The current issue is a great example, especially, for Chris Maggio’s photo essay on Disney World during the US Midterm election. We laid out the images in a very Americana colour scheme of red and yellow, while also hinting at the iconic Mickey Mouse ears for the opener title page. These kind of details, especially for a heavy but ironic topic, really add to the story.

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Vice: The Burnout and Escapism issue, photography by Chris Maggio

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Vice: The Burnout and Escapism issue by Chris Maggio

INT: What were some of the main considerations your team were thinking about behind the scenes?

ER: It’s all a fine balance in terms of legibility, tone, and creativity. I want to be sure the photo essays are striking a balance between photojournalism and fine art practices, which also have their own unique design considerations. With the cover we used to be a little more stringent about how the image relates to every aspect of the theme. Now we try to give the reader a little more credit to have fun figuring it out themselves.

INT: What are your personal favourite changes?

EJ: I like that we’ve relaxed all of our previous design rules so much that it allowed us to get weird. We’ve tried layouts and fonts and colour schemes that we would have never tried in the past and I think it’s resulted in a far more interesting looking magazine.

KN: Yeah, exactly. It allows us to take risks and be experimental. In this particular issue, we’re using the font Lÿno, consisting of four distinct typefaces which we’re constantly mixing together. The characters are continually changing, evolving, and transforming as you read.

We also, for the most part, ignored the grid. Type flows through spreads, changing colour and direction, as if it has a mind of its own. It’s a stream of subconsciousness. These design decisions were made specifically for The Burnout and Escapism Issue. And I like that every issue has its own new challenges, where we are forced to start again each time, from scratch.

ER: I really value that in being a small team, we tend to have a lot of autonomy in terms of what we want to convey through our cover and everything in between. It allows us to take chances and be confident in our collaborations together — especially now that we have a little more time between each issue. For our current issue, because we had such a specific theme and design vision as our base, it was so fun to see how we could come together and use ourselves as resources. I knew that Kit and Lia Kantrowitz, our senior editorial designer, had a style that could lend itself really well to the retro-drug culture we were referencing, and I had a shoot scenario that I couldn’t get out of my mind until it was photographed. Brainstorming a burnt out magic mushroom character as our cover star is not something a lot of mags get to do. I don’t take that lightly, and it’s such a joy to see something that was a silly thought become a realised cover.

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Vice: The Burnout and Escapism issue, photography by Elizabeth Renstrom

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Vice: The Burnout and Escapism issue, photography by Elizabeth Renstrom

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Vice: The Burnout and Escapism issue, illustrations by Lia Kantrowitz

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Vice: The Burnout and Escapism issue, illustrations by Lia Kantrowitz