Pentagram partner and ex-New York Times Magazine art director Matt Willey breathes new life into The Big Issue

The iconic British magazine, sold by homeless individuals as a means of financial support, got some design help from across the pond.

3 November 2021

The Big Issue; it’s been a staple of British life for as long as we can remember – or, since 1991 at least. But it’s not often associated with publications like The New York Times. Now, after a much-needed refresh, that might be about to change.

Art director for the project was Mark Neil, who has been described as “The Irn Bru of design. Strong, fizzy, lots of orange…” by the editorial director of Time Out London, Caroline McGinn, supposedly a nod to his Glaswegian roots. And true enough, the new cover features a muted orange, bright and hopeful whilst remaining appropriate to the subject matter of the anniversary cover. The cover features an eye-catching and humane black and white portrait of Paul Logan who is one of the many street vendors who sell the Big Issue, captured by Jack Davison.


The Big Issue rebrand, courtesy of Mark Neil, Twitter.

Whilst Matt Willey, a design partner at Pentagram and a previous New York Times Magazine art director, redesigned the 30th-anniversary issue which was released on Monday, 1 November. He was joined by Acute studio founder Diana Ovezea who was responsible for the logo and “culture” type work. Neil expressed over Twitter that he thought this is “the most exciting move in design The Big Issue has ever made.” There’s no doubt that the newly branded Big Issue is almost unrecognisable, and probably needed a refresh after its previous identity started to blend in with the everyday on the streets of England’s capitals and Glasgow.

The bold and chunky typeface which stretches to the edges of the cover was designed by Willey with Ovezea with the word “Big” fittingly bigger than the word “issue” below. The magazine also makes use of Klim Type Foundry’s Signifier for body text, and Founders Grotesk X Condensed for headlines.

Defining itself as “a hand up, not a handout”, the magazine which releases a new issue every week offers homeless people the chance to support themselves through its sales, proving to be a means of “working, not begging,” its website states. Neil also announced on Twitter that The Big Issue will also be forming a new team of freelance designers: “Old freelance pals and new freelance pals welcome!” he Tweeted.

GalleryThe Big Issue rebrand, courtesy of Mark Neil, Twitter.

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The Big Issue rebrand, courtesy of Mark Neil, Twitter.

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About the Author

Dalia Al-Dujaili

Dalia is a freelance writer, producer and editor based in London. She’s currently the digital editor of Azeema, and the editor-in-chief of The Road to Nowhere Magazine. Previously, she was news writer at It’s Nice That, after graduating in English Literature from The University of Edinburgh.

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