Long-standing American magazine The Atlantic has revealed what it’s referring to as “the most dramatic overhaul” of its visual identity in 162 years. Described by editor-in-chief Jeffrey Goldberg as “bold but classical, beautiful, but spare, and respectful of the reader,” the redesign by creative director Peter Mendelsund and senior art director Oliver Munday strips back unnecessary elements gathered over decades of publishing, and focuses on clarity in design.
One of the most noticeable identity changes is the logo, which takes the ‘A’ from its word mark – that has topped the cover for over a century and a half – and enlarges it, brandishing the mag with a new, louder and more contemporary symbol.
The magazine also commissioned its first bespoke typeface, Atlantic Condensed, for the relaunch, which drew inspiration from the original type chosen by the magazine’s founders in 1857.
On the cover, and inside the mag, a formerly cluttered layout approach has been simplified, graphics and images removed to emphasise the words and more carefully curated imagery. Mendelsund and Munday discuss the redesign process in a short video, where they describe “red-pencilling” the previous design and calling out the design elements that had accrued over time, and whether they needed to come through to the new era – a process referred to as a “design autopsy”.
“We want to turn negative space into a compositional asset,” Munday says. “Restraint is unusual in an age of maximalist design.”
“The resulting work,” Goldberg continues, “makes The Atlantic visually arresting, classically informed, and radically modern, all at the same time."
They also explain in the film how they delved into the huge back catalogue of past issues for ideas. Looking through the decades of designs was like travelling through the history of American design, Munday says, which was “a little bit daunting”. “It has radical roots,” Mendelsund continues, “but is also historically grounded,” so it important the redesign represented “both vectors”.
Known for its non-partisan reporting, its mandate “of no party or clique” stated in every issue, the magazine was actually founded as an abolitionist publication and continues to give a platform to politically urgent points for discussion. The relaunch issue (December 2019) cover story is hence titled How to Stop a Civil War, and features writers such as Yoni Appelbaum and Lin-Manuel Miranda on the topic of eroding national unity.
“We don’t believe that the conditions in the United States today resemble those of 1850s America,” Goldberg writes in the issue’s introduction. “But we worry that the ties that bind us are fraying at alarming speed — we are becoming contemptuous of each other in ways that are both dire and possibly irreversible.”