Mirko Borsche and Alex O'Brien discuss the redesign of Brody's influential mag, The Face
- Jenny Brewer
- 6 September 2019
In April we covered The Face relaunch online; and now, the seminal publication is back in print, out today. Tasked with the high-pressured job of redesigning such an influential title, art director Alex O’Brien and Mirko Borsche (of design studio Bureau Borsche) were unfazed but keen to respect Neville Brody’s work, bringing the magazine firmly into the 21st century. We asked them to tell us more about how the print and digital design process differed, their approach to type and photography, and what they think The Face 2019 should be.
It’s Nice That: How does your redesign differ in print, and why? How does the digital design translate to the print pages?
Alex O’Brien: We’ve treated them quite separately, I felt we needed something new to look at. We were dying to use the new typefaces and break out of the website for a little while – even though we love it – it was a nice vacation in terms of design. The cover has a little yellow ticker tape at the bottom, which is an intentional nod to how we launch our homepage every day, whilst acknowledging the way they used to do the old covers too.
Mirko Borsche: We tried to treat both medias for their best usage; copy text is in the Sabon typeface in both cases, we also drew a headline font which we related to the logo type of Neville Brody – to make the the look and feel coherent between both of them. For the printed version we created two additional headline fonts to give the magazine a more exciting flow. All in all the magazine layout has a very classic and basic grid, which we broke here and there. Digital was designed by us with a bigger focus on the vertical, mobile version, that’s why it is a bit more humble then the printed magazine itself. The main focus on the design for us was to keep the tone of The Face as we remember it from the 90s, without trying to imitate what magazine design was in these days. The split between these two worlds was quite tricky, but I have the feeling it works now.
INT: How would you describe the overall vibe you’re aiming for with the mag? Is it 90s, or now, or a bit of both?
AO: It’s certainly not 90s, or tied to any era other than now. The intention for the mag, being quarterly, is to be able to reflect where the world is at each time we go to print. The magazine historically worked through so many design changes, almost every issue was different in some way or another, so I wasn’t looking to create too much of a set formula for how we would look. Every issue will be a little different to the last, things should keep changing.
MB: We tried to keep the feeling of that epic magazine we knew from the 90s, but we worked on something that suits to 2020, a magazine which doesn’t feel like nothing changed in the last 20 years, something which is more contemporary and works as a basis for future experiments.
INT: Could you tell us about the type you’ve used in print, what are the custom typefaces called and how do they complement the redesign?
AO: We had three typefaces built by the brilliant Jacob Wise whilst he was with Mirko at Bureau Borsche. We have them named as a family, Nice Face, Cool Face & Epic Face. Nice is the day-to-day one that has been used most since our launch online earlier this year. Epic Face is our heavy condensed type, which has a range of glyphs that we can use to mix up similar looking letters (see the Harry cover, where we have two ‘R’s to play with) Then finally we have Cool Face, which we used in the back section of the magazine, to give a unifying look to quite a broad mix of content in such a short space. We use Sabon for the bulk of the body copy, it was useful to have something ‘normal’ in the mix to stop us being too nice and also just very practical! The ability to mix between four typefaces is really useful in stopping the fatigue and boredom when designing pages-and-pages of content.
MB: Jacob and I worked quite a while on these three typefaces, which also should stand for three different design decades of The Face. My bureau was discussing it in so many details with regard to these fonts and changed them back and forth. We wanted to design Headline fonts, which work as the foundation for the new DNA of The Face, which don’t need a lot of design in typesetting and still look interesting. It’s a tough job to work on something, which you admired so much in the early days of your job. Designers like (Brody) are the pop stars of our business and need to be well respected in what they created, that’s what I tried, but it’s hard to judge, when you are involved so much.
INT: What is your approach to photography in the mag? Is there a certain look and feel you’re aiming for?
AO: There was always the intention for the magazine to be a versatile mix of styles. I didn’t want the mag to be too easily led by one aesthetic, such as all low-fi film, or all glossy portraiture. I don’t like when you (a reader) can flippantly write off a magazine’s aesthetic to one look – and that’s what I always loved about the first generation of The Face; it was a magazine built out of versatility and variety. I chose a bunch of photographers who each excel in what they do, and don’t rely on imitating others – that’s the message I wanted to get out, to shoot what you want, and not watch what everyone else is doing.
MB: I think the magazine turned out having a good mix of various styles, it isn’t easy to find a pictorial language for the first issue, things like these grow with the product once you see how they work. But I also see that this is a good foundation for the future.
INT: Do you think there’s more pressure on the design of the magazine, rather than the website, given its history?
AO: For sure, there’s been a lot of chat about the legacy and what we’re doing with “the print” – but that pressure wasn’t really something to worry much about, as anyone that’s followed us online kinda knows what we’re like by now. There’s a calmness to the magazine design, that I think even surprised myself, as there was a temptation to go nuts with the whole thing – we’ve allowed everything to breathe at the right pace and keep a flow through the 312 pages.
MB: I felt pressure, but that’s maybe just me and my respect to a magazine you actually wanted to design all your life. I’m also realistic about the feedback. Things are always glorified retrospectively, nobody really remembers full issues of The Face, but it’s highlights and that will be the criteria of many people when they see that new issue and it’s almost impossible to aim for that. We tried our best and I’m sure there will be a lot of people that have now a new magazine they can read and look at.
About the Author
After five years as It’s Nice That’s news editor, Jenny became online editor in June 2021, overseeing the website’s daily editorial output.
Jenny is currently on maternity leave.