Sandwiched inside every Sunday edition, the New York Times Magazine is one of the most widely read print magazines in the U.S. that you’ll never see sold by itself on newsstands. According to the Times’ own internal figures, more than 90% of Sunday subscribers read the Magazine, making it the single-most widely read section of the Sunday paper by far.
Now, as part of a big design push overseen by editor-in-chief Jake Silverstein and design director Gail Bichler, the New York Times Magazine is getting a new look and feel, in a bid to make the magazine even more indispensable: not just in print, but on the web.
One of the major goals of the redesign, Silverstein tells me, was to make the magazine feel more literary. “We see the magazine as a place where the Times can publish work with more writerly ambition than you usually see in newspapers,” Silverstein says. To supplement new columns from the likes of Nigerian-American novelist Teju Cole, British naturalist Helen MacDonald, and former U.S. Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey, the magazine is now being printed on a heavier paper stock, giving it a heft more like, say, The Paris Review than that of a newspaper insert.
But it’s what’s on those thicker pages that counts, which is why the magazine is now printed using a library of custom typefaces. “We scrapped everything, all our old fonts,” Silverstein says. The typefaces were designed for the New York Times by Henrik Kubel of A2-Type, in collaboration with the magazine’s art director, Matt Willey. It includes slab serifs for headlines and block elements, as well as modern-looking sans serifs and elegant-looking serifed fonts. The font family is nameless right now (Silverstein jokes that they almost called their new custom typeface “Really Crappy Font” just so no one else would be tempted to use it if the Times accidentally let its exclusivity lapse), but it makes the magazine feel slightly more book-like, without being overbearingly literary. “We don’t want it to feel like some fussy literary journal with only 2,000 readers,” Silverstein jokes.
A Cleaner Layout
Also on the page is a new layout. Designed by former GQ art director Anton Ioukhnevets, the magazine’s layout has changed to be cleaner, and slightly more stripped down. The key, Silverstein says, is the number of columns that the magazine is now using to arrange its pages: It has dropped to seven columns from 12. What’s the difference? Headlines, photos, ads, copy: magazines have all sorts of content to fit onto a page. Each of those elements is like a Tetris block: the more columns you have in your layout grid, the more opportunities you have to slot that next block into place without creating a gap. The old 12-column design didn’t have many gaps, but that also made it look dense, busy, and overly symmetrical. By adopting a seven-column layout, Silverstein says, the magazine was able to create “all sorts of interesting pockets” to help let the content breathe.
Design For The Web
Not all of the magazine’s design changes will be in print. One problem that the magazine faces, and that the new design is meant to help solve, is that it’s an in-betweener. Shipping in the middle of the New York Times‘s two-pound Sunday edition, it’s an in-betweener in print—a magazine literally trapped inside a newspaper—and an in-betweener online, where it exists mostly as a long-form subsite on NYTimes.com. “So much of the magazine’s branding is accrued in the print product, but with more and more readers going digital-only, that was becoming a problem,” Silverstein tells me. In fact, he says that most visitors who end up reading the magazine’s articles online have no idea it’s not just regular New York Times content.
The magazine’s new paper stock and layout won’t be making the transition to the web, but its literary approach to content and typography will. Expect to see the magazine’s new typefaces online as a way to distinguish magazine articles on-line from the New York Times‘s more traditional reporting and features. In addition, the magazine will post articles to the web with a new responsive layout that features full-bleed images, the magazine’s new custom typefaces, and Medium-like readability of long-form content that highlights the magazine’s logo at the top of the page.
A Bolder Logo
Speaking of the logo: it’s been slightly tweaked. As part of the redesign, the New York Times Magazine logo has been oh-so-subtly redrawn to accentuate both the thinnest and thickest parts of the wordmark’s distinctive letters, while opening up certain letters. It’s still classic, but the logo looks a little more bold than it did before, a little more refined, and—thanks to some subtle changes to certain characters, like the letter “a”—a little more modern. Which makes it a good metaphor for the magazine redesign in total. A little bolder. A little more refined. A little more modern. But still classic.
You can see the New York Times Magazine’s new digital look here. The new version of the magazine will launch in print on Sunday.