Behind The New York Times Magazine's Redesign with DD Arem Duplessis

Behind The New York Times Magazine's Redesign with DD Arem Duplessis In June of this year, The New York Times unveiled a major redesign of their Sunday magazine, the first in almost a decade, and one of only a handful ever in its more than 100 years. Under the leadership of Design Director Arem Duplessis, a more lithe version of the magazine (smaller by about 9% in trim size) has been greeted with much appreciation around the design community for its subtle transitions of typography and color palette that exude new energy while staying true to the NYT Magazine everyone knows and loves (and obsesses about). Almost six months later, with enough issues printed to have some room to look back, we asked Rem to talk with SPD about the redesign process and the modern magazine business at the Times these days. His generous, detailed, honest reporting after the jump...

SPD: Tell us about how you decided it was time to redesign.

Arem Duplessis: In February of 2009 we were told that the size of our magazine was being reduced by 9 percent. Like most companies, reducing costs was and is a major priority. We approached the reduction with a "glass half-full" mentality and saw it as an opportunity to rethink the structure of The New York Times Magazine. Our editor, Gerry Marzorati, had a few mandates, the biggest being that he wanted more immediacy with the covers-- translation: larger headlines.

But of course: what every editor wants. (laughs) With a project this big, for a book so revered, where do you even start?

The first step was to find the right fonts. We must have done a million studies before settling on three new ones; Lyon Text (designed by Kai Bernau and Christian Schwartz) for our body copy.
Nyte (designed by Dino dos Santos) for our serif display.
And Knockout (designed by Hoefler & Frere-Jones).
We were attracted to Lyon because it's well drawn, very legible and nice to look at, but also slightly more condensed than our previous body copy, which in turn allows for more words per line (very beneficial when your page shrinks). For our serif display we chose a font called Esta for its versatility and had the designer (Dino dos Santos) draw several more weights and customize some of the characters. He renamed our version of the font Nyte. Having a versatile serif face is key for us because we cover such a broad range of topics. Finally, we chose Knockout. We wanted a face that would help us give our cover and interior headlines more impact. Knockout is a condensed face, allowing for larger display. It also has a nice variety of weights, which helps make it a great workhorse font.

So your editor tells you he wants more immediacy with the covers (bigger headlines), but you must know some of your colleagues working at other magazines would kill to have what they see as your freedom with cover design. How did you work towards meeting your Editor's goal and preserving the magazine's tradition of bold, challenging covers?
One of the benefits of working for The New York Times Magazine is the amount of commissions we can do. Our covers vary greatly from week to week, and we do 52 of them. On any given month we may have a mixture of illustration, photography and type. Sometimes we get it right; sometimes we don't. Here are the ones we believe we got right (all from our redesign):
NYTMR4.jpgYou re-worked the Table of Contents then, too?
Our old table of contents was functional (a big picture from the cover story with headlines and page numbers beneath) but was a challenge from week to week. We didn't always have the right photograph, or the cover article was illustration or type, leaving us scrambling for the right image. With the redesign, we created four options for the table of contents to increase flexibility.
NYTMR5.jpg(above: before redesign on left; after redesign examples on right)

Tell us about redesigning the front-of-book sections.
In the previous design the first page of our front-of-book section was dominated by a large date. By losing the date we were able to enlarge the name of the section ("The Way We Live Now"), which seems more relevant to the topics we cover in the section. Another important goal was to enlarge the photography that is featured on the opening page. We also integrated a small chart and illustration at the top of the page for visual impact.
NYTMR6.jpg(above: before redesign on left; after redesign examples on right, and below)

In September 2005 we started commissioning different artists to create the headlines for the "On Language" column. We decided not to move away from that, and I'm proud to say we've commissioned more than 250 words, never by the same person or group.  
NYTMR8.jpg(above: before redesign on left; after redesign examples on right, and below)

Kevin Van Aelst, the photographer and great thinker for "The Medium" column always delivers the goods. Because of this, our goal was to make his work larger on the page. We also brought the sidebar that was previously on the second page to the opener of the column.
NYTMR10.jpg(above: before redesign on left; after redesign examples on right)

What about "Questions for..."?
Our readers are very passionate about this page. We found out the hard way by introducing a "cinematic approach" to the photography. Seems readers missed seeing the feet of the subject and wanted the old format back. We accommodated that request, and of course, I heard complaints asking why we abandoned the new format. Seems some people took a liking to it. If you try and please everyone, you lose every time, as we all know.
NYTMR11.jpg(above: before redesign on left; after redesign examples center and, the Redesign 2.0 example, far right)

The "Consumed" column, by Rob Walker, covers current consumer behavior. We moved away from commissioning illustrations because I really wanted us to tackle this page in-house. We decided that the best visual approach would be to break down the information into a process.
NYTMR12.jpg(above: before redesign on left; after redesign examples on right)

Dan Winters is truly a man of many talents. We were proud to have him help us recreate our "Diagnosis" pages with beautiful illustrations that change from week to week instead of relying on the same illustrated body.
NYTMR14.jpg(above: before redesign on left; after redesign examples on right)

We kept the architecture of the food pages pretty much intact, but we wanted to organize the information a little better.
NYTMR15.jpg(above: before redesign on left; after redesign examples on right, and below)

Let's get into some of the issues you've produced since the redesign. What are some of the commissions and packages you've really felt proud of?
Our redesign was launched on June 14th with a special themed issue on Infrastructure. We launched it with two covers, one by the very talented artist Thomas Doyle (photo) and illustration by the incredibly detail-crazed maniacs (and I say this with admiration-- just look at it) of IC4Design. Their mission: to interpret infrastructure in their own very special way.
For the interior we thought it would be fun to have Christoph Niemann take on what I believe is the longest illustration we've ever commissioned. It ran, mostly in the margins, through the entire book, even taking over our On Language column. Here's a look at some other highlights:
"Are your Friends Making You Fat?"...only you can answer this question. We commissioned the typographer Chester Jenkins to illustrate the point. On the interior we invited Carin Goldberg, Julia Hasting, Catalogtree, Nomoco, Shout and Rumors to lend us their interpretations as well.
Simple, bold graphics and typography work well for this profile of the comedian Jeff Dunham. Photograph by Dewey Nicks.
For this story on the Obamas' marriage, we wanted the type to feel celebratory but elegant.
Every year we do an issue dedicated to the year's most interesting ideas and inventions. It's filled with fascinating commissions by photographers, designers, artists and illustrators.

This David Cameron story came with a relatively long subhead. By reducing and highlighting some of the text in red brackets we accentuated an important point and kept the long subhead from taking over our small white channel.
I loved the movie "Precious," and this was one of my favorite covers of the year. Shot by Robert Maxwell this image captures everything beautiful about the film's star, Gabourey Sidibe. We also ran an interior portfolio of some of the other female stars of the film, and its talented director, Lee Daniels.
ANXIETY! Sound familiar? Of course it does. We commissioned Mickey Duzyj to illustrate some fictional faces in panic mode. Simple is always better. Black and white, clean lines--we were happy with this stripped-down approach.
Another one of my favorite covers of the year, shot by Inez Van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin, this cover belongs to our annual Screens Issue. We decided to take a different approach and use a font outside of our traditional family. It's called Hounslow, and we liked its block shape and dimensionality.
I cannot say it enough: simple, simple, simple. Here's an example of our serif-display face Nyte at work. This was a serious piece about a family losing its way of life. No need to overdesign here.
Eat healthy, don't stuff your pie hole with junk and you'll look and feel better. We all know this. Now pass the fries. This issue was dedicated to America improving its diet and approach to food. With Jamie Oliver as our cover spokesman, our goal was to illustrate this point with a little humor. On the interior we commissioned Jacob MaGraw-Mickelson to illustrate all of the feature headlines. The table of contents was illustrated by Museum Studio and Stefan Narancic and the single page opener for The Food Issue was illustrated by Will Cotton.
This beautiful portrait of Anna Deavere Smith was shot by Jeff Riedel. The typography is the display version of Nyte, and we added a few flourishes of our own.
Illustrating with type is something we love doing when given the opportunity. Here's an example of Knockout at its best--large and powerful.
The Beatles had a new video game coming out and we did a story on it. We went for a playful approach, using big type and integrated characters from the game within and around the letterforms.  
There comes a time when you have a photo that you have to use to make a point, even if the photo isn't a great one. An article about Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a former Russian billionaire turned prisoner, was just such an occasion. We reduced the size of the picture and used type to help unify the layout.
Is there any part of this you didn't think about?

It's all in the details. Our end slug was pulled right from the logo itself, the dot on the "i" to be exact. This was a small but proud moment for us. I'm sure you saw the connection right away...right?
Of course. Right away. I've been waiting for you to get to that actually. (laughs) Any last words here for GRIDS?
Thanks for reading. I realize this was a long entry. I'd be happy to answer any questions and would love to hear your feedback.

I'd like to also give a special shout-out to our Deputy Art Director, Gail Bichler, who was a crucial part of this redesign as well as a group of amazingly talented designers: Cathy Gilmore-Barnes, Hilary Greenbaum, Leo Jung, Nancy Harris Rouemy, Ian Allen, Leslie Kwok and Robert Vargas. And last but not least, our editor, Gerry Marzorati, for his support and constant motivation, our Director of Photography, Kathy Ryan, who is brilliant in every way, and her team of editors, Clinton Cargill, Joanna Milter, Luise Stauss, and Marvin Orellana.

Thank you, Rem, for this amazing look at what it took to redesign the venerable New York Times Magazine and what it takes today to put together 52 issues of the magazine a year. Readers, what did you expect Rem to answer here that he hasn't yet? Ask away in the comments...

Arem Duplessis is the Design Director for The New York Times Magazine Group. He also is an Instructor at The School of Visual Arts (SVA) and teaches a yearly Masters Workshop on design at The Danish Design School in Cophenhagen. He has lectured on design in Washington D.C., Scandinavia (Oslo and Copenhagen), Louisville, KY., and New York. His work has been published in books including: Area_2, 100 Graphic Designers, 10 Curators, 10 Design Classics, Magazine Design That Works: Secrets for Successful Magazine Design by Stacey King, 100 Habits of Successful Publication Designers by Laurel Saville, and New Ornamental Type: Decorative Lettering in the Digital Age by Steven Heller and Gail Anderson among others.

  • Darrin Kagele

    Love it! Except for the Before and After examples, which leaves me bewildered. I honestly prefer all of the before examples. The after layouts remind me of the 1980's -- minimal, stripped down, extremely formatted so that a robot could layout the pages. Call me crazy but the before instances had more personality.

  • Thiet ke website

    Hi. Thank you for this article, I received a lot from it. You have to consider the social networks submitted this article yet.

  • themaninh

    Congratulations! This is an amazing work. I'm fascinated with the whole aspect of the new version of the magazine. I love the flexibility of the layout, type and illustrations and photographs styles. Each magazine looks such a piece of art. Thumbs up!

  • Adriana Garcia

    It is always interesting to see the thought process of a re-design. This was a fascinating to read. The quality of this magazine is superb- I'm amazed at how well done it is considering it is put together in such a short period of time, with multiple issues at a time. kudos.

  • Arem Duplessis

    @ James. Our schedule varies from week to week but generally our hours are from 10am to around 7:30 pm. on average. One of the great things about working for a weekly is that everyone has to be decisive, which in turn allows us to keep a relatively tight ship. We also work ahead so during most weeks we are balancing a few issues at a time.

    @ Arthur. I'm sorry you feel that way about our work. We strive to make a great magazine from week to week, putting out 52 issues a year can be a difficult task. We make our share of mistakes but we've also managed to create some work that we are very proud of. That's why I love working for a weekly...there's always next week to get it right!

    In terms of the redesign, the truth of the matter is we got smaller and with the size change came necessary sacrifices. The amount of white space that the larger size allowed was a luxury, one that we cannot always afford in our current form.

    Thank you for all of your responses.



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