The 151-year old American magazine The Atlantic just had a redesign. Since that very magazine employs quite a few political bloggers that I read every day, and since their posts tend to be peppered with links to new Atlantic ad campaigns and various articles, including some about the redesign, I couldn’t escape it.
I love seeing how magazines are put together. We get the issue and it seems as though it’s always existed, that the typesetting and layout has never really changed, just because of the combined weight of all the issues before it. So when a magazine (even one I don’t read on paper like The Atlantic) changes its design and shows us exactly how it was done, I’m fascinated.
Instead of just a simple layout refresh, the magazine went all out and hired Pentagram for the design and Havas (well, a subsidiary of international agency Havas) for some eye-catching promotional work.
What I love about seeing this process is that we get some rejected design ideas. While I initially thought the new cover was a bit too busy (it looks like a wordle diagram), future issues will feature photography, and the idea of the first one was to push the flow of ideas that emenate from the magazine’s writers. Look at the rejected idea on the left: although I like the design, I think it’s too backward looking and sits in the realm of “we are a prestigious magazine”, which is a design I believe the Atlantic’s editors were trying to escape from. The New Yorker’s already got that aesthetic side of the market sewn up. Plus the design on the right seems a touch too contemporary–there’s no acknowledgement whatsoever of the “timelessness” of the Atlantic Brand. Here’s lead graphic designer Michael Bierut:
The Atlantic, we discovered, demands a careful balance between intellectual engagement and entertainment. In a magazine of ideas, writers depend on words to build their arguments, but we didn’t want The Atlantic’s pages to look like homework. Nor did we want to diminish the gravitas that its subjects demand by larding the book with graphic tricks that could be rightly dismissed as eye candy.
One of the main examples is this site here, called Think Again, which is (sort of) also called The Atlantic Project. It contains a series of great photography–neon signs that ask specific questions, which then open up to show a video, a blog post full of comments, and of course, a relevant Atlantic article that generated the idea.
Some innovative ideas were brought to the marketing, as well: The Atlantic is advertising on an entirely new surface: muffin tops. They’re also planning restaurant menus and drugstore shampoo shelves. The point is to reach people where they “eat, buy takeout food, and shop,” which is “where people’s brains are most at rest.” The idea is to create a jolt: small and subtle advertising about “big ideas” where you’d least expect it.