Here at FFF we’re big magazines fans, so when we recently had the opportunity to speak to the Design Director of no less than the acclaimed award-winning The New York Times Magazine, Gail Bichler, obviously we got stuck right in. Gail is genuinely one of the loveliest people working in the industry, not to mention talented, and like any good leader she has surrounded herself with exceptionally brilliant people to help her create one of the most exciting and jaw-dropping weekly magazines. You might recall her most recent international signing, Art Director Matt Willey, is an old friend of FFF and outrageously talented gent. The latest issue of the NYT Magazine is a ‘special issue’ that Matt took the lead in designing – so we focussed on that issue – while exploring some of the wider issues around leading such a renowned title…
FFF: Single-topic issues can be quite tricky, does the NYT magazine have a history of doing them? ‘Walking New York’ seems like a very rich vein to mine, and the JR cover is brilliant expansion of this, how does a collaboration like that come about and how tricky is it to pull off?
GB: Yes, the magazine does about 14 single topic issues per year. As you say, they can be tricky to pull off, but we really enjoy working on them. In regular weeks, each feature article in the magazine is designed by a different member of our team in response to the content and visuals of that story. We pay attention to how the pieces fit together in terms of pacing and imagery to make sure there is visual variety and a good flow, and some common elements like typefaces and grid ensure that the pieces work together. For our special issues, we work in an entirely different way. One lead designer heads up the issue, Matt Willey in the case of Walking New York, and comes up with a visual language to be used throughout the well that serves as the identity of the issue. It’s a more systematic, cohesive approach to the design of the magazine. We use new fonts, often alter the grid and commission special artwork for these issues, so they are great opportunities for our team.
The idea to do a Walking New York Issue came from our editor in chief’s, Jake Silverstein:
“We wanted to write a love letter to our hometown, and the thing we all love to do in N.Y.C. is walk. Everywhere. That’s a unique quality, at least among American cities. New York is the only American city with a dominant pedestrian culture, so we thought that telling walking stories would capture the city’s spirit.”
As to how JR got involved, our director of photography, Kathy Ryan, had been looking for a way to collaborate with him for some time and thought he could do something special for our New York Issue. Then JR came in for a brainstorming session with Jake, some of the editors involved in the issue and me on March 6. The cover was shot on April 11, so there were about four weeks of preparation and planning. Kathy and Christine Walsh (one of our photo editors) did an incredible amount of legwork to figure out the logistics of making the cover, including scouting the pasting locations, finding possible cover subjects, securing the city permits, chartering a helicopter and figuring out the precise timing of when the lighting on plaza would be conducive to getting our cover shot.