For the first time in 13 years, the New Yorker is introducing a number of changes that will be rolled out across the publication both online and in print. By the standards of any other company, these changes would be considered unremarkable; by the timeless standards of the New Yorker, however, they amount to major revolutions. Intriguingly, however, they less bring the New Yorker forward than closer in line with the magazine's own visual past.
Although an issue of the New Yorker today still looks almost identical to the first issue published by Harold Ross back on February 21, 1925—every cover is still a full-bleed illustration with a single band of color running down the spine, and the contents look largely the same, too—many of the idiosyncratic splashes of whimsy and personality that peppered the design of the New Yorker in its early years have been dropped over time. "Looking at the magazine's historical routes, we saw some design touches in its first issues that we wanted to bring back," says the New Yorker's creative director, Wyatt Mitchell.
One of these changes was to the magazine's iconic Irvin font. Inspired by the typography of a book titled Journeys to Bagdad by Charles S. Brooks and Allen Lewis, Rea Irvin's original font has been redrawn and adapted a number of times throughout the New Yorker's 88-year history. Along the way, though, some of its idiosyncratic personality was inadvertently dropped.
"As Rea Irvin originally drew it, we noticed the use of ligatures, where characters played off one another," says Mitchell. "We wanted to bring some of that sense of whimsy and character back, so we decided to have the font withdrawn." The result is that many Irvin letters now intertwine like lovers, or tumble together like particularly dapper circus acrobats.
Another major change is to the magazine's "Goings On About Town" section, which is now "more focused on its editorial and curatorial aspects," according to Mitchell. Reviews have been given a larger physical footprint, while a set of emblems in the New Yorker's own distinctive style have been created to identify each section at a glance: For example, the "Movies" section is marked with a pair of deco-era movie tickets, while the "Art" section features the lounging, voluptuous figure of a Picasso-like statue.
A new font is being introduced to the New Yorker as well. Called Neutraface, the typeface was originally designed by type designer Christian Schwartz back in 2002. It is named after Richard Neutra, a modernist architect who used similar typography for signage around Southern California. That's about as far from New York as you can get, but as Mitchell tells Gizmodo: "Because the brand is still so strongly rooted in the Art Deco tradition, Neutraface—a modern spin on a deco theme—offers us a new type style that doesn't feel misplaced or far removed from our graphic tradition."
What the Queensland Pitch Drop experiment is to the study of fluid dynamics, so the New Yorker is to publishing. In the apparent crystallization of what makes it so visually unique, the New Yorker's graphic design appears to be immutable. But compare this week's issue of the New Yorker to an issue 30, 50, or 70 years ago, and while most of the visual elements will be the same, it will still be clear that the design principles of the New Yorker are, like pitch, slowly and invisibly flowing. Once in a lifetime, you might actually get to see a design change that has been inexorably and imperceptibly accumulating for decades finally drop. We've been lucky. In just 13 years, we've seen two drops break off and fall.