At the end of May, word quietly slipped that New Yorker creative director Wyatt Mitchell left the publication for a job at Apple. And the man taking his place will be Nicholas Blechman, former art director at The New York Times Book Review.
What role Mitchell has taken at Apple is still something of a mystery. A spokesperson from the company has declined to elaborate, and Mitchell did not respond to our inquiry.
Over the course of his career, Mitchell has made his way through some of the industry’s most elite magazines, spending time at Esquire, O, Vibe, Details, and Wired. On the other side of the equation, Apple’s forays into the print industry have been historically disastrous. Apple’s Newsstand, which sells virtual issues of print magazines on the iPad and iPhone, failed to “save” the publishing industry as its launch had heralded. And iBooks, while growing in popularity, shockingly plays second fiddle on its own platform to Amazon’s Kindle app. For a point of comparison, Apple Maps–yes that Apple Maps—claims 3.5 times the use of Google Maps on iOS.)
It seems feasible that Mitchell could be tapped in to revitalize iBooks, but it seems most likely that he’s been brought in to help tackle Apple’s latest publishing product (and successor to the recently euthanized Newsstand). At the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference earlier this month, Apple announced a new app called News, which curates content from publishers across the web. It’s part of a trend in Silicon Valley, in which companies get more and more involved with republishing third-party content natively in their apps instead of just linking out to a publication. We’ve seen it most recently with Facebook Instant Articles and Snapchat Stories.
Given Mitchell’s history in magazine publishing, spearheading the translation of so many different print brands to a single, Apple-curated environment would make a lot of sense. But it also prompts the question, for any of its print platforms, would Apple be better served chasing other design talent for these jobs–not masters of print, but masters of digital media?
Facebook got this approach right from the start, hiring designers like Mike Matas who developed their beautiful-if-failed Paper app before Instant Articles. (He technically worked at Apple, too, and helped develop the original iPhone interface). Facebook also gutted the design team behind the hit publishing startup Medium.
Even if Apple is not interested in interaction designers for these positions, why not consider the designers behind meteoric digital native platforms, like BuzzFeed, Vox, or Vice? Look at what BuzzFeed has done through design. They haven’t just picked the right typefaces, or even introduced some paradigm-shifting UI for mobile. They’ve merged design and editorial content to create content like those hyper-addictive listicles that can either be a guilty pleasure, or explain complex ideas in addictive, shareable ways. Is that a job for any one designer–is that a job that even exists? Maybe, but it’s not at The New Yorker.
As for The New Yorker, picking up Nicholas Blechman is an ideal tonal fit. His expertise is in making cheeky, cartoon illustrations which take complicated information and present it in a humorous-but-academic manner. And, well, that’s The New Yorker, right? There aren’t a lot of creatives out there who will convincingly turn the St. Peter’s Basilica into a giant lemon squeezer.
We reached out to Apple, Mitchell, and Blechman for this article, and all declined to comment.
This story has been updated with more thoughts regarding editorial design.