Pick up a copy of The New Yorker and the first thing that hooks you in is the cover art.
A deep charcoal sketch of a red pencil upon the bleeding base of the Eiffel Tower, for instance, dons the cover of the January 2015 issue—a sharp aesthetic response to the Charlie Hebdo murders that left the entire world in a standstill.
The design is signature to the publication’s brand as a source of creative reporting and thought-provoking commentary, having built a following of its own in the process.
But beyond the magazine’s artistic exterior is its collection of inspirational design stories. From typography to branding, album art to web design, these stories highlight and dissect the ins and outs of the creative process for a fresh perspective on design and its function and implications within society and culture.
Thinking of spending your downtime with The New Yorker? We’ve picked these ten inspirational design stories as must-reads for designers, regardless of the industry and background you hail from.
01. “Designing Lolita” by Rachel Arons
Considering aesthetic appeal and marketability, how does one go about designing the book cover for a novel as controversial as Nabokov’s Lolita? This is the core of the Lolita Book Cover Project wherein book designers were commissioned to present their creative interpretations of the book.
The story’s an interesting look into the problems behind Lolita as depicted by mainstream media, and how these propelled the design community to step in and challenge such perceptions through book cover design.
02. “Q&A: Searching for Perfect Pitch in China” by Evan Osnos
At the time of Steve Job’s passing, an iconic Apple symbol embedded with his silhouette went viral within the design community. It was created by twenty-year old student artist Jonathan Mak Long, who received an award at the 2012 Cannes Lion festival for his work with advertising agency, Ogilvy & Mather China.
His interview gives us an insider’s look into Long’s perception of Chinese design and advertising, the problems with tying design with cultural references, and what should be done instead.
03. “Just Have Less” by John Colapinto
It may seem like creative director and head designer Tomas Maier is an extreme case of OCD. His hawk-like ability to spot bad and dysfunctional design from afar has made a reputation for himself.
But it is this penchant for perfection that took Bottega Veneta from near-bankruptcy to a luxurious brand of leather goods, fashion, and jewelry. His secret? It’s not about flashy logos or extravagant advertising.
04. “Portrait of the Cover Artist: An Interview with Peter Mendelsund”
The name “Calvino” was all it took to get Peter Mendelsund on board to redesign the works of the famous novelist, who he considers as one of his favorite authors.
In this interview, he talks about reader perception, how it plays into the design choices behind a book’s cover, and the creative process that went behind the entire Calvino repackaging project. Check out the final cover designs within the story. They’re stunning.
05. “Why Startups Love Moleskines” by David Sax
With the rise of digital note-taking technologies, has the handwritten note fallen into obscurity? It turns out that today’s Silicon Valley startups prefer to bring along Moleskine journals for brainstorming, sketching, and note-taking.
This interesting return to analog tools provides insight on the pitfalls of digital productivity and how paper and pen has allowed entities like Evernote’s design team to expand their vision, collaborate better, and provide holistic feedback over the projects they oversee.
06. “The Design that Conquered Google” by Matt Buchanan
Project Kennedy signaled the beginning of a much-needed transition. Under CEO Larry Page’s watchful eye, the goal is to pull together Google’s family of products under a unifying design that promises consistency, simplicity, and good typography.
Years later, this change has been adopted by Google’s existing products and will be the “the way that billions of people consume and digest bits of information they’re seeking from Google over the next few years.”
07. “The Decline and Fall of the Book Cover” by Tim Kreider
Resigned to do some field research on potential cover designs for his upcoming book, author and essayist Tim Kreider questions today’s prevalent book design choices and how these have come to matter for acceptance and publication. It’s an interesting argument that compels you to look at book design throughout the years and see if there is any room left for something more than a plain background smacked with corporate fonts.
08. “How New York’s Subway Signs Came to Be” by Michael Silverberg
The creation of the 1970 New York City Transit Authority’s visual identity became the stepping stone for corporations to brainstorm and build their own design strategy. It’s a fascinating case study of the value and volatility of identity design, now considered an incremental aspect to an organization’s success.
09. “Behind Sochi’s Futuristic Logo” by Jonathan Kolatch
Over the years, the Olympic games have become more than just athletic nationalism. The logo — the games’ central branding tool — sparks an active exchange of opinion and suggestion among designers and creatives around the world. The Sochi 2014 logo was especially peculiar as it deviated away from the traditional style that gave the games its mark. We see what the creative process is like and how Sochi’s mixed reviews have opened the floor to new and innovative logo design.
10. “Master of Play” by Nick Paumgarten
Super Smash Bros, Legend of Zelda, and the 2006 Nintendo Wii are just some of the games and consoles we’ve grown up with. They’ve become significant to cultures around the world, yet we rarely hear or learn much about the visionaries behind these titles. In this story, we finally get to know the story behind Nintendo’s “guiding spirit” responsible for designing the games and consoles we’ve come to love and appreciate to this day.
11. “The Calligraphy Stars of Instagram” by Alexandra Lange
Need some inspiration for your next calligraphy project? You’ll find some of the biggest names in calligraphy and hand lettering on everyone’s favorite visual social network, Instagram. Check out Seb Lester’s (@seblester) hand drawn versions of today’s popular brand names; Linda Yoshida’s (@lindayoshida) collection of handwritten medieval-inspired quotes; and Hawaii-based designer Chae Ho Lee’s (@heypenman) elegant calligraphy and how he turns them into beautiful stationery.
12. “The Vignelli Subway Maps Goes Digital” by Paul Goldberger
It’s been more than 40 years since Massimo Vignelli designed the iconic New York City subway map but it’s looking as contemporary as ever. Ahead of its time in graphic design and cartography, it’s not just beautiful but clear-cut and accurate in its representation of geography. It can even be looked at as a piece of abstract art.
Back in 2011, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority has resurrected the Vignelli masterpiece as an interactive online map and dubbed it The Weekender. The website has its fair share of issues, as Paul Goldberger discusses in his article, but isn’t this act of augmenting a classic piece of artwork with the functionality of the digital age a grand feat in itself?
13. “Storm Thorgerson and the End of Album Art”
The 21st century has not been kind to the album. With people preferring singles since the launch of iTunes back in 2001, artists started creating music that can subsist on its own instead of having every single song fit into the context of one album. If the 1970s rock album designer, Storm Thorgerson lived in this age, he would’ve been out of a job.
Thorgerson was one of the frontrunners of the album art’s golden age and one of the best when it comes to translating music into graphic design. This feature celebrates Thorgerson’s work and narrates the birth and decline of the album art—after all, no more album means no more of its art.
14. “What’s the Point of City Logos?” by Paul Hiebert
How does one encapsulate a whole city—it’s history, people, and culture—into one unifying symbol? City emblems during the medieval era to Milton Glaser’s I Love NY logo, has endeavored to do just that.
But what exactly can a city logo do? Perhaps it may not be able to change people’s perception of its city’s leader, as Paul Hiebert says of Toronto’s identity redesign. On the other hand, “I ♥ NY” emblem practically replenished a bankrupt city, while the “I amsterdam” campaign built a positive image for the city. Not all logos are created equal.
15. “Instagram’s Endangered Ephemera” by Alexandra Lange
Postage stamps, machine badges, matchbooks have three things in common: they’re tiny, they’re vintage, and they’re making a comeback in Instagram ephemera collections.
What may have started as personal treasury for users like @graphilately, @matchbookdiaries, and @junktype are now valuable sources of inspiration and indicators of design revivals. This article contemplates further whether the “preservation” of these design forms is an indication of its extinction.
16. “Deceptively Conceptual” by John Updike
There are more books than one person can read several lifetimes over. Although it may be considered as a minor form of entertainment nowadays, book design is still a significant branch of graphic design.
John Updike discusses the book “By Its Cover: Modern American Book Cover Design “by Ned Drew and Paul Sternberg and juxtaposes it with his views and observations on books as a whole. Overall, he makes the reader wonder: Is book cover design merely a form of getting attention?
17. “Where Latin and Arabic Meet: A Bridging of Two Alphabets” by Elissa Lerner
If there was an award for the most hardworking font, it would go to Rana Abou Rjeily’s Mirsaal. The Lebanese designer created a type that fuses Arabic and Latin, not just in look but in function.
She rendered the font with the curves of Arabic and blended with the detached-print style of Latin. The result is a gift to the world of language: an Arabic type that is easier to learn and master.
18. “Man of Letters” by Alec Wilkinson
Matthew Carter has designed two hundred and sixty three typefaces. His body of work includes the former signature typeface of Microsoft, Verdana, the phonebook’s type, Bell Centennial. They say he’s often described as “the most widely read man in the world.”
This archived article is an in-depth look at the comings and goings in the life of celebrated type designer and how it influenced his work.
19. “Why Abraham Lincoln Loved Infographics” by Gareth Cook
The man who abolished slavery was described as obsessed with his map. It illustrated the political terrain of the time–and perhaps even aided him and helped lead him to his Gettysburg Address.
Gareth Cook considers the map an infographic, but acknowledges that the credit for creating the first one would probably go to William Playfair, who created the first known line graphs. But it was only recently that scientists have created the connection between the brain’s cognitive configuration and the why it can process infographics faster.
20. “Atelier Carvalho Bernau & Octavo Publicaties” by Monica Racic
Dutch designers, Susana Carvalho and Kai Bernau of Atelier Carvalho Bernau have actually formulated an algorithm that translates a book’s data into design. In short, a computer did the design work.
Their rationale being, “Repetitive tasks are for machines, not for designers,” and “We believe in modern, not ism.” This article takes a peek at the contemporary designs of their Octavo Publicaties book series and their human and machine-driven design process.
21. “Hope and Glory” by Peter Scheljdal
Did you know that Shepard Fairey’s Obama campaign poster was created in one day? In terms of influence and recognizability, it is on the same level as Jim Fitzpatrick’s Che Guevara and James Montgomery Flagg’s Uncle Sam.
No one can deny that it’s one fine piece of effective visual design and propaganda—there’s just the fact that this poster is riddled with copyright issues. Fairey isn’t the first appropriative artist who faced legal action—a long list that includes artists like Lichtenstein and Warhol. Does the act diminish the meaning of the work?
22. “Comic, Sans Appeal” by Jenny Hendrix
If there’s a definitive list of don’ts in graphic design, it would have an entry on Comic Sans. Even its designer, Vincent Connare, told the Wall Street Journal once, “If you love it, you don’t know much about typography.”
This article takes an objective stance on the subject and lays out all the credit and discredit there can be laid on the ridiculed but still widely used font. What would designers the world over joke about if not the goofy, cartoon-y Comic Sans?
23. “Painting the Internet Pink” by Matt Buchanan
The road to marriage equality was fraught with much hardship. One of the cause’s most ardent champions, the Human Rights Campaigns, has been fighting for the rights of the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community since time immemorial.
Before the Celebrate Pride Facebook tool, there was HRC’s equal sign, rendered in an immediately recognizable combination of bright red and pink. It’s been more than two years since the Human Rights Campaign’s modified logo went viral and we’ve come a long way since. This article looks at how a piece of graphic design brought together like-minded organizations and contributed to the growth of society.
24. “Made in the Shade” by Eric Konigsberg
Beyond creating color forecasts, color specialists can determine how a color will affect your brand and how it can influence your consumers.
But featured color consultant, Leslie Harrington gets bothered whenever she’s referred to as “tastemaker.” She’s more into psychology and data. For instance: Did you know that when a manufacturer simply changes the color of his brand, his product will be perceived as new?
25. “Illustrating Murakami” by Roland Kelts
Chipp Kidd is one of today’s most recognizable names in graphic design. He’s most notable for designing the books of a lot of top-tier authors as Knopf’s associate art director.
He has been designing the covers for U.S. first editions of Haruki Murakami’s books since 1993. But the 2014 Murakami release, Strange Library, is a different subject because it’s an illustrated novella. That and he was given free reign to do whatever he wants. This article takes a look at his inspirations and design process–and even Murakami’s verdict on his design!
The collective lesson to take home is that design is at the intersection in everything we do. It impacts the way we feel about ourselves, the perceptions we have about society and culture, and empowers us to take a stand and make a difference.
These people have taken crucial steps to use design to better the world—will you take on the challenge as well?