Anyone who has braved [Beijing’s] bathrooms—typically small open rooms with a few holes in the floor and, if they’re fancy, waist-level dividers—knows the operating word is “public.” As bonding experiences go, squatting beside someone in such a space is a close second to going into battle together.
When Dirk Barnett joined our team at The New Republic a few months ago, he brought with him a vast experience designing for major publications, an impressive breadth of design knowledge and history, and a keen eye for fresh, original concepts. Our new logo—the creation of Dirk and his team—is a work of art unto itself. We sat down with Dirk this week and asked him a few questions about his design process and the creation of the new New Republic.
Interviewer: This is a big, bold logo. What made you decide to create such a forceful design?
Dirk Barnett: When Frank and Chris first brought me on board, there was a lot of conversation about balancing what The New Republic has been, and what it can be. While there were many logo iterations that delved into a more serif-based, elegant approach, in the end we decided to break out of The New Republic's heritage and create something fresh and new. We have one shot at stopping people at Hudson News, or the iTunes store, or in their Google Chrome browser, so we wanted a logo that stands tall, and demands a presence, without being too in-your-face. Given who we are and our 98-year history, there is definitely a level of authority and elegance you want to maintain, but also a need to bring it forward to hold the interest of our current readers, while attracting new ones.
Q: What impression do you want readers to walk away with after seeing the new logo?
DB: That we are a must-read brand. Obviously it goes beyond the logo to communicate that, but as soon as we designed our first covers with it, we knew we had something vital. And energetic! One of the underlying principles of our redesign philosophy is to bring a new level of energy to the brand.
Q: How did you choose the font and colors?
DB: As is always the case when creating a logo, I designed probably 50 variations with 15 different typefaces until settling on the final logo, using Antennae from Font Bureau. And one of the things that got us all excited was the fact that it bleeds nicely off the left and right sides of the cover.
Q: The logo is only the first piece in a sea of broad changes to the design of the magazine; were there any particular resources you drew on repeatedly during the process?
DB: This redesign process was unique because we did everything backwards. Usually, the process starts with a logo, then the print edition, then the website, then the iPad. But this process started with the digital first. By the time I had joined the team, our impressive website design team, Hard Candy Shell, was already halfway through their work on the redesign of The New Republic website, and I quickly found inspiration in the work they were doing. They are a great team to collaborate with, and once I finalized the typefaces, they snapped perfectly into their site design. And I was continually thinking about iPad design from the beginning, so there are a lot of details that, while they look phenomenal in print, really come to life in our new app. But even with this fresh look, the 98-year history of the magazine cannot be ignored. My first few trips to The New Republic's D.C. offices were spent pouring through back issues. There are definitely some new design details in the redesign that owe their inspiration to those old magazines. And the first cover of The New Republic, from 1914, is a work of art.
Q: How do you think the logo conveys the spirit of the magazine?
DB: The New Republic is about big, bold ideas, and the logo surely represents that.
Q: The New Republic has a storied history nearly one hundred years long. What elements of past New Republic design work did you bring into the new design and what did you feel needed to be radically altered?
DB: The New Republic, beyond the amazing work [Art Consultant] Joe Heroun did on the covers, was never a visual magazine. It never had a full time creative director or an art department. It looked like a trade journal, and we simply turned that concept upside down, and made everything more visual and electric. But beyond merely making it look like a normal magazine, we will be doing things on a much more conceptual level to communicate ideas. Typography as a graphic tool will be in major play. We can't wait to share the new design.