At Rolling Stone, the most disposable medium that you could possibly imagine, a bi-weekly, newsprint publication, we were all designing for the ages, as if it were the Gutenberg Bible—no typographic detail too trivial. We would kern and space entire pages of text by hand(!). I learned that of design is something which can be timeless. —Christopher Austopchuk
IT WAS TWENTY YEARS AGO today. Well, more like 51. But Rolling Stone keeps on going with a diet of music and politics . . . and type. During last year’s 50th anniversary of the magazine, there was much to celebrate: Hunter Thompson and the writers. Annie Leibovitz and the photographers. But not much mention of the people behind the scenes―the art directors and the photo editors who put it all together visually. So TYPE assembled a group this May in New York to take a good look at The Art of Rolling Stone. Here’s a sample.
If I had known that I was dealing with history, I would have paid more attention
Art director, 1967-1968, still living in San Francisco, John Williams became a partner in a successful design firm.
I WAS JUST using what was available. I didn’t have much time to do much thinking about it. I had these paste-up flats from a failed Sunday Ramparts, and the Monotype typesetter we used just a block away had limited fonts, and I was trying to put the issues together as fast and efficiently as I could with the resources at hand—after my work hours at Ramparts.
It was remarkable that I was able to get any finished product at all! If I had known that I was dealing with history, I would have paid more attention. I didn’t have time to be arty. I was just going for something readable and classic, not like the hippy rags that were floating around everywhere at that time. —John Williams
Ideas are what make people remember your work
Lloyd Ziff was associate art director 1973-1975, and was later art director of Vanity Fair, Condé Nast Traveler.
I DON’T THINK I’ve ever had a philosophy about type, or if I did, it was “Steal from the best.” When I was at RS my influences were Nova from England, Twen from Germany, Henry Wolf, then Marvin Israel and Ruth Ansel & Bea Feitler at Harper’s Bazaar, and Bea again when she did Ms. I basically responded to great work. Working with Mike Salisbury at RS I learned that ideas are what made people remember your work. Later I learned that Diana Vreeland had put it another, better way: “Give them what they never knew they wanted.” —Lloyd Ziff
Bringing history into the present
Vincent Winter was associate Art Director, 1975-1978, and is now in Paris, where he had several gallery shows of his photography.
MY IN-DEPTH VOYAGE through type history has been a boon, layering my decisions—even now—with a sense of scope and humility. You strive to shun anything gratuitous or banal, but success isn’t necessarily a given—it’s only a goal.
Any comment on a colleague’s layout usually involved a question: Does it sing? That became a sort of de facto mantra, something to strive for. Something I still ask myself. Meaning: Does it surprise? Does it catch the spirit of the writing? Does it make you want to read the article?
The consistently high level of Rolling Stone photography instilled in me a desire to achieve the same level in every other design project I ever had. Push the limits, explore the possibilities, never accept “good enough.” Now, if only clients felt the same way…
At Rolling Stone, after reading an article and before starting any design, there were always visits to the specimen books, or books with typographic title pages, or the newsstand, or to the Public Library, searching for any connections to history that could be brought into the present and adapted and modernized to best fit the subject of the article. But it was never about design for design’s sake—it all had to add up to a revelation. The goal was to maximize readability as well as provide an exciting environment for the reader.
We found a lot of the headline fonts in old specimen books, but since the complete alphabet was often missing, our resident typographer, Ann Pomeroy, had to deduce what the “Y” might look like, for example, then take the whole mess home and spend half the night drawing and inking a final word or headline at 200 percent. Slick. Fun. —Vincent Winter
We didn’t know it at the time, but this was a golden era
Mary Shanahan was art director 1978-1980. Later art director of GQ, French Vogue, and Town & Country, she now lives at a ranch on the coast of Southern California.
Nancy Butkus worked all over the RS art department, and then became the first production manager of Outside. She was art director at Manhattan inc and creative director at WWD. Nancy lives on the North Fork with her dog Bowie who has two different-colored eyes, “like David did.”
IT WAS THE LATE 1970’s in a brick warehouse south of Market Street in San Francisco, pre-gentrification and post-Summer of Love. There were about a dozen of us twenty-somethings working in the RS art department. We were a passionate and hardworking crew and Roger was our fearless captain.
The art department was a mixed bag—Bohemians from Bolinas, Midwestern transplants, even Catholic schoolgirls. But Roger was sui-generis. He arrived bright and early every morning from Berkeley—in a suit and tie! But wait, he blasted music all day (whoever was on the cover was on the turntable) had amazingly strong pot that he generously shared with all and had a beautiful sprite of a wife named Pinkie! A true style icon for us young women, Pinkie was famously quoted in a magazine saying “never look in the mirror when applying lipstick,” and her sophisticated street style was ahead of the curve (Hello, Comme des Garcons!) Everyone adored her.
Roger’s office was super cool with its skylights, great stereo system, and impressive collection of old type specimen books—even his rubbery yellow Olivetti calculator was covetable! He hosted thés dansants (mais oui) at their house and used his expense account to take us all out to lunch, often squeezing way too many in his vintage Porsche Roadster. His spending habits eventually became a joke around the office, and when Jann decided to sell Outside magazine in 1979, it was rumored that Roger would buy it and put it on his expense account.
MORE IMPORTANTLY Roger knew how to lead. After closings, Roger would present a slide show of the issue, coupled with a lecture on, say, Aldus Manutius and his 15th Century type foundry. He held us all to exacting standards—like his invisible descender rule, his rules about letter spacing, his rules about rules! In this time of labor intensive Rapidographs and Typositors (Google away, young people), he sent pasted-up boards back for points-off letter spacing corrections or inked hairlines he deemed not worthy.
The paste-up crew, working seemingly round the clock in the bullpen, was also extraordinary. Pat Koren read Russian novels—in Russian—during down time. Jeanne Jambu, supposedly a model for R. Crumb’s solidly-built-yet-feminine women, was Roger’s designated helper, endlessly slicing up headlines with her X-acto. Susan Hemphill, Roger’s office assistant, was devoted to him and floated above the manic fray of deadlines with her abiding smile. Vincent Winter, with his exotic French wife Martine, became a true devotee, carrying Roger’s message of World Domination Through Type (yes, true!) all the way to Paris.
We would be remiss if we failed to mention the venerable group at Mackenzie & Harris, the typesetters who knew no bounds, providing a steady presence—up all night, inking proofs, working their noisy Monotype machines. Big Pete, owner of M&H, could set type in four or five languages and was assisted by RePete, also a whiz at the antique keyboards that spit out the hot metal for the magazine. Coiffed and perfumed Helen manned the office while Bob, who worked there for a gazillion years, delivered the proofs to our office a block away. After hours, one of us would take over the type run, often stopping at Connoisseur Wines, for a fine French wine to accompany the late night hand corrections.
ROGER EASILY STOOD UP to the formidable editors, successfully arguing for cutting copy to run the art larger—setting a standard that that was hard to match as we both learned later in our own careers as art directors. He talked Jann into paying for a Rolling Stone typeface and new logo. He hired great and quirky talent, like Virginia Team and Mary “Velveteen” Robertson who inspired us younger women to stay at it. He created an atmosphere where we thought all things were possible.
We didn’t know it at the time but this was a golden era. We all went on to other jobs, projects, or studios as Rolling Stone its big move to New York, forever changing its DNA. Looking back now, it’s easy to see how that heady time and motley group impacted our lives and careers. Armed with expertise and attitude, we had a template for running a first class art department. Roger went on to conquer the magazine world of course, and, naturally, succeeded in his campaign of World Domination Through Type. Thanks for everything, Roger. —Mary Shanahan & Nancy Butkus
My style at Rolling Stone
Fred Woodward was art director from 1987 to 2001, before going on to a long run at GQ. This spring he received the SPD Herb Lubalin medal.
UNBRIDLED ECLECTICISM (barely) corralled by an Oxford border. My goal: To stop you, seduce you. . . . READ this.
Sometimes the type was married to the image. Sometimes the type was at war with the image. And sometimes . . . sometimes the type WAS the image. —Fred Woodward
Right font, right place, right time
Andy Cowles was art director 2002-2004. He returned to London has since run a successful design and branding agency.
THE HIDDEN POWER behind the design of Rolling Stone is the Oxford rule that goes around every single page. It was there from the very first issue, embellished by Roger Black during his tenure on the title, and then unceremoniously yanked by my fellow Brit, Derek Ungless. But it inevitably it was restored.
An Oxford rule is like no other. It’s a rule around a rule. It’s like saying the page frame itself is worth putting in a frame.
Much like Rolling Stone’s owner Jann Wenner, it’s a gesture of control, a mark to say that this is the last word on the matter, almost an attempt to stop time itself. It reminds me of Pete Townshend’s smashed guitar sealed up in resin, hanging in a box (another frame) right by the magazine’s entrance.
Taking that Wild Mercury Sound, and then stuffing it back in the bottle.
It may be a sort of design narcissism, but there are two killer benefits to the Oxford rule. Firstly, it directly reflects the design DNA of the Rolling Stone logo itself. Which means that the rule is the logo, and vice-versa. It’s like putting the logo around every page–a branding masterstroke.
Secondly, the rule was so strong, and so on-brand, that inside it YOU COULD DO WHATEVER THE FUCK YOU LIKED, and it would still look like Rolling Stone.
Enter Fred Woodward, who frankly, did just that.
IT’S IMPOSSIBLE to overstate the man’s genius. Here’s an excellent video on the SPD site, made to celebrate Fred’s latest typographic honor, well worth a few minutes of your time, and much more eloquent than anything I could write here.
So, after Fred left for GQ, I got lucky and got his job. As much to do with my good work on UK’s Mojo as anything else, but given that Maxim and Blender were tearing up the US Newsstand, Jann might just have fancied a European in the chair.
So how the hell do you follow Fred?
I then looked at the use of type from these three principles.
1. To take advantage of the format – the trim size, the Oxford rule, the logo, all the unique fixtures and fittings established over many years.
2. To build on Fred Woodward’s astonishing typographic creativity and eclecticism.
3. To make the title more readable.
The format of Rolling Stone was incredible. The unusual widescreen proportion and big page size threw conventional page proportion work right out the window.
Spreads were enormous. You could use very small headlines and they would still have an impact. On the cover, the widescreen logo was in perfect relationship to the paper size, giving the designer a canvas to work with no other title could get near. Long after I left, the title went to a smaller, more vertical format. Still, design director Joe Hutchinson and creative director Jodi Peckman could still make it amazing.
I gave Kory and Devin most of the cover features to design. They’d both grown up absorbing Fred’s aesthetic, so I figured they’d rise to the challenge of doing work that carried on his exceptional typographic standards. And they did, knocking out dozens of features with the same level of vision, craft and attention to detail that Fred’s team of Gail Anderson, Ken DeLago and Siung Tjia delivered.
Due to the liberating effect of the Oxford rule, we had a pretty wide range of fonts to play with, and for a while I was particularly enamoured with Storm Type, a progressive Czechoslovakian foundry. Their fonts were cool—but it was a challenge to use them well. Kory and Devin did amazing work with them, but on reflection, my trying to wedge a Raygun level of modernity inside the Oxford was perhaps a bridge too far.
ALONG WITH MY fellow European Matthew Ball, I tended to design the news features. These often needed several documentary images to tell the tale – I liked being able to leverage the visual story telling style of the Euro news mags like Stern, Actuel and Paris Match. Here the constraint of the Oxford rule wasn’t helpful, as it prevented bleed images, a central element to that fast-paced aesthetic.
I then concentrated on giving the departments some love. These pages were often neglected in favor of feature spreads that might win awards, but at the time I joined, our research showed that readers were spending just 15 minutes with the title, as opposed to 60 with a copy of Maxim.
In Rolling Stone, the departments were more than 50 percent of the book, so I wanted to make these pages much more compelling and engaging.
My strategy was to use hyper modern fonts like Metsys for section logos, and team them with traditional Giza headlines. Bigger section heads were set in Farao with overlapping letters—a traditional Rolling Stone gesture. Layout-wise, lots of attention was paid to entry points and box-outs.
In the news section, I brought in Proxima as the headline font. There was no condensed version at that time, so we eventually swapped it out for Futura, although that wasn’t entirely satisfactory.
Mark Simonson, the designer of Proxima, noticed my use of his font, and was inspired to draw the whole Proxima Nova family, now one of the world’s best and most successful font families.
Finally, I changed the text face. When I arrived, it felt a bit antique – very classic, but small and hard to read. It took about a week of testing different options and sizes, but eventually I settled on New Kennerley. That worked out well, it was still bang on brand and didn’t impact the word count, but it was smoother to look at and much easier to read.
Then there was the little matter of the cover.
THIS IS ALWAYS the most challenging part of any publishing endeavor, but Rolling Stone was a league apart. When I arrived, someone told me that designing this cover was like trying to land a jumbo jet on the deck of an aircraft carrier. In a storm, and at night.
This is the point where editorial direction, marketing, celebrity access and other business considerations all intersect. Given the bun fight this often produces, using the right font becomes even more of a demanding decision.
Covers are public property—this where the audience truly gets to vote. They either buy you or they don’t. Post-match analysis is interesting, but the work will always end up speaking for itself, both good and bad.
I was at Rolling Stone for just over a couple of years, around 60 covers in all. But my experience was pretty much a game of two halves.
The first was all about me attempting to impose a new aesthetic into the frame—contemporary fonts merged with a more newsstand approach. And the results were mixed, to say the least.
But the second half was much better. This is where I realized that you’ve got to work with what you’ve got. And if that’s a classic piece of Americana, so be it. I started using more traditional mid-west fonts, more drop shadows and generally stopped fighting with it. The work was stronger and I was happier.
You just can’t mess with an Oxford rule.
Or for that matter, Jann Wenner. —Andy Cowles
Like a Rolling Stone
Joe Hutchinson has been the design director of Rolling Stone since December, 2011.
I HAVE BEEN design director for Rolling Stone for the past 11 years, and during that time a lot has changed here at the magazine and in the industry. The design of the magazine evolved within that time period and is about to take a major step forward into the future.
When I started at Rolling Stone, there was a directive to go back to the magazine’s roots, which turned into a decidedly more newsy and classic look for the magazine, without being too stodgy or stiff.
And, to put this in context, we were dealing with the realities of emerging economic issues that were facing print journalism. Space and page counts for editorial could not be taken for granted. Every piece of content, every piece of typography, every photograph and design approach had to count. We were still committed to great storytelling through writing and visuals, so the challenge was to figure out how to continue to showcase our strength in this new environment.
These were the factors that influenced the typography and design I created.
We were still at the famous 10 x 12 oversize shape when I started. I inherited a number of different typefaces being used and it seemed that each major section of the magazine had its own branding. Rock & Roll used distinctly different typefaces, (Elmhurst) colors and graphics from the Reviews section (Dispatch).
Amid Capeci left for Newsweek and Rolling Stone had a temporary art director in place before I started. During the interim period, the edit leadership really pushed for a newsier presentation and typography. For example, Escrow, The Wall Street Journal headline typeface, was introduced on RS covers and inside to join existing fonts Elmhurst, Dispatch, Amplitude and New Kennerley.
SO WHEN I came on board, I felt that there were too many typefaces being used simultaneously. I simplified things and focused on Farnham for the display, Amplitude for sidebars, and I kept New Kennerley for text.
Farnham is a fine typeface, but we wanted something more unique for our display. Farnham was being used by other titles at the time.
We looked back into the history of the magazine and noticed that Cochin was used for headlines on columns, decks, bylines and accent display. We commissioned David Berlow of The Font Bureau to create a fresh interpretation of Cochin with a sturdy condensed version as well as an elegant normal cut. Major section banners like “Rock & Roll” and “Reviews” used Berlow’s new Cochin as a basis but were customized by Jim Parkinson to be dimensional to echo the Rolling Stone logo.
The condensed version of Cochin saw heavy use as headlines for the newsy Rock & Roll section for a newspaper feel as well as in the back of the book for the reviews section. We relied on the regular width to carry the feature well.
I also created a real feature well by pushing advertising to the front and back of the book to give the feature well more grandeur. Before this change, advertising ran all the way through the book, much like a newspaper. The opening display of features was always impressive but at times the turn pages of those stories were often a wall of type. But moving the advertising to the front and back enabled more flexibility in the packaging images for a more dramatic, more energetic and more varied presentation.
BUT A CHANGE was coming. The magazine’s trim size changed from the famous 10 x 12 size to a standard magazine size. That change in size brought about the need for new typography and approach to design. The regular width of Cochin, which is pretty wide and thin, became a bit problematic at the smaller trim size.
Also New Kennerley, the text typeface, also seemed too light, thin and wide in our new trim size and new paper stock. So Miller text was adopted and along with it, Miller display typefaces as well.
The overall directive remained: Show restraint, be classic without being stodgy.
So the design evolved again and we doubled down on the Rolling Stone headline typeface created for the magazine in the late 70s (by Roger Black and Jim Parkinson), which was used the most throughout the magazine’s history. The Font Bureau digitized this font a long time ago and their version of the Rolling Stone typeface was called Parkinson. We used it again in a fresh way.
The feature well had more typographic freedom for display but we limited the guest appearances to just a few. For the most part, Parkinson, Miller, a sans serif such as Titling Gothic typically for investigative pieces were the core typefaces through today.
I always look back though the history of the magazine for design inspiration and reinterpret graphic elements into modern uses. The Oxford rule was present at the beginning, dimensional type, newspaper elements like rules in the gutters, etc. We strove for ways to exaggerate those elements to freshen them and at the same time have some brand identity that is familiar to the reader.
The stories in the magazine varied widely in tone and scope. Within one feature well we would go from an irreverent celebrity piece to an investigative story that unseats an official at the highest level of government. The challenge was that we had to do it within the constraints of the “classic” look. That challenged us as designers to be creative, to create power and elegance and truly differentiate the tone of one feature story to the next. Often we used themes in the photography to inspire a design solution. If Lady Gaga is posing in a street garbage can then crumpled newsprint, which is something commonly found in a trash can, becomes the graphic element for the typography. On the other hand, a clean stack of tightly leaded bold Giza is more appropriate for a story examining a destructive Mormon cult leader.
Now, it is time to set the magazine on its course for the next 50 years. Rolling Stone is about to be reborn and we are excited about the magazine’s future. As a result, a new, fresh take on the Rolling Stone brand is being developed. Although a clear brand lineage will be continued, the typography is not beholden to the past. —Joe Hutchinson