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Design Spotlight: Luke Hayman, Jody Quon and Chris Dixon

New York magazine's design team on the mag's retro feel, service-oriented design and working with Adam Moss

- March 1, 2005

nymagazine.jpgWhen Bruce Wasserstein, New York magazine's owner and deep-pocketed patron, managed to lure editor Adam Moss away from his refuge at The New York Times a little more than a year ago, the hire set a thousand resumés in motion. Not since the flush, Internet bubble-era clubhouses like did a media entity have the buzz, the real deal talent at the top, and the ability to keep writing checks needed to stockpile talent the way Moss has done. While his editorial hires have attracted the bulk of people's attention, his key hires on the design sign were inspired. Luke Hayman, once hailed in the design press as "the best magazine art director you've never heard of," left the top job at Travel + Leisure to come aboard. Jody Quon, who had worked with Moss at The New York Times Magazine, signed up as his photography director. And Chris Dixon, who also worked for the Times Magazine but is better known for his inspired work at Adbusters, was hired as Hayman's art director. The three spoke with mb's Greg Lindsay about the details of New York's throwback redesign.

Mediabistro: Let's start with the stories of how you joined Adam Moss' pirate ship. Did he woo you? Were your portfolios left in FedEx dropoff boxes the day he was hired? How did this team come together and then set out on the redesign?

Luke Hayman (design director): I think I'll speak for all of us in that we are Adam's team. Jody, of course, came from the Times Magazine, and it's my guess that Adam probably had her in mind right from Day One. Then he had to search for a design director. And Chris and I knew each other already—I desperately tried to hire Chris a few years ago and he wisely resisted. But he came over here. So that was the chronology.

Mediabistro: What made you want to leave Travel + Leisure, Luke? You were the only one of the three of you who hadn't worked with Adam before.

Hayman: I had an amazing gig at Travel + Leisure, and I had no intention of leaving. But when I heard about this, [it] was a very unique situation, and I had this great fear that I would never get this opportunity again—where a magazine with incredible potential was bought by someone for the right reasons, who had enough money to do something great with it, and who hired whom I consider to be the best editor in town. All of those parts, coming together at the same time… I just thought they would never be offered to me. I had never had this opportunity, and so I hunted it down. It took about six weeks from the first email to the OK.

Mediabistro: I imagine a redesign was already in the cards when the three of you arrived. Where did you start from conceptually considering the magazine's incredible design history, and were you exceedingly cautious because of that history?

Hayman: From the beginning, Adam said part of the brief was to do a bit of a restoration job. So, we are going back to the time of one of the golden eras, which informs some of the typography and the tone. He described to me how his parents had subscribed to the magazine when he was growing up on Long Island, and how he just had a thrill—and how other people said they had a thrill—when they learned of the magazine, and grew up with this magazine, and waited for every issue and discovered amazing writing, and just how the feel of the city that was conveyed through this magazine.

Mediabistro: How does the photography play into that, and how do the three of you work together? From what I understand, Adam is very big on process, and there lots of meetings and lots and lots of discussions over there. How do you the three of you plan each week together, and plan for future issues?

Jody Quon (photography director): The photography begins well in advance. Essentially, the photo department—as well as Luke's team—are very much in touch with the editors to try to figure out the stories that have been assigned. Then, what ends up happening is that the photo team immediately gets in touch with the writers to figure out—based on what they think they're going to be writing—what's the best way to tell the story, yet be true to what the eventual storyline is supposed to say. As soon as we know what an initial lineup is going to be over the next week, two weeks, three weeks, or three months ahead, then that's when we begin to start thinking about what the visual length of that story would be. We feel very blessed because Adam is an editor who embraces photography, and when a great picture comes walking through the door, he immediately recognizes it. He has extraordinary taste, and he gives the photo and design departments many, many liberties, allowing us to make our own assessment as to what is the most original and interesting way to tell the story visually. For him, the visual language is so, so, so paramount that it's really such a blessing—certainly for a photo editor—to have the editor on our team in that respect.

Mediabistro: The most surprising thing about the new New York magazine, I would hazard, is the number of entry points into the magazine, and the incredibly amped-up back of the book—the "Strategist" and "The Culture Pages" in particular. None of you really had a service magazine background, so when confronted with the task of taking an already service-heavy magazine to the next level, how did you approach it?

Hayman: Well, Travel + Leisure is actually pretty service-heavy, when you get into it. You see the world with the photography, but in the front and back there is a lot of hard work that goes into the service, and that was my real background there.

But the redesign happened with a lot of prototyping with Adam. Adam had a lot of very strong ideas. He told me what no editor has ever told me; he said, "Make the type smaller, we have to fit more on here." He and many other editors had so many great ideas we wanted to try that we just had to fit as much in as possible. From my point of view, there wasn't any great, big idea that we had. The design just evolved, and we played around with many things. The redesign was long and torturous, but also a lot of fun and satisfying in the end.

We are still playing with a lot of it. We had a discussion this morning about several of the pages that I'm a little bit unhappy with, and we are going to try some more things. It just sort of grows.

Mediabistro: Where did you actually find the time to work on the redesign, considering the small staff and the relentless weekly pace? How much time do you spend on long-term planning versus putting out fires? And where are you finding the time for tweaks?

Hayman: I spent quite a lot of time on the redesign, and then Chris stepped in. And for a long time, he was doing the bulk of each issue in terms of the [feature] well and the culture section. We hired two full-time freelancers to help with the redesign, and they stayed for a while to implement the sections.

It was very intense. It was like having two jobs at once. Because you would just get your head into thinking about a feature and the redesign, and then you would get caught in a meeting—"What do you want on the cover?"—and suddenly you have to think about something completely different. So, it was a real shock for me, but Jody has been on a weekly pace for eleven years or something like that, and she put together an amazing team.

Quon: You know, the more you are asked to do, the more you accomplish. The busier you are, the more productive you are. And I think, as much as it can be difficult at times, we are even happier that way.

As far as the redesign goes, most of it is in place, I would say, and there is always going to be tweaking here and there, but that's the wonderful thing about Adam: there is no ceiling for what the perfect product should be. Everybody should be so blessed to have an editor who has that level of expectation for his staff.

Back to the original question: Luke has more of a background in service than certainly I did. I had virtually no background in that, but New York is very much about service, so a lot of that stuff was already here. And for us, our job was to figure out how to repackage it and edit it down.

Mediabistro: The city magazine format has been updated and optimized, but hasn't really changed much since Clay Felker invented it at New York decades ago. How far back into the archives did you go, and are there any other magazines you looked at that had a fresh take on how city magazines should be done?

Hayman: We literally did go through the archives and pulled out and Xeroxed the Intelligencer pages and got a feel of what they were like in the 70s and 80s. Milton Glaser and Walter Bernard started it all. It was very smart and had humor, and the issue of illustration was very innovative. And then the Bob Newman/Kurt Andersen version had just such a strength to it—Robert Best just did amazing things with type on a weekly basis before he had a computer. It just blows your mind when you see the amount of work he did.

Mediabistro: The redesign has such a retro feel to it, which is surprising in the sense that neither you nor Chris really have retro bent in any of your previous work.

Hayman: Aesthetically, this magazine was a complete change for myself, and I think for Chris, too, in terms of typography. I think both of us had a background in a much more modernist sort of design. Travel + Leisure had a very spare look in terms of the display text. My background has always been in modernism.

And then one of the first things Adam talked about when I met him was the restoration of New York, and his fondness for its legacy. I was taken aback right from the start, because I sort of had an aversion to classical typefaces, and there was so much of that in New York—which was influenced and then dominated by Roger Black and Rolling Stone—and it just sort of went against my nature.

But we all sort of got our heads around it, and organically and by chance, the sort of graphic languages we had started playing with right from the beginning was this sort of bookish, classical typography that Chris has really spent a lot of time honing. That's partly because of the typeface that was here, which we kept, this gorgeous font named "Miller" which comes in lots of weights and has a very elegant italic and small caps, and just lends itself to very elegant, classical, bookishness.

And we started developing a style of charts and graphs that were a little bit ornate, an aesthetic we thought set a tone without going too far and being too sarcastic. It just had that sort of light touch and intelligence. We didn't want to go anywhere down the path of a lot of the magazine design going on under the Brit influence—the Maxim look, the sort of packing everything onto a page. Though we wanted to have the content there, we didn't want to have everything screaming at you. And Adam was very much an advocate for elegance.

We didn't want to go anywhere down the path of a lot of the magazine design going on under the Brit influence—the Maxim look, the sort of packing everything onto a page. Though we wanted to have the content there, we didn't want to have everything screaming at you.

In the instance of "The Strategist" opener, we tried many, many versions of that. We had started with something a lot bolder and he said, "Try that in italic," and we ended up with a very elegant, skinny italic font which is just very, very pretty... and not something I would have come up with in the past.

Mediabistro: How unusual is your relationship with Adam? Just based on this conversation, he sounds like the most involved, visually astute editor any of you have ever worked with.

Chris Dixon (art director): I'll just say one thing regarding editors, because I've worked with Kalle Lasn at Adbusters, who is very, very hands-on and has a film background, so he was always thinking visually and that was a good collaboration. Then I spent a short period of time at The New York Times Magazine when Adam was there, three or four years ago, just as a designer. He was very involved and knew a lot more about typography than many of the designers around. So you had to be on guard all the time, because he would come up to you with questions...

He is very attuned to design, and can go back and forth in a conversation about the editorial direction of the article, then quickly move to a discussion of photography, and then move on to how the typography is working for the story as well. He sees them all as one unit.

Mediabistro: How does that affect your freedom as designers? Do you ever feel like you're being micromanaged? And is the vision of the magazine entirely Adam's, or are you really collaborating with him?

Hayman: I just do what I'm told. (laughs) I'm really good on the Mac; that's why he hired me.

Dixon: No, I think you bring a lot to a story or an issue, and then it's just about a good collaboration. I'll work with Luke on the design of a few stories, and then we'll do a presentation with Jody and Adam, just to get everyone's head together, and push everything another ten percent better, or tweak it a bit. It's really more of a fine-tuning, but a lot of the discussion will drive the direction for the benefit of everyone involved.

Hayman: One unique thing I've found—which was a little intimidating, actually, when I first got here—is that Adam almost demands, or expects, or invites us to the editorial ideas meetings, and we are there not just to listen. We get our turn around the table to present ideas, and they often ask for visual one, or photo-based ones. We are in all the core meetings, so I do get the feeling that we are at the executive level . That sounds obnoxious, but I've been at some places where the editors are the big brains, and then they come out and disperse it to the junior editors and the designer—and then sometimes the photo department below the designer, even. But here, Jody's team and our team are really in at the beginning, and we are given a lot of information. Often, Adam won't start a meeting until he can have us in the room. That's why I think the New York Times Magazine has won every award in the book. Because the design and photography teams are allowed and encouraged, you reach—he pushes you all the time to reach—and try to do something special.

Greg Lindsay a freelance writer in Brooklyn, has covered media for and Women's Wear Daily.

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