A few days before The Cut, New York Magazine’s flagship women’s site, debuted its new look, editor-in-chief Stella Bugbee sat in her Brooklyn home reading The Italian Metamorphosis, 1943-1968. As Bugbee, who started her career as a graphic designer, flipped through the 700 pages of the Massimo Vignelli-designed tome, she made a mental note of its restraint and minimalism. “It was a super simple design, but it was done so so well,” she says.
Vignelli designed Metamorphosis in the early 1990s, but if you look around the web today you can see echoes of his pared-down aesthetic everywhere. Publications, anxious to distinguish themselves in the noisy sea of online content, have gotten rid of the clutter and corralled their content into tidy boxes with sans serif type. “The trend has really been to design less,” Bugbee says, as she scrolls through a mock-up of the The Cut’s new site.
Earlier this week, The Cut unveiled its first redesign in five years, and it, too, was not immune to the trappings of on-trend minimalism. The site has ample white space, and its display type, Commercial Type’s Canela, is sophisticated yet edgy with letterforms that straddle the line between serif and sans-serif. The site centers on original photography, which appears to float inside borderless boxes and gives the design a roomy and textured look.
“I thought a lot about how do you make a luxury experience in 2017,” Bugbee says. “To me, it’s white space and wasted space.”
Bugbee says she’s been thinking about redesigning The Cut since the day the site relaunched, for the first time, in 2012. At the time, the internet looked different, because it was different. The early design of The Cut nodded to New York’s elevated tabloid heritage. It had smaller images and less breathing room overall. By contrast, the new design (led mainly by New York’s print department) is meant to feel more like a literary magazine. “In those five years the conversation around women and the ambition for the site has exploded,” she says. “I think it was long overdue for us to catch up editorially.”
During the early stages of the redesign, Bugbee and her team referenced a mood board that sat in her office. They filled it with a visual patchwork—everything from typefaces to photographs. “There were a couple of things we never took down,” Bugbee says, including cut-out of the Hermes logo and a photographic collage by feminist artist Linder Sterling.
Both pieces of design ephemera have a graceful starkness to them, which has carried through to the final design. “I kept saying I wanted something boring,” Bugbee says. “You said you wanted something aggressively plain,” corrects Miranda Dempster, a senior art director at New York who worked on the redesign.
It sounds like splitting hairs, but the nuance is important. If you ask Bugbee, she’ll tell you there’s a subtle but important distinction between digital media’s infatuation with simplicity (read: boring) and something like Vignelli’s thoughtful minimalism, which could be read as plain. “It’s the difference between wearing Celine, which is minimal, and any old white T-shirt,” she says. “It’s all about the cut of the dress.”