For the past couple years, Creative Review, the UK’s foremost design monthly, has been in a state of flux. Editorially its voice has become broader, widening its remit to encapsulate all areas of the creative industries alongside its bread-and-butter design and advertising focus. In September 2015, its website collapsed from technical difficulties and a temporary fix was designed to keep traffic flowing—an all-singing, all-dancing replacement promised in the near future.
Then in early June, just in time for its 30th birthday, it announced the arrival of a total rebrand; new logo, new layouts, new typefaces, new website, and a keen new editorial focus on leadership in the creative industries, the culmination of over a year of research and audience engagement that’s focused on satisfying the needs of the magazine’s loyal readership.
“In terms of the editorial repositioning it’s something that we’ve been doing since January last year,” says editor-in-chief, Patrick Burgoyne, “prompted by a lot of conversations we were having with people in the industry. It was partly due to the way things are becoming so much more collaborative now, and so much more cross-disciplinary, so that having an awareness and a knowledge of other arms of the creative industry is very important.”
“The way I often think about it is that if you go to a design conference, yes you’ll want to see what your peers are doing, and yes you’ll probably want to see your heroes talk, but often the people you come away really excited about are those that are from another creative discipline that’s slightly more lateral to what you do. It’s about finding inspiration in different fields.”
Beyond expanding subject matter into other design disciplines, audience feedback has also driven the magazine’s new focus toward leadership. More than ever, creative practitioners are finding themselves in management positions, at the helm of teams with diverse skills when previously they worked alone.
“I think the classic route in our world is that somebody is an outstanding practitioner and on the basis of that they advance in their career,” says Burgoyne. “At some point they find themselves in charge of a team or a department but usually without having had any training or support. For most people it’s really sink or swim, and they struggle through and find their own way to do things.”
“They’re a different set of skills, and there are a lot of adjustments that people have to make along the way. If you’re used to doing the work and then suddenly have to step back and sit on your hands and let other people do it without constantly interfering and intervening, it’s quite a difficult challenge, but it’s a very valuable thing to learn. So the idea was that if we can reveal the way that individuals—not just in our core readership, but throughout the creative industries—are doing these things, then that’s something that can be really useful to people and marks us out as having a very different approach to other titles.”
So far this change has manifested in a special feature on the UK’s top 50 creatives in leadership positions, and a dinner at which these high-flyers were invited to meet each other and exchange ideas, to form a support network among themselves.
“The next step would be to see if we can take that to other countries and make it global,” says Burgoyne. “The idea is that each year we add another 50 people—it’s aggregated and we carry on building the network. People really wanted to keep in touch with the others they’d met and share knowledge, and that’s our next challenge.”
To mark this new editorial direction, Creative Review art director Paul Pensom was tasked with overhauling the layout and identity of the title, assembling a team of expert type and editorial designers including Stephen Petch and Robert Holmkvist of Essen International, Commercial Type, and Monotype. It’s the third redesign that Pensom has undertaken during his tenure at Creative Review, but the first for which he’s had the luxury of working collaboratively.
Together with Petch, Pensom first worked up a dummy issue, before starting work with the June content and inviting Homlkvist to create a custom headline typeface based on Schmalfette, a face used in Willy Fleckhaus’ legendary Twen. From there, a whole new font family was made.
“The Twen face’s strengths—a tight, bold, graphic font—felt perfect as a typographic voice for Creative Review.” – Robert Holmkvist.
Alongside this new font family sit a selection of serif and sans serif body copy from Monotype and Commercial type, a brand new logo that brings back the magazine’s distinctive square lock-up, and moves away from the “craft aesthetic” of their former branding. “As a kind of statement of intent it’s much more forward looking,” says Pensom.
The website, sadly, remains in limbo, the final vestige of a wilderness period that’s almost at an end. But come July, Burgoyne is confident they’ll be able to relaunch their digital offering with a product that’s tailored to the diversity of editorial on offer, shaking off the aesthetics of a rising tide of “identikit websites.”
“Once you see the new website you’ll see what we mean, but it’s very distinctive and has a very strong link with the rest of the brand.” Until then we’ll have to content ourselves with the print edition, and a fresh new icon in our social media feeds.