In 1973 Dr. Hook’s hit song immortalized David Letterman (above) along with thousands of others who’ve graced the cover of The Rolling Stone. Perhaps, then, it’s not surprising that Rolling Stone—both its covers and the layouts inside—makes for one of the largest collections of a periodical in the AIGA Design Archives.
It hit the ground running, design-wise, ever since publisher Jann Wenner launched the tabloid-sized, newsprint magazine in November 1967. The thick-and-thin, double rule “Oxford border,” so much a part of the brand today, was actually pre-printed on blue-line mechanical boards Wenner borrowed from a leftist political publication with whom he shared an office. The first art director, Robert Kingsbury, was actually a sculptor, not a designer. They asked popular psychedelic artist Rick Griffin to design the logo. Griffin sent in a tight pencil sketch for approval, and not knowing better, they printed the pencils, which ran as the masthead for several years. The initial issues were black-and-white with a second spot color added soon after; it wasn’t until the 1974 July 4th cover featuring The Carpenters that full color was introduced.
In the early ’70s art director Mike Salisbury was hired and began working with photographer Annie Leibovitz, who helped establish the attitude of the magazine. Other famous photographers followed: Richard Avedon, Herb Ritts, and Francesco Scavullo, et al. They also commissioned myriad illustrators and cartoonists whose work would appear both on the covers and interiors: Paul Davis, Milton Glaser, Robert Grossman, Maurice Sendak, Ralph Steadman, and Garry Trudeau, among others.
Salisbury was ultimately replaced by Tony Lane as art director, who by turn was replaced by Roger Black in 1975. Black introduced an emphasis on type and was responsible for the iconic Roman numeral X for the 10th anniversary cover, which also marked the end of the hand–drawn logo in exchange for a bold typeface version. Designer Jim Parkinson altered Griffin’s design from all caps to upper and lower case and eliminated the swashes.
Upon Black’s departure Mary Shanahan took over, sometimes in conjunction with Bea Feitler, until 1982, when Derek Ungless took the helm and had the audacity to ditch the Oxford border. But AIGA Medalist Fred Woodward reestablished it upon his arrival in 1987, and it has remained ever since.
Mississippian Woodward soon formed a stellar team of designers that included AIGA Medalist Gail Anderson, Cathy Gilmore-Barnes, and Debra Bishop. They set a new standard for editorial design that was dynamic, colorful, and typographically driven; the majority of the Design Archive entries are from their tenure. In 1996, Woodward was inducted to the Art Directors Hall of Fame, making him the youngest inductee to date. He left Rolling Stone in 2001 to assume the design director position at GQ, leaving behind nearly 15 years of work that set a new standard for others to follow. Rolling Stone continues in a reduced format today, with the Oxford border still intact.