At work with: Debra Bishop, NYTimes Magazine Lab

Posted by

We recently posted about The Daily Miracle, the one-off special section of The New York Times showing how the newspaper is printed. Today we meet the art director behind that project.

Debra Bishop has spent many years working as an editorial art director for companies like Rolling Stone, Condé Nast and Meredith, including 12 years at Martha Stewart Omnimedia where she co-founded Martha Stewart Kids and Blueprint. In 2017 she began working as Art Director of The New York Times Mag Labs where she art directs special sections for the Sunday edition and The New York Times for Kids.

Tell us about your typical Monday journey to work
I live in Northern New Jersey in a cute little shingle house with a big pool, two beautiful girls, my illustrator husband and a really ferocious cat. Each morning for many, many years I’ve made the journey into Manhattan on the bus. Think…the opening sequence to ‘The Sopranos.’ It’s exactly the same route—the music is completely apropos — but experientially more like riding in the Harry Potter ‘Knight bus.’

I arrive, usually disheveled, at Port Authority Bus Terminal in New York, where I descend to street-level along with the pigeons and other dazed commuters, all shuffling along in search of coffee. Luckily, these days I only have to venture across the street to my gleaming destination, The New York Times building — door to desk, if I’m lucky, 1.5 hours.

Describe the state of your desk and what you can see in your office
I need to “Marie Kondo” my desk. It seems I can’t “let go” of old vases, back issues of NYT Mag Labs sections and The New York Times Magazine, broadsheet comps, crayons, old magazines, books, and the guest of honor, the NYT Mag Labs production schedule. And, of course, my bus schedule.

I have the honour of sitting opposite the esteemed Matt Willey, and out the window, I look across the street at my old friend, the Port Authority Bus Terminal. Matt is much prettier.

Which magazine do you first remember?
When I was young I would flip through my grandmother’s Vogue magazines. I am Canadian and one of the few magazines published there when I was growing up was called Chatalaine, but I was a big reader of Archie comics.

Which magazine matters to you the most right now?
The New York Times Magazine.

Can you describe your magazine in three words?
Important, Innovative, Essential.


NYTimes Magazine Labs designers, Leticia Sarmento (left) and Najeebah Al-Ghadban.

Describe the relationship between the NYTimes Mag Labs, the magazine and the newspaper itself?
NYT Mag Labs was formally launched in February 2018. Editorial director Caitlin Roper and I are a team that lead the department. Its relatively small — three designers, four editors, and a photo editor — but we enjoy the privilege of working adjacent to but really within the magazine, benefitting from things like the magazine’s ace copy and research departments to Gail Bichler’s sharp eye and guidance.

And designers and editors on the team occasionally work on issues of the magazine, too. Mag Labs was created to help expand the role of the magazine inside the Times, to help inspire and foster magazine thinking, creative editorial innovation. Our primary way to do that is through the special print sections we create—the monthly Kids section as well as 8-10 sections for adults throughout the year. These are really a hybrid of magazine and newspaper.

Has it been liberating after years of making magazine-size pages to move to the larger newspaper format?
It is really fun to design to this large format and it is our mission to take advantage of the large scale when creating content ideas and visuals. Essentially we are creating posters.

The illustrations are enormous and there is a lot of art to commission —so it’s quite time intensive. The huge pages are difficult to design, in part, because you can’t design the entire page at 100% on your screen.

Working alongside designers like Gail Bichler, Matt Willey and Ben Grandgenet must be a real buzz. Is there healthy competition to outdo each other?
It is such an honor to work with all three of them. All the designers that work here are very, very talented and that certainly does keep you on your toes — but I like that. At the same time, I think everyone knows that each one of us has a unique superpower that helps make each issue or section wonderful and different.

What’s going to be the highlight of the week for you?
Probably finishing up the latest sections we are working on, and looking forward to the final Game of Thrones—I’m definitely going to win the office pool.

What are you doing after this chat?
Back to work!  Massage some layouts, fit more words, meet about the next cover for Kids, finish my e-mail chains to the latests collaborators, stare at Matt’s head, etc. etc. etc…

nytimes.com/section/magazine

  • 0