There can’t be many editorial designers today whose work is as instantly recognisable as Matt Willey’s. Currently art director at the New York Times Magazine and creative director (and co-owner) of Port magazine, he typically combines powerful, often bespoke, typography with brilliant photography in layouts that effortlessly enhance the stories they contain.
He’ll be joining us at magCulture Live to talk about recent magazine work and how that has developed into high-profile typographic identities for the likes of award-winning TV spy thriller ‘Killing Eve.’
What are you doing today?
I’m in a coffee shop, in Brooklyn (I work from home on Mondays) — reading a draft of the feature I’m working on this week.
Who/what inspired you to work in magazine publishing?
It always felt like I fell in to it, there was certainly a lot of luck involved. Although I remember when I was on my foundation course in Trowbridge (adamant that I wanted to be a painter) a friend showed me a copy of Big magazine. It was the first time that I was aware of — or intrigued by, or excited by — the design of a magazine.
Big was physically big (A3-ish) and the design, by Vince Frost, which used big bits of letterpress before everyone was doing it, felt unapologetic and visceral and playful and just incredibly exciting. All black and white with wonderful photographs by people like the Douglas Brothers (above) and Giles Revell. A decade later I ended up working for Vince, and we did Zembla together, which was my first experience working on a magazine.
Also around that time my aunt bought me a subscription to Eye Magazine. The first issue I got – issue 11 – was a type special, which was fantastic in it’s own right (art directed by Stephen Coates), but it had an article (If The Face Fits,) about custom fonts in magazines, which featured all these amazing Rolling Stone spreads by Fred Woodward and Gail Anderson and typefaces by Denis Ortiz-Lopez and Jonathan Hoefler. There was also a feature on Fuel magazine, and another on Karel Martens.
I think those two things — Eye and Big (and the Pixies album covers by Vaughan Oliver) — were the beginning of me becoming interested in graphic design… although I applied to do illustration at college. My interest in graphic design was, right from the start, in the context of magazines. Images and type and spreads.
Tell us about the latest project you’ve worked on.
Issue 25 of Port has just — finally! — gone to the printers, I recently designed the ‘Voyages’ issue of NYT Magazine (above), and drew a typeface for that. I did a series of A1 posters for my friend, photographer Jack Davison (below), I’m working on some stuff for season three of Killing Eve, and just finished the LP packaging for seasons one and two. I’m drawing some type for a Netflix documentary, pitched a redesign for a magazine, getting a crowdfunding thing together for a new magazine… feels busy.
Please share a single story/page from the website or the magazine that sums up the NYT Mag.
Our content is so varied, and the design is so varied, there isn’t really a typical story or spread. Which is one of the things I love about this magazine. I’ll pick this story, somewhat randomly, because it’s recent: ‘How ICE Picks Its Target in the Surveillance Age’. It’s typical in so far that it’s a brilliant long-form piece of writing, it’s meticulously researched and it’s accompanied by great photographs.
How can magazines make a difference in 2019?
The recent 1619 project (above), which reframed American history as a country founded as a slaveocracy in 1619, and not as a democracy in 1776, is a remarkable example of a magazine making a real difference. An actual difference. It has affected the conversation on a national level, it has altered (corrected) peoples ideas about the origins of this country, it has changed the way history is being taught in schools.
Who are you looking forward to hearing/meeting
I saw Charlie Brinkhurst-Cuff from gal-dem talk at the magCulture conference in New York (above) and thought she was brilliant. Honest and unpretentious. But I’m looking forward to hearing all of them, it’s a really interesting line up.
Hear more from Matt at magCulture Live on 7 November. Check the Eventbrite page for the complete line-up and details.