The first issue of The Atlantic Monthly came into subscribers' hands in November of 1857, and it can fairly be said that the cover did not scream for attention. On it was a small centered image of John Winthrop, the founder of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, inside a simple decorative border, and a total of twenty-three words and four numbers. None of the words shilled for the magazine's contents. They and the numbers were there only because each of them had to be there to convey the basic facts of The Atlantic's existence: title, date, issue number, price ("25 cents"), the names of the publishers in Boston and London, the location of the Boston offices, and a declaration of purpose: "Devoted to Literature, Art, and Politics."
That declaration was intended not only to signal which subjects The Atlantic's editors would address but also to rank those subjects in order of priority. Literature—words—came first. (That issue featured work by Ralph Waldo Emerson, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.) By "Art" the editors meant not pictures but words about pictures, and about other forms of nonword art. By "Politics" the editors meant the large questions of the national life and conversation: in other words, what is going on in the American experiment? These questions are ultimately about ideas, as conveyed through words.
So the editors of The Atlantic designed a magazine in which words ruled absolutely—words arranged logically, precisely, formally. As the years went on, images were tolerated, barely, as long as they knew their place; it was a small and spare place. The first "modern" cover, with words subordinated to a large image, did not appear until November, 1947, the ninetieth-anniversary issue. The image was one of Neptune and a unicorn, a variation on what remains to this day the magazine's colophon.
Since that radical day in 1947 The Atlantic has almost always had some sort of image on its cover—and the magazine has increasingly come to see itself, and to be seen by others, as a home for the best in graphic creativity. Under Judy Garlan, who last November ended a career of nearly two decades as its art director, The Atlantic became as ambitious visually as it had always been in writing and reporting. It won some 400 illustration and design awards under Garlan's inspired art direction, and it published work by many of the finest illustrators and photographers in the world.
This month we introduce a new design. To some degree we seek to return to our roots—to build a magazine that showcases and enhances the written word. Everything has been done with the aim of making the magazine more navigable, more pleasing to the eye, more visually coherent—and therefore easier to read. The design was created by our new art director, Mary Parsons, with assistance from Dominica Pontrello.
Aesthetically there are some obvious changes. This issue is printed on a heavier, better-quality paper than we have used for years. We have a new logo, and we have changed typefaces throughout the magazine, adopting an elegant and accessible version of Bodoni for the text.
The structure of the magazine is also considerably different. The front has been reorganized as Notes & Dispatches, and it features relatively brief datelined articles from around the world. Some of them will be news, some of them will be small stories from here and there, and some will be amusing. Also in the front we have revived Innocent Bystander, a column written in the early 1970s by the poet and essayist L. E. Sissman, a longtime contributor to these pages. The back of the magazine is now divided into two sections, Pursuits & Retreats and Books & Critics. The first will present shorter pieces on subjects such as travel, design, gardens, food, and sport. The second will devote far more attention than previously to books and literary life, and will also cover music, movies, and television.
These changes in design will, we hope, complement The Atlantic's enduring functions: to inform, to surprise, to entertain.