About the Redesign

By James Bennet

Ninety years passed between The Atlantic’s founding and its first substantial redesign, in 1947, when the editors appalled some subscribers by replacing the table of contents they had usefully run on the cover with an image, a concession to commerce and the quickening metabolism of postwar newsstand browsers. Since then, in a sign of the rising clamor for readers’ attention, The Atlantic has changed its look six times.

This issue, then, is the eighth thoroughgoing redesign, the eighth effort to harmonize The Atlantic’s style with its substance and the timbre of the times. The look is the work of the graphic designer Michael Bierut and his colleagues at the design firm Pentagram, collaborating with The Atlantic’s art director, Jason Treat. I’ve left it to Michael, on page 34, to describe the design. I’ll walk you through the magazine’s new structure.

We’ve been guided in this redesign by the belief that in these days—these days of Chinese momentum and American uncertainty, of warming seas and Twittered lives, of handheld miracles, pious killers, oracular genetics, and reborn political passions—a magazine about ideas that matter can be useful to those who want to understand what’s happening, and maybe to do something about it. Which is to say, we’ve been guided by The Atlantic’s heritage. Longtime readers will, I hope, quickly find themselves on familiar ground. At the front of the magazine, we have restored the “Dispatches” section. Here, with the goal of delivering provocative, diverse bulletins that range across politics, business, international affairs, sports, and society, we’ll collect sketches, postcards, and brief comments by our staff writers and other contributors. Our technology, travel, food, and drink pieces have moved forward from the back of the magazine, because we see them also as dispatches from the world of ideas.

On the heels of “Dispatches,” Virginia Postrel’s column on business, Commerce and Culture, will now open a new “Columns” section. Michael Hirschorn’s column, Content, about the media, will also appear here. And we have added a third column, Moving Pictures, in which James Parker will interpret the messages with which our popular culture is entertaining and instructing us, or not.

At the back of the magazine, our books coverage, edited by Benjamin Schwarz, will not seem much changed, for good reason. On the last page, we have added a column, What’s Your Problem?, by our national correspondent, Jeffrey Goldberg, that I would describe as our first advice column if writers from Oliver Wendell Holmes to Robert D. Kaplan hadn’t been informing our readers how to tackle all sorts of problems for the past 151 years. Though Jeff will deal with readers’ serious concerns, he will also—forgive us—be out to have some fun. In a similar spirit, we have restored stand-alone illustration to our pages. Each month, we will be asking artists to advance ideas or arguments with images— some serious, some whimsical—that will be scattered through the magazine.

The core of The Atlantic remains its wide-ranging feature stories. This redesign is intended to bring the rest of the magazine more in line with what the features have long been doing. When the writers who created The Atlantic joined together in Boston in 1857, they had a wonderfully incoherent concept for a magazine. They wanted to entertain readers on the one hand and, on the other, to advance the radical cause of abolition. The magazine would not press any ideology on its readers—it would be “of no party or clique”—but it would be purposeful, even moral, in promoting what the founders called the American idea. It would set great writers loose to ask big questions, to explore and argue out controversial ideas. And so over time The Atlantic would derive its sensibility not from a single editorial voice or theory of how the world works, but from its regard for its readers’ intelligence and wit, for their curiosity and their hope that the world might be made a better place. No redesign has changed that essential sensibility. We believe that this one conveys it better.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2008/11/about-the-redesign/307049/