How I Got Here: Matt Willey

After five years at The New York Times Magazine, Matt Willey is leaving to become a partner at Pentagram. Here we talk to him about the childhood experiences and jobs that led to him landing one of the most coveted jobs in design

Matt Willey is arguably one of the most respected graphic designers working today. As Art Director at The New York Times Magazine (a position he has held since 2014), he has worked on one brilliant issue after another, creating beautiful and inventive layouts for a wealth of special issues covering topics from the Arab Spring to the Winter Olympics. Before this, he worked on the redesign of The Independent, a project that had a significant influence on UK newspaper design and saw Willey named Designer of the Year in our 2014 Annual.

He has also co-founded two magazines (Port and Avaunt), created a wealth of custom fonts and worked on visual identities, exhibition graphics and record sleeves for clients at Studio8, the design practice he ran with Zoë Bather from 2005 to 2012, following a stint at Vince Frost’s studio in London. Alongside this, he has created a wealth of custom fonts and designed the titles for Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s subversive spy thriller Killing Eve.

This week, Willey announced that he will soon be leaving The New York Times Magazine to become a Partner at Pentagram’s New York office. As he prepares to swap one of design’s most coveted jobs for another, we talk to him about his career to date, and the formative experiences that led to him pursuing a job in the creative industries.

Growing up… I was born in Bristol. But I did most of my growing up in Wiltshire. I was lucky, I grew up in a very loving family. It was, looking back, a fairly idiosyncratic and slightly dysfunctional family, but it was interesting. I was surrounded by a lot of interesting people doing interesting things, in slightly odd ramshackle houses filled with books and art and music and dilapidated upright pianos. 

I was born with severe hearing loss. My parents were told I would never be able to speak properly or go to a normal school. That, more than anything else, shaped my childhood.