New look for the RIBA Journal

Matt Willey’s redesign of the RIBA Journal is a complete overhaul of the 120 year-old architecture title; from cover to typefaces via a new logo and format. The designer and editor Hugh Pearman talk us through the project

Covers of the first two issues of the redesigned RIBA Journal

Matt Willey’s redesign of the RIBA Journal is a complete overhaul of the 120 year-old architecture title; from cover to typefaces via a new logo and format. The designer and editor Hugh Pearman talk us through the project…

Established in 1893 by the Royal Institute of British Architects, the RIBA Journal has the largest circulation of any architectural magazine in the UK and prints around 30,000 copies each month.

Cover tests looking at various colour combinations, and how the new design will work over a series (option to run portrait images shown, bottom right)

For its redesign the journal’s editorial team, led by RIBA Enterprises head of media Jonathan Stock, wanted to offer its designer a clean slate. “We did a complete rethink of the magazine’s content and structure,” says Pearman, “so that it worked from the inside out: content strategy first and only then the design”.

Willey appealed to the RIBA team because of his ideas and attention to detail, Pearman says, and the fact that he had seen through the launch of his own magazine, in the shape of Port.

“It was also in his favour that although an enthusiast for design and architecture, he had not previously designed an architecture title,” says Pearman. “We were clear that we did not wish the new RIBA Journal to resemble any other title in our sector.”

Extensive reader research revealed that print was still valued very highly by RIBA members and the “feel” of the journal was something that needed to be addressed. “Everything changed with this relaunch,” says Pearman, “including repro house, paper sourcing, and printer.”

Even the format has changed, slighty – the journal remains the same height but is a little wider, allowing for better use of the imagery across inside pages. The job also ran to redesigning the PIP supplement and to designing a letterhead, business cards and postcards, the latter in place of comp slips (below) .

“We improved the printing and changed the stock to a very good uncoated stock, the same as Port’s,” says Willey. “Making the format wider was to do with various things – not least to do with getting space and breathing-room in to the spreads, but it also makes the magazine fold open nicely, it lies flat.”

There is also a fairly radical approach to the design of the cover, which adopts a graphic approach instead of, what Pearman considers to be an industry-norm, the full bleed image of a building.

According to Willey, the RIBA Journal covers from the mid-1960s and early 1970s were “graphically more interesting and successful when restricted by the printing limitations.”

RIBA July 1970, on left, and July 1965 covers

For the contemporary redesign, he says he “wanted to set up a cover template that didn’t depend entirely on an ‘astonishing’ ‘cover-worthy’ architectural image, which is a difficult thing to achieve month in month out. Actually I think it’s part of the problem with many architecture magazine covers; an over-dependency on a stand-alone cover image.”

“I wanted this to work in a more graphic way,” he continues. “The images still need to be good, and better than before, but the success of the cover depends on other things as well now – the crop, the use of colour – and that’s a huge help.”

“The cover ‘is’ the logo for the magazine,” he adds. “The masthead, and a box and keyline that are the exact same dimensions as the magazine, so the business card for example is like a mini-magazine.”

Cleverly, the ‘two halves’ approach will enable the journal to also use full bleed imagery beneath the logo if a portrait image is used (retaining a colour tint), and allows a landscape format picture to be used – a staple of architectural photography, Pearman adds.

The journal also boasts a new bespoke font, RIBAJ Condensed, created in collaboration with Henrik Kubel of A2/SW/HK.

“It’s a condensed Grot typeface to compliment Henrik’s Grot 10 that I’m using in the magazine,” says Willey.

“Grot 10 is not dissimilar to a typeface that was being used in the RIBA Journal in the 1970s, and whilst it was interesting looking through the archive of journals, I wasn’t interested in this design ‘reflecting’ old issues too much – this needed to feel distinct and modern, but not ‘of the moment’. I wanted it to feel like it’s something that has been around a long time; authoritative and confident.”

RIBAJ Condensed is used for small text as well as a headline tyepface, while other typefaces used include FM for body text and standfirsts; and PIP has a different family of typefaces, Typewriter and Outsiders, each of which is designed by Kubel.

Cover and spread of the PIP supplement

“One of the joys of working with Henrik was being able to tweak things like the Grot 10 typeface,” says Willey. “The type is often locking-up tightly to a rule and so he did a version of Grot 10 for me where the ascenders and descenders are the same – so you get nice clean lines when the type sits close to a rule.”

The new issue also features a series of new icons for the ‘core curriculum areas’ in the Intelligence section of the magazine drawn by La Tigre (above), byline portraits by Holly Exley (editor Hugh Pearman, below) and photography by Carol Sachs, whose work has appeared in Port and YCN.

For the first two issues of the Journal, September and October 2013, Willey has worked alongside RIBA Journal art director, Patrick Myles.

“This was a hugely exciting project for me,” says Willey, “because it wasn’t simply dressing up what had already existed and choosing a few new typefaces, there was an opportunity to address everything – how it behaved editorially and how the content was structured, word counts and ‘breathing room’ on the pages.”

“This is less of a redesign,” adds Pearman, “more of a completely new magazine.”

The October issue of the RIBA Journal is out soon. More details at and more of Willey’s work can be seen at

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