NME’s facelift

Weekly music magazine NME has been given a makeover by art director Mark Neil. We spoke to Neil about the reasons for the re-design – and its strong resemblance to iconic style mag The Face.

Weekly music magazine NME has been given a makeover by art director Mark Neil. We asked Neil about the reasons for the redesign – and its strong resemblance to iconic style mag The Face.

When we were sent a cover shot of the new-look NME this week (on sale today), it made us – and a lot of you – think immediately of The Face. The white out of red logo, plus signs, underlines and type treatment look a lot like Phil Bicker-era covers of the late style and culture mag.

But whatever your thoughts on its resemblance to the Face, the new NME looks sleeker, brighter, sharper and a lot more exciting than the old. Neil has introduced a new size, structure and colour palette – and says he was influenced by Barney Bubbles and Bauhaus as much as Bicker.

When did you start work on the re-design and what was the brief?

I started discussing it with editor Mike Williams in June – two or three months after I joined NME. From our discussions, we formed a brief that accurately pinpointed what the NME is: timely, informative, credible, inclusive, essential. We felt it had lost its attitude a little over the years, and we wanted to make it an iconic brand again and one that people are proud to be seen with. It was more than just changing a few fonts – we needed to change our design and editorial approach.


What particular features did you set out to address with the re-design?

NME had become a little confused in its visual language. It was still using a very text heavy, newspaper-like design and readers in focus groups said it was bland. My mission was to inject a bit of energy into it and connect the visual language with the editorial – something magazines like Bloomberg do fantastically well.

What major changes have you introduced?

One major aspect we changed was the structure. NME has sections like any other but it’s these sections that really give it its value for the reader: there’s The Week (everything that matters in music), Radar (new bands – the heart of NME); Reviews (the definitive verdict) and NME guide (what’s on, going out and staying in). It made sense to group these together at the front of the book and end with a meatier features section, stuff you can archive and read forever. This is bookended with a new From the Vaults feature, one that we pick out from the past and try to bring into context today.

We’ve also downsized – the magazine has been reduced to 215mm wide by 280mm high. This was the first major design decision: before, NME had an uncomfortable width and was awkward to carry around. It was still grasping on to its tabloid days. But times have changed and we need to move with it. It now feels more like a weekly and will sit better on a newsstand. It works well on iPad format, too, which is no bad thing.

What about the new colour palette and typefaces?

The colour scheme before was really dull so we’ve brightened things up using CMYK alongside greens and purples, celebrating the fact that we’re still in print. We’ve kept the red for NME but there are regular flashes of magenta, the guide section uses shades of green and the reviews a lot of cyan and yellow. The reviews section in each issue will open with an illustration by Jimmy Turrel (see this month’s, below).

The new display font is Lucas Sharp’s Sharp Sans, sans serif is Calbre by Klim’s Kris Sowersby and serif is Sowersby’s TeimposText. The typefaces are all modern font designs that celebrate old classic neo-grotesque/geometric aesthetics. Sharp Sans was perfect for the main display font as it has a fun retro character but used in bold, it adds a maturity that can be applied well to features.

What were your main sources of inspiration?

You have to look back to go forward – working for a historic brand such as the NME, my first stop was the archive cupboard. My favourite time in NME’s history is the Barney Bubbles era – I’m a big fan of his original stencil treatment to the masthead and his illustrative attitude towards the paper during a time when production was so limited.

I then started to look at old magazines that represented that timeless, iconic, being part of a club look, along with other graphic design that connects in the same way – classic album covers and posters for example. I’m a massive follower of Bob Newman’s blog and one of my favourite inclusions was covers of NY Rocker from the late seventies/early eighties. This was the kind of thing I needed to inject into this project – a cut and paste illustrative fanzine kind of feel that can be produced effectively in a modern, weekly publication.

Moving on through time, style magazines such as ID, Dazed & Confused and The Face maintained an identity that became a statement for its readers. The period of The Face I remember most is the late nineties/early 2000s, when my passion for editorial design started.

Some people have said already that the new NME looks like The Face because of the nature of the mast. It is a homage but I must add that it’s a dollop of homage with a twist of coincidence too. The classic, iconic identity that is created with block white type on a red box is one that has existed for years. The Face mast is no more successful than the likes of Life, Picture Post, Ebony and many more. It’s a statement, it’s a stamp and it works well – it will always work well. And it’s going to work for NME.

Another obvious inspiration is the graphic design of the Bauhaus movement, with its solid primary colours and geometric shapes and angles. 45 degree angles are used throughout, from the page folios to the franchises.

The underlines and highlighting stem from the cut and paste, punky/DIY look I was trying to achieve and from what Mike told me about NME being the definitive guide. I was trying to think of ways to make things look definitive, authoritative and immediate. The stencil feel of the Rader, Reviews and Guide headers is supposed to add to this graffiti-d notebook feel, as is the sticker on the font – ***About $%#£ time***. It’s little bits of character like this that help re-inforce the older NME attitude.

We’re also using a 15 column grid with 12 horizontal modules, which again adds to the cut and paste feel while adhering to some rules and structure. This approach allows us to have fun with the content, because fun is important here. My favourite design is design that makes people smile.

Were you concerned people would liken it to The Face? There are a lot of similarities?

I think the cover shot makes it appear more like The Face than usual – we won’t always use an image of a subject shot against a neutral background. The Face was a huge influence but it’s in no way a direct copy. We’re just trying to be iconic like so many other magazine brands before us – it makes me laugh that no-one has mentioned Life magazine, [also a key influence].



How will the changes be applied online?

It will be mostly subtle changes at first and a lot less radical than the magazine, as the website is more about being clear and immediate. It’s all about the news on NME online so we’ll be experimenting less with the site but some changes are going live today.

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