Photo of a stack of issues of Port magazine showing its redesign by Uncommon

Port’s new issue bucks the conventions of magazine design

The new issue design, led by Matt Curtis at Uncommon Creative Studio, inadvertently asks whether an instantly recognisable nameplate is an essential part of a magazine cover

A masthead on the front of a magazine usually acts as a signpost to readers passing by the newsstand. If the cover image or illustration is what initially grasps a person’s attention, then the nameplate is the stamp – of quality, of creativity, of a certain perspective – that gets the issue through checkout. Port’s new redesign eschews that logic, but in freeing itself from those constraints, has actually resulted in covers that leap out from the shelf.

The new approach not only severs ties with previous issues, it has also led to entirely different iterations of the masthead on each of the five cover options. Doing away with a consistent wordmark, the name ‘Port’ has been scrawled in the unique handwriting of each cover star.

Port magazine redesign by Uncommon

Actor Franz Rogowski’s staccato version, featuring a cane-shaped ‘p’, a leggy ‘t’, and squat forms in between, reads more like musical notations. Taika Waititi’s unevenly sized lettering expands and contracts across the cover, creating a frame for his portrait photo. Meanwhile Teo Yoo and Jasmine Jobson, stars of Past Lives and Top Boy respectively, delivered swooping cursive. The only non-photographic cover is drawn from a spread in the issue by artist Cai Guo-Quiang, and contrasts his thick, informal brushstrokes with sugary hues and ethereal textures.

The redesign was led not by co-founder Matt Willey, but by friend and fellow designer Matt Curtis (Uncommon Creative Studio), who says simply that “creativity” was the overarching concept. “The magazine was already classically beautiful. We wanted to make it ugly, interesting, loud, quiet and beautiful. A magazine is like a film, it needs a moment where it stops, twists and changes,” Curtis tells us.

“On covers we felt the current system had become too familiar (nice – but familiar). And we wanted the covers to feel different, especially as Port makes four to six different covers each issue,” Curtis adds. “We decided to reflect the personalities on the covers, and bring their energy to creative direction. So the idea of them writing their own Port logo came out of that thought.”

Each feature is treated with the same level of idiosyncrasy, where layout, typography, and palettes flex freely from one subject to the next. The type treatment used in the feature on Yoo, who is German-Korean by way of an education in the US, was carefully chosen to reflect his “feelings on displacement throughout his life”, according to Uncommon.

Altogether, the issue features two serifs – Pyte’s Triptych and SM’s Affair, which the agency says were chosen to create “an awkward and interesting tension” – and two sans-serifs, DumDum’s Serial D and custom font Uncle. The four typefaces clash and combine in surprising ways, but ultimately serve the same principle, of echoing individual experiences, as in those handwritten interventions on the cover.

Animated image showing spreads from Port magazineAnimated image showing spreads from Port magazine

Social media is often said to have brought us closer than ever to stars, but in an age of interviews that are very much holds-barred, it can actually feel as though there is more water between us and them. Quietly revealing something of the cover stars’ character, the handwritten mastheads are an intimate touch, which the magazine describes as stamping the cover with “a previously unseen part of them”.

“It’s the sort of thing that can’t be forced,” the Port team explained on social media. “On set, after he had drawn the Port logo, we asked one star to give us some more options. He refused, telling us if we asked for more, it’d be our interpretation and not his. He’s right.”

Animated image showing spreads from Port magazine

Port issue 33 is out now;