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New Internationalist online branding

The branding of New Internationalist magazine has changed, at times radically, since the first issue in March 1973. That month the Provisional IRA bombed Whitehall and the Old Bailey in London, Pink Floyd released Dark Side of the Moon and the last US soldier left Vietnam. Back then, New Internationalist sported an uppercase, slab serif header with a sash emphasizing its newness. As would become a common device over the years, its wordmark's colour changed to blend with its cover art.

With a gap of six years in New Internationalist's online archives, we pick up the story with issue 80 in October 1979, to find that the workmark has mutated — losing the all uppercase letters and placing the word new above the x-height. Again the wordmark colour changed to blend or contrast with each issue's cover art. This branding continued for six plus years, until it said its goodbyes in issue 157.

March 1986 (a month notable if only for the launch of the Today newspaper — the first in the UK to use computer photosetting and full-colour printing) saw a radical departure as New Internationalist became NI. First utilizing uppercase slab serif characters, a device that lasted until April 2000;

and from then on, just as the  United States government began its anti-trust tussles with Microsoft, as ni.

I must admit that this 2000 incarnation of ni's branding is my least favorite. Maybe that's because its swoosh quickly became a cliche, but mainly I think because the sans-serif letters and italicized i seem to have little to do with the organization's visual history.

In September 2005, 382 issues under its belt, ni and its swoosh were gone and New Internationalist was back, the full wordmark, this time in contemporary (and current) sans-serif.

One of the magazine's longest running design devices, that of blending or contrasting with each issue's cover art, remained, at least for a time, before establishing a new standard of white against a red background, that continues today.

This trip through the archives might be fascinating, but what does it have to do with my job today?

Although the magazine's branding changes has followed patterns, during any period it has remained largely consistent. The current web site seems at times positively schizophrenic. If you dig deep enough you might be (un)lucky enough to find three different New Internationalist/NI/ni logos on the same page.

Part of my task is to create a consistent look for all of New Internationalist's online magazine content, blogs and its shop, while at the same time keeping it clear to a visitor what section they are reading. My current thinking is to adapt and resurrect a long-standing New Internationalist tradition and use subtle colour changes to denote each section.

I'm also concerned that the website branding must be consistent to no small degree with the printed magazine. This will help to keep a unified feel for people moving from web to print and from print to web. At the same time, I don't feel that the website will benefit by being constrained by the magazine branding; colour or typography.

What's needed, I think, is a fine balancing act — a design that nods respectfully at the past, but has its own air of self-assured confidence.

Public comments are open at For A Beautiful Web: New Internationalist online branding.

About Andy Clarke

Andy Clarke has been called a lot of things since he started working on the web ten years ago. His ego likes words like ambassador for CSS, industry prophet and inspiring, but actually he is most proud that Jeffrey Zeldman once called him a bastard.

Andy took ten months out of his life to write the best-selling book Transcending CSS: The Fine Art Of Web Design, but Andy’s passion is amazing web design. He loves making desigs for the web, writing about design and teaching it at workshops and conferences all of the world.

Now he is pulling all of those passions together to create For A Beautiful Web, a unique series of web design master-classes that cover topics including visual design, best-practice use of technologies such as CSS, as well as geeky stuff like Microformats.

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