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James de Vries
Editorial Re-imagining at the Harvard Business Review

by Angelynn Grant

The magazine’s new look is clean, bold and colorful. New typeface families were brought in: Guardian and Brunel from Commercial Type and National from Kris Sowersby. “We wanted to find some new families of type that were both extremely readable but contemporary. Some of the best typefaces in history are being designed now. Readability, a sense of style and a sense of contemporary-ness were important,” explains de Vries. Oversized light weights of National with heavy bolds in Guardian and large Brunel numerals along with bright uses of color catch the eye. Striking covers have graphics and headlines playing against a white background. Another key part of the visual refresh: lively charts and diagrams. “Innovative infographics are extremely relevant to our audience,” says de Vries. “One of the huge themes happening in business is ‘big data’—those massive streams of data that are being collected.”

Harvard Business Review curates content from all its sources into distilled guides.
They are available in digital and print formats.

The redesign included a reorientation of editorial as well. One example: the new Spotlight series pairs feature articles with a set of existing artwork from a living fine artist, adding a layered, metaphoric visual theme in place of stock or commissioned illustration. The artists benefit from the high-profile placement in front of a smart viewership and the magazine also benefits. “It allows for a little more abstraction,” de Vries continues. “Our readers are sophisticated. We can show some tangential connections through art. Our culture, even our business culture, is extremely visual and very emotional. It’s a compliment to our readers to give them this other visual line to work with. It gives us some more color, more variety to work with and, in turn, that helps us not have to deal with hoary business clichés.”

Bold typography and graphics also liven up HBR’s native iPad app. Here graphics can be animated, content can be accessed in linear and nonlinear options and, more importantly, content becomes dynamically updated by pulling from the web. With integrated social media options, readers engage and share in ways not possible with print. Viewed through the iPad app or on the website, those conversations are of critical importance to the hbr readership. “The electronic means of communication are a way of tapping into a much younger, broader, much more international audience. We have ten million website views a month and a very big international audience. And that’s largely driven by the blog posts and the fact that people can access it from anywhere in the world. And there are vigorous discussions that go on that way.”

The launch screen (left) for one of Harvard Business Review’s mobile apps. The Harvard Business Review iPad app (right) is a hub that constantly updates the blog and digital content, the magazine, books and tools for subscribers. It’s a powerful way to deliver value to readers.

An important consideration at every step is how to continue to serve the readers. For example, de Vries and his team have created a series of free mobile apps offering the popular HBR executive summaries and management and stat tips of the day: “The reason we’re doing this is not just because we think it’s fun, but because we know that managers and people in business use these.”

The time and money required to create successful, functional and aesthetically exciting iPad and mobile apps is not insignificant. “For some magazines, the iPad is like an incredible resource drain, a money drain. It takes a lot more effort to make the experience on the iPad work really well, but we certainly see that there's a commercial future here and the potential for us as a brand is really strong, helping connect with our readers and their loyalty to us.”

Three books from the current line up of HBR Press. The jackets are more confident and contemporary,
more in line with the overall creative spirit of the Harvard Business brand.

The exact definition of the modern magazine is a moving target, but that is where de Vries finds the creative challenge. “What I think is exciting about Harvard Business Review is that there's a chance to make these different aspects of a publication work together. These are new territories, so there’s not really been a die cast on how you have to do it. Nothing stays still and everything's rolling along and constantly changing its requirements. There’s a real experimental process to it. And that’s a great thing for a creative designer to think about, ‘What do I want this process to be?’ It’s a lovely creative design exercise to think of how things translate into different media and make the most of them so it’s a pleasurable and useful experience.” CA Grant
Angelynn Grant is a Boston-based graphic designer, writer and educator. She has taught at Rhode Island School of Design, the Art Institute of Boston, Simmons College and MIT. You can e-mail her at In addition, Grant is the host of a jazz program on MIT radio, WMBR.