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Creating a Debonair Texan
The Redesign of Texas Monthly

by Allan Haley

Tucker also kept the affable Verlag (another Hoefler & Frere-Jones design) as the main typeface for display copy, but added to the mix faces like Maelstrom, Empire, Tungsten and Saracen. “Early in its history, Texas Monthly used all sorts of typefaces. It was really lively, and struck me as one of the signatures of the first issues,” says Tucker. “Over the last several years, however, we kept cutting back on the faces we used. Truth be told, I liked the typographic vitality of the old issues, and felt we weren’t conveying all the tones the magazine projects.” Tucker quips, “We even use Giddyup. It started out as a joke. Who better than Texas Monthly to use the typeface?” The face is, however, corralled in just one place in the magazine.

Light, medium, bold and black weights of Verlag, in addition to several condensed designs in an array of sizes, are put to work throughout the magazine. The typeface is used for heads, decks, pull quotes, captions and sidebars. Though many flavors of Verlag are used, the basic design provides a strong visual base note for the magazine. In a world of industrial strength sans serifs with overachieving X-heights, Verlag’s Art Deco overtones and diminutive lowercase set the quiet typographic foundation for the sophistication Tucker has instilled into the magazine.

First cover (left) taking advantage of the redesign; and perfect melding of type and image (right).

Bigger than life, and more than a little distinctive, the Maelstrom typeface, from the Klim Type Foundry, is used in sumo wrestler sizes as initial-cap identifiers for the Dining Guide and Reporter sections. Much smaller—but still commanding—sizes of Maelstrom show up in the Touts (lifestyle) sections. “Maelstrom has a modern yet Western feel to it that suits us,” says Tucker. “Yeah, it stands out, but it will wear well.”

A digital rendition of American Type Founders’ 1937 design Empire is probably the most important new addition to the suite of typefaces used in the magazine. It is an elegant stressed sans with just a hint of Art Deco nuance. This is the design that confirms the magazine’s typographic sophistication, the tulip of Dom Pérignon that stands stylishly amid Texas Monthly’s more quotidian typographic pairings. Empire is used as large as 120 point for headlines and as small as 24 point for section identifiers—and it is always set letterspaced. “It’s used sparingly, it’s most prominent in the page numbers in the signature rebranding of the cover,” says Tucker. “It’s definitely the typeface that brands the look of the publication.”

When asked about his criteria for pairing typefaces, Tucker responds, “We went through a period where the magazine had a narrow range of tones. With the redesign we wanted to make it more stylish—but also to keep it strong-featured and Western. Contrast in design and typographic color has helped us do that.”

Every design change was tested, scrutinized, discussed—and usually modified several times before Tucker and his team were satisfied. “One of the things I learned,” says Tucker, “is something Brian Johnson often tells me: ‘You always have to be prepared to kill your darlings.’

“Nothing was sacred in the redesign process,” he confirms. The folios are an excellent example of Tucker’s painstaking attention to detail. “We did a lot of exploration into folio design. For the page numbers, we tried: centered versus margin aligned, large type versus small type, Roman versus italic, horizontal versus vertical alignment. We had long discussions about each idea,” Tucker remembers. “We wanted to do something really different and in the process learned never to underestimate how much of a pain in the ass a seemingly simple notion can become.” In the end, Tucker and his team went with vertically aligned folios at the outside margins of the page. To give the typography a little more substance, a T, an M and a star were added above the numbers.

Maelstrom and buckle initials (left) identify the section and introduce the copy; Empire headline and
new folio design (center); and hairline rules and anchor bars (right) frame pages.

Tucker and his team also introduced something they call “roof bars.” These are hairline boxed-in snippets of information that provide a side note to the stories they accompany. The roof bars, in conjunction with the initial “buckles” that lead off stories, the pilcrows often used to break paragraphs, the hulking Maelstrom quote marks that signal the beginning of pull quotes, and an assortment of stars, arrows and pointers that populate pages, give the magazine a rich typographic texture. This abundance of typographic miscellanea could lead to pages that are cluttered and difficult to decipher—not in Texas Monthly. The Willie Nelson spread, designed by Johnson, in the December issue is an exquisite example of blending images, type and typographic ornamentation to create a spread that is greater than the sum of its parts. Tucker and Johnson are skillful masters when it comes to herding a mélange of graphic diversities into a banquet of elegant typographic communication. Their confident and playful typography shines throughout the magazine. Illustration, photography and type meld perfectly on the page; they are never handled as separate aspects. Every page, every spread in Texas Monthly is delightfully cohesive.

“Almost everything in the redesign was inspired by something in Texas Monthly’s rich creative past. We ultimately tried to revive and tap into that spirit, that past ‘frontier mentality’ as it’s been called around the office. All of that went into the creative calculus,” says Tucker. “A comparison of the magazine today against the magazine in the 1970s might be interesting, although I doubt most readers would discern massive changes.”

Texas Monthly’s redesign was an unusually long process. Tucker, a fearless tweaker and re-tweaker, did nothing by half measures. Complete satisfaction was always the ultimate criterion. The team’s trials and tribulations never showed, and the result of the Texas Monthly redesign is true design magic. ca Haley
Allan Haley ( is a storyteller and a consultant with expertise in fonts, font technology, type and typographic communication. He held the position of director of words and letters at Monotype for fifteen years and has six books and hundreds of articles to his credit. He is a past president of the Type Directors Club and was executive vice president of International Typeface Corporation.