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Creating a Debonair Texan
The Redesign of Texas Monthly

by Allan Haley

T.J. Tucker has always liked to draw. As a young boy, after football practice and chores, the sixth-generation Texan would draw for hours at a stretch. He also liked to trace the cover illustrations on his grandfather’s magazines: National Geographic, Scientific American, Time—and Texas Monthly.

A couple of decades later, in 2006, that same young boy became the creative director of Texas Monthly. For six years, Tucker produced award-winning design that added to the magazine’s luster. Then in early 2012, Tucker and editor Jake Silverstein decided the time was ripe for a redesign—not a cosmetic makeover, but a top-to-bottom, stem-to-stern reinvention. “Nothing was really broken,” Tucker acknowledges, “but the magazine had drifted from its Texas roots. It was time for a change. Jake and I also wanted to inject more style into the pages. We did ‘rugged, old fashioned Western’ pretty well, but we thought the magazine could be more sophisticated at the same time.”

Once Tucker and Silverstein got started, they went to town. “We were mindful—and respectful—of the magazine’s DNA,” Tucker says, “but nothing was exempt. We looked at everything, from the logo and typefaces, to the point size of text copy, to article leads—and even the folios.” The changes were made thoughtfully, carefully and in the fullness of time. But they were not timid. They were all encompassing, and they were dramatic.

The magazine’s editorial content also came under scrutiny. The goal was, as Tucker puts it, “to make the magazine more contemporary by making it more debonair—and, at the same time, more Texan.” At the epicenter of this design transformation are Tucker’s choices of typefaces. These faces—and Tucker’s pairings—are bold, striking and, at times, provocative.

New logo and typefaces are cornerstones of the redesign,
and Willie clearly likes Texas Monthly's new image.

With paid subscriptions at well north of 300,000, Texas Monthly has long been a publication of some prominence. As news cycles have sped up and become fairly unrelenting, the magazine’s journalistic approach is strikingly at odds with sound bites and social media. While some information flies by, sometimes distilled down to 140 characters at a time, eight-thousand-word articles of insightful depth and gravitas keep Texas Monthly on coffee tables and nightstands for extended savoring. The magazine dedicates special issues to topics such as immigration and drought, and hosts numerous editorial discussions on Texas’s most pressing concerns. These weighty pieces coexist gracefully with more lighthearted fare about food, entertainment and lifestyle.

Over a period of about a year, Tucker worked closely with his creative team to redesign the magazine. His top hand was associate art director Brian Johnson, of whom Tucker says, “He’s one of the best editorial designers in the country. The redesign would not have been nearly as successful without him.” The design posse was rounded out by deputy art director Andi Beierman, photography editor Leslie Baldwin and art assistant Nicki Longoria.

The new Texas Monthly logo is the third in the magazine’s nearly 40-year history. The first, at the magazine’s inception in 1973, was a simple wordmark set in the Pistilli Roman typeface. In 1990, DJ Stout, then art director at Texas Monthly, asked Dennis Ortiz Lopez to draw a new logo based on the original. Changes were subtle—the most obvious being that Lopez condensed the letterforms and dramatically reduced the size of the ball terminals. The second logo, updated slightly in 2003, remained in use for 22 years. 

Three generations of logo development.

The beginning of work on the new logo considerably predates the magazine redesign. “It was one of the longest gestation periods I can recall,” says Jim Parkinson, who drew the new logo. “I think we worked on the ball terminal of the lowercase y for over a month,” he continues. “T.J. was very particular about what he wanted. Ultimately, we were both pleased.”

“It took longer than I thought,” admits Tucker. “But it was important to get the logo absolutely right.” The final design is a stronger, bolder logo than its predecessor, with obvious roots in the original. “We wanted to give the new logo more character,” says Tucker. “I also wanted to bring back the ball terminals of the original. Around here, we like to say we gave Texas Monthly its balls back.”

Texas Monthly is read by a large and diverse audience so Tucker stayed with Sentinel, its trademark typeface for body copy—a type–face originally commissioned by Tucker from Hoefler & Frere-Jones. The sturdy slab serif face was designed to be highly legible within a wide range of sizes, and suitable for readers of all ages. Tucker did decide to increase text set in Sentinel to 9.25 point.

The more obvious change in the body copy is the way type is handled. Tucker kept the three-column grid, but reduced the column width and added more space between lines of copy. The resulting text blocks are not jarringly different from previous issues, but are much easier to read. 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.