Responses by Alex Bakker, associate creative director, Rethink.
Background: The National Magazine Awards celebrate excellence in journalism and visual creation. For more than 45 years, it has been considered one of the most prestigious awards in Canada’s publication community. We were tasked with creating an identity for the 2021 iteration.
Design thinking: We created an identity centered around the printed magazine’s most distilled form: the spine. From there, the design system explores a range of perspectives, inspired by the wide range of publications that submit to the award each year.
Challenges: Consistency. When you create a dynamic system centered around a single visual, you want to keep experimenting, exploring and pushing to see all the ways it can come to life. At the same time, you want to ensure that you’re communicating clearly and consistently and that your decisions fit within the design system as a whole.
Favorite details: The simplicity of the spine as a communication device. We had presented entirely different ideas in our first round of work with the client, and as we were trying to solve and refine those, this concept came to be. I had this sketch of a single rectangle on a page that I kept coming back to, but it never dawned on me that it could stand alone and inform such a robust system until we came back to it with fresh eyes.
New lessons: This may not be entirely new, but this project reinforced the importance of trusting your gut. The simple sketch always felt right; it just took us a while to realize it fully. The whole process just reminded me that if you have that feeling of something being good—even if it hasn’t been fully realized—stay with it and keep going until you crack it.
Visual influences: We looked at a lot of historical Canadian design, specifically from the late ’60s to the ’70s. I think Canadian design was finding its sense of style at that time, with singular, bold graphics paired with a neo-grotesque sans serif, cleanly locked up in English and French. You can still see that same typographic approach in a lot of national applications today.
Our goal for the identity was to communicate excellence in Canadian journalism. We also used color to tell that story: red and white are Canada’s national colors, and as much as red can be a bit of an expected motif in Canadian design, we relied on that recognition as the primary identifier. By using a white spine on a flood of red, we could communicate Canadianness without actually referencing Canada through text.