The Creative Director’s cut with Jeff Glendenning
During his career, Jeff Glendenning has run his own studio creating digital apps and branding for clients like Scientific American and Vogue, taught editorial and interactive design, typography and more at Syracuse and MICA among others, and worked for Condé Nast, Mother and Bloomberg Businessweek. But there is one particular strong thread running through his career – The New York Times. From 2002 to 2007, he was an art director at The New York Times Magazine, where he designed the weekly publication’s covers, features and special issues and helped create the NYT’s sport and property publications, Play and Key. After being away for a decade, Jeff returned to The New York Times in 2017, initially as Deputy Design Director, overseeing the art direction of sections including Sunday Business, Arts & Leisure, and Styles. Now he’s Creative Director, Brand Identity for the paper. We grabbed a few words with him about his experiences as an art and creative director in print and digital media.
How did you first break into the creative world?
I would say that my first job was the classic ‘get your foot in the door’ situation. I was hired as a junior designer for Condé Nast’s magazine Mademoiselle out of design school. While the content of the magazine was not a perfect fit – as a young women’s fashion magazine – I learned the business of magazine publishing and had an inspiring group of co-workers and bosses to learn from. And even though I paid my dues (scanning etc.) it was a great magazine and way to get into the industry that set me up for years to come.
Did you always intend to find your way into a creative role?
I went to art school at 18 because I loved to draw. I was not confident enough to pursue life as an illustrator, but I did always think I would end up doing something creative. Design was something I realised one could do as a major – and a living – as a freshman in foundation classes in the school of art.
How would you define the role of a creative director as opposed to an art director?
Generally, I would say they are similar and it’s more of a title and a matter of seniority. Both conceptualise and work on visual storytelling through photography, illustration etc. And both are typically designers by trade and work on or oversee the packaging of content with type and layout.
How would you describe your role at The New York Times?
As creative director in the Brand Identity department, I work on projects on both the business and marketing side… as well as editorial projects that come out of the newsroom (the news and feature stories in the paper every day). Whatever the platform or media, I work to maintain consistency of the visual language and voice of the brand. This is achieved through just a few typefaces, a design sensibility, strategy and tone.
What happens in a normal day for you, assuming there is such a thing?
Currently, I am working on the Instagram team in the newsroom. The day consists of going through the day’s story pitches at 10am… designing the ‘feed’ and ‘story’ posts throughout the day… and meeting again at the end of the day to assess and wrap up.
What is about The New York Times that drew you back?
It was actually everything that I didn’t get the first time around with the magazine. The mag was and still is among the best in the world at visual storytelling and use of photography, illustration and design. However, it was the evolution of the company in the last 10+ years in the realm of digital interactives and other products (video, audio and podcasts) that excited me and was the biggest lure to return.
Is there any tension between tradition and new ways of doing things at a publication with 150 years of history behind it?
I would say there was tension in how the company was evolving digitally in my first stint, in the ‘00s. It was not so smooth or a leader in the digital space. However, several years ago the leadership went all in on defining the company as ‘digital first’. All stories were pushed out online first and print was now ‘downstream’.
What defines the brand of The New York Times?
In short, we work off of our mission statement that “we seek the truth and help people understand the world”. Other language that is referenced as design drivers is ‘authority’ and ‘trustworthy’. Visually, this is seen the Times’ powerful photojournalistic photography and our rigour and belief to present these images authentically and not manipulate anything for the readers.
Is your role a collaborative one?
Even working from home, it is a very collaborative job and work flow. I might do design and layout on my own computer but each story and brand project is a huge collaboration.
Are you still learning?
Absolutely. The Times is great about this and that I really have pushed to work on different teams and projects is a huge help. The Instagram work is working in video and motion graphics at times. So that’s a nice evolution from my original role at the company as a 100% print designer.
Do you enjoy working in both the print and digital world?
Wow, the previous Q and A set this up perfectly. And yes! – interestingly enough I still love all things print.
What would you say are the major achievements of your career?
Actually, I would say that I played a significant role at the NYTimes Mag in the years of transition (between design directors Janet Froelich and Rem Duplessis) in both hiring in-house design talent and collaborating with off-site graphic designers and image-makers to create art for editorial stories that played out for years to come. I was certainly not the first to do this, but I believe I played a nice role in the evolution of the way these collaborations happen to this day.
Separately, as an educator, it’s arguably more fulfilling to see former students go on to their own successes and lives in art and design.
Do you have any unfulfilled creative ambitions?
Design and build a modernist country house (with help of course!).
1. The New York Times – Apollo 11 Anniversary, Special Section (top), 2. The New York Times Magazine – Cover. Lettering by Kevin Lyons, photograph by Tom Schierlitz. 3. The New York Times Magazine – Special Issue. Photograph by Platon.