Gail Bichler How the NYT design director finds creatives to work with

Cover Image - Gail Bichler

Our Talent 2.0 series explores how creatives think about – and find – good people in the internet age. Here we speak to Gail Bichler of The New York Times Magazine. Illustration by Lauren Humphrey.

The New York Times Magazine was first published in September 1896 and has grown to become one of the most respected titles in the world. Its creative team, led by design director Gail Bichler, has developed a reputation for fearless visual treatments and pitch-perfect commissioning. At the recent Society of Publication Designers awards, Gail’s team won 15 medals including the top accolade, Magazine of the Year.

How do you and your team go about finding new creatives (in particular illustrators/designers) to work with?

The main way we find new talent is by looking online at design and art blogs, illustration agency websites or on Pinterest. Sometimes former colleagues who teach will send graduating students to see us, or art directors at other publications will send over an illustrator or a designer who they think might be a fit. And a lot of the designers in our group have found great illustrators through social connections or simply by being a part of art and design community in New York.

What criteria do you personally apply when reviewing someone you might commission?

It depends on the project, but often we are looking for someone with strong conceptual ideas. In addition, I look for work that seems original in some way and feels authentic. And we like to work with people who will make the process pleasant while also making great work, so personality sometimes plays in.

Conversely, what can put you off commissioning someone?

We avoid artists whose work feels derivative, overly stylized or trendy. Our collaborators must have the right combination of talents. We can’t hire an illustrator who has great conceptual ideas but whose finished work doesn’t have a high level of craft. We need the whole package.

Inconsistency can be a killer as well. Due to the tight time constraints at a weekly publication, we sometimes avoid hiring someone whose quality of work varies a lot, because we can’t afford the risk that an artist won’t deliver for us.

What would be your advice to a creative who would love to be commissioned by the NYTimes magazine?

Designers at a publication like The New York Times Magazine get tons of emails from illustrators hoping to collaborate. We’re always happy to learn about new artists, but it’s almost impossible to stay on top of the correspondence. My advice to illustrators would be to pitch your work to blogs instead. Let someone else sing your praises.

I think it’s a more effective way to get your name out. We often depend on blogs, because if we like a particular site, the people curating that content are doing the work of finding new talent.

More generally, how has new technology changed the way you find and evaluate new talent?

It has changed it immensely. I used to rely quite heavily on illustration, art and photography books. I had compendiums that I looked through when I needed to make commissions. Now I have a Pinterest account, and I tag things that I look at online so I can return to them later. The internet has made it much easier to see a large volume of work and to keep track of what you see.

One downside of art and design being so easily accessible online is that certain styles proliferate and sometimes I find that a lot of the work has a similar sensibility. But an original vision or technique really stands out.