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New Yorker augmented reality

Illustration: Christoph Niemann

- Editorial Design

The New Yorker – a cover with augmented reality

New Yorker is well known for its high-impact covers. In May the magazine further strengthened its reputation for legendary imagery, this time by using the very latest techniques: an »augmented reality« image that becomes animated when viewed digitally via an app.

One of the main goals was to communicate a strong idea  in a visually appealing way and to show, what can be done with a technology like this and still keep firmly in line with tradition. The illustrations were done by Christoph Niemann. We talked to Françoise Mouly, since 1993 art editor of the New Yorker, about this unusual project. 




New Yorker augmented reality
Video stills: The New Yorker
New Yorker augmented reality

An unusual production

Did your »innovators issue« call for a technically very innovative solution or was AR something you wanted to use for a long time?


I am always interested in anything that makes a cover more alive. Qualcomm wanted to advertise in the magazine and offered the means to do an app to go with it. The specific exploration of it was offered by having a budget for it. With editorial we have budgets for ideas, but not so much for studios and the time. Basically Qualcomm said: hey, we will throw some money at you and see what you will come up with. I went to the editor David Remnick and proposed various artists, who I knew were interested in the interaction of creativity and technology and had been working on digital versions. David chose Christoph Niemann, who had done a number of animated gifs and apps. It was great to work with Christoph. He is the one who explained to me the technical possibilities and together we could approach the project conceptually.


Did technical requirements influence the design a great deal?


For the New Yorker cover we deal in drawings and ideas. There is not much overlap with a city or a stadium built in 3D, which are the uses this technology has usually been put to. Christoph said: let’s explore something simple. That was one of the big restrictions, he brought in. We decided to use a limited color pallet and not worry about lighting and rendering in 3D. We knew that whatever we did would need to be in an app that would be downloaded, so we had limits in terms of how big the coding and the files could be. The solution was to limit the rendering to 2D and two colours …

New Yorker augmented reality Christoph Niemann
Illustration: Christoph Niemann

Using technology in an unusual and exciting way

How did you go about the design?


In this instance we knew from the start, that for the first time in the history of the magazine the cover image would also be on the back cover. Which sounds great, until you realise that the reader has never looked at the cover and said: »Oh, I wonder what’s on the back cover?« 


One doesn’t lead to the other. We had to try to find a concept and it came fairly organically. The technology lent itself to build a large environment, but we wanted to be inside this environment. We wanted to create a path to take the reader from the place you see on the cover and on the back cover to another place that would be in the app. When you move around in the city, you are also travelling through a lot of spaces. Fast transition is one of the characteristics of living in the city and every New Yorker cover tries to capture something iconic. Animation is not what the AR lent itself to, but with it we were able to create a very rich experience. 


Because the city is made up of masonry and steel, we wanted to have something organic. Turning the subway into something like an insect or dragon or caterpillar and having the city grow like a crystal, where some of the things we were sending back and forth. I was also sending Christoph New Yorker covers from the 20s, from the Jazz era, that were cubist and deconstructed, showing different view points all at the same time. All this came together vey well and it was very exciting. We decided to limit ourselves to black and yellow, the colours of transportation in the city. And because we were doing everything in vectors and in two colours, there was some coding power left, to try to do movement on the buildings themselves. Instead of rendering one building with all its windows and bricks, we just took a very broad approach to what it fells like to be there. To feel the speed and the diversity of impressions, that you get in the city.



How was the feedback to this issue?


I am very happy with the response we got, it was terrific. It was a demonstration of an artist using technology such as it is and transforming it. We were not the first to do augmented reality in a magazine, but we were the first to do something exciting with it.



Will this be the future, to connect magazines to digital devices?


The reason this worked so well was that the point of departure was the cover, a simple drawing. I think that has a future, because the process is identical to how the magazine was printed 91 years ago. People can still relate to it. With a work like this, you do a bit of both: You have the exciting part of what can be done with a technology, but you are also firmly in line with tradition. The important thing is to use the technology not to take you away from the image, but to actually bring you back to the image. The technology doesn’t replace the image, the image comes first and things like these are the cherries on top.

New Yorker augmented reality
Video stills: The New Yorker

Watch the video

To find out more, you can watch a video on Youtube 


Here you can download the app:


Google Play