The 25 Year Crush on Fast Company’s Design

A brand identity can be a powerful thing. It’s also a fluid thing, hopefully adapting its design with the times without losing its essence.

Graphic design, according to Fast Company’s current creative director Mike Schnaidt, always needs to solve the current problem at hand. He’s written a great article about his time at the design helm and includes an interesting look back at the three creative designers who preceded him in FC’s 25 years.

“I distinctly remember seeing my first issue of Fast Company at Tower Records, back when I was in art school in the early 2000s,” Schnaidt writes. “At the time, the newsstand was monolithic, and magazines were a great design resource for a student. While the shelves were full of celebrity-driven covers screaming for a consumer’s attention, Fast Company stood out. Sure, the cover was typographic and loud, yet it felt like it was speaking to me, and not over me. As a student, this taught me the power of graphic design: It could enable a reader to actually feel a message at a deeper level.”

The creative director at the time of that issue was Patrick Mitchell, who helped the brand arrive at the iconic look representative of the “big, bold and crazy ideas” that were changing the world.

Mitchell stayed on until 2003 when Dean Markadakis came on board as creative director while the economy was digging its way out of the bust.

“We came up with a new tagline—‘How Smart People Work’—and created a new logo that was more evocative of the original one, making it a bit friendlier and more familiar,” Markadakis explains. With new front-of-book sections, most bite-sized content, and more entry points and sidebars to its feature pieces, the magazine began to “feel more like an indispensable tool than a purely entertaining read.”

Remaining constant through the changes was the bold, compelling and simple type design that has become emblematic of FC’s look. By late 2010 (when, amazingly, the iPhone was only three years old), Florian Cachleda took charge of the design.

“Our palette of graphic devices consisted of gradients, slashes, long horizontal rules, and ‘stepped’ gradients (a combination of different vertical rule widths to suggest a gradient). They were all employed to suggest a sense of graphic motion, but also as connective tissue for a unified tone to the magazine—as well as the brand,” Cachleda notes.

That brings us back to today, and under Schnaidt’s design guidance — he’s been creative director since 2018 — the look is again evolving, with a firm focus on the human side of life.

“Over the past 25 years, Fast Company taught us the value of innovation, ideas, and how to put them into action,” Schnaidt explains. “Technology has accelerated our productivity to breakneck speeds. But now, readers are less spellbound over the devices that propel them, and in search for greater purpose. That’s what brings them joy. During our conversation, it became clear this human-centered approach would be the visual focus for this new era.”

No matter who’s been in the CD’s seat over these 25 years, they’ve steered the brand well and never lost its ability to appeal directly to … not at or above … the readers.

“We find great purpose in the medium of visual storytelling, and want that to show through every time someone engages with the website, magazine, or an event. This in turn creates a feedback loop and tells readers that we have equal joy for the work we do,” Schnaidt explains.

That joy shows throughout the magazine, and throughout the years.