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A Pitchfork Tour: We Get A Look Inside The Chicago Offices [PHOTOS]

By Jessica Mlinaric in Arts & Entertainment on May 10, 2015 6:15PM

Pitchfork Media welcomed visitors into its Chicago office last week for a studio tour organized by local design quarterly MAS Context followed by a discussion on the design approach behind the print publication, The Pitchfork Review.

While Pitchfork sent its editorial staff packing for NYC in 2011, Chicago is still headquarters for the company's design, development, advertising and festival staff. In fact, artwork across Pitchfork’s website, print publication, music festival and film website, The Dissolve, is generated by a staff of just four designers and four developers here in Chicago.

About 30 people attended the free event and milled throughout Pitchfork’s two-story space in Logan Square, sipping beers on the ample rooftop deck while admiring design ephemera as well as a Jacuzzi tub filled with potato chips.

Pitchfork’s Creative Director and MAS Context contributor, Michael Renaud, and Art Director Molly Butterfoss then led a discussion on the brand’s design motivation and the aesthetic approach to its print journal.

Founded in 2013, The Pitchfork Review was created to “address the timeless nature of music outside of the daily grind of new music on the website,” according to Renaud. The publication features long-form music journalism, photography, cartoons and recipes based on album covers, all of which span new artists with promising staying power (like Courtney Barnett) to legends like Bowie that continue to inspire.

Renaud delighted design nerds with insight into the publication’s aesthetic choices. Have you ever noticed the wheel on the spine of your copy? Line up a few consecutive issues and you’ll notice that the graphic is meant to spin. Inside, all of the pages are sheet fed and perfect bound between soft touch cover folds by a printer a few miles away in Printer’s Row. This proximity expedites the production proof approval process while supporting a local business. The cover artwork is also intriguing—it's actually four panels that open up to reveal a conceptual photograph or illustration. The trophy adorning the first issue’s cover bears a striking resemblance to an urn, a play on the dying state of print journalism.

So why would a successful indie music journalism website with 5 million unique monthly visitors expand its up-to-the-minute digital footprint to a medium heaving its last breaths?

For Renaud, it comes down to “going slow.” “It’s an opportunity to show music lovers that we do a lot outside of new music. We can get away from breaking new music while still introducing people to [it].” Outside of regularly breaking news and social media, The Pitchfork Review is meant to be a timeless, collectible entry point to new releases. “It’s meant to feel more personal and less commoditized,” he said. “I miss finding meaningful things I can spend time with and enjoy.”

Pitchfork extends this thoughtful approach to the influence of design on its audience’s experience across its channels, flexing a healthy budget for art commissions. From the collectible festival guide at Pitchfork Music Festival, which celebrates its tenth anniversary in Chicago this summer, to the beautifully art-directed animated cover stories on its website, Pitchfork aims to “make something special” for its audience. Even the sponsorship of The Pitchfork Review is meant to feel more like a curated editorial experience rather than brazen advertising, as is evident in their partnership with Converse to feature artists across the country in the magazine’s first four issues.

So far the ROI on nostalgia has been paying off for The Pitchfork Review. With 10 thousand copies released of each edition, Pitchfork is happy to report that the publication is paying for itself and even profiting…a little bit. They hope to also grow the publication’s audience with the inclusion of a one-year subscription for three-day ticket holders to the music festival. “Nine out of ten people I talk to about Pitchfork know the festival and not the website,” said Renaud. “We want to introduce them to other things they might be into.”

In a little over a year, The Pitchfork Review’s audience has developed primarily through word-of-mouth and social media, allowing the small team to continue taking risks and finding inspiration in the real world. The notoriously critical brand has been met with its own fair share of censure. For Renaud though, the feedback is welcome, he says. “An audience of critics keeps you humble.”