Fred Woodward


2004 AIGA Medal

1953, Louisville, Mississippi


The visual language Woodward developed for Rolling Stone between 1987 and 2001 was expressive and eclectic, containing elements both of cool modernism and of American vernacular such as fat ornamental wood-block display faces, composition deriving from 19th-century handbills, and a weathered color palette.

Fred Woodward's illustrious career in publishing design began tentatively. At Mississippi State and then Memphis State, he switched majors from journalism to physical education to political science before settling on graphic design. Two semesters into his new major, he got a job at a local design studio that led to his appointment as art director of a regional magazine, Memphis. In succession he worked for D Magazine in Dallas, Westward, the Sunday magazine of the Dallas Times Herald, Texas Monthly, and Regardie's in Washington DC. Finally, in 1987, Woodward was made art director of the bi-weekly rock 'n' roll bible Rolling Stone. It was the job he'd wanted for more than a decade.

Respectful of the magazine's design legacy—begun by Robert Kingsbury in the late 1960's and continuing with the work of Roger Black and Mike Salisbury—Woodward reintroduced some original features such as the Oxford border. This framing device helped clarify the relationship between editorial and advertising, and it gave Woodward a defined space in which to let loose the dramatically choreographed couplings of typography and photography that have become the magazine's visual signature.

Amongst Woodward's memorable spreads, in which he makes a typographic response to a photograph, is the one for an Arnold Schwarznegger profile in which he positioned the headline across a photograph of the actor sitting in a giant inner tube so that the tube becomes the “O” in the title “Big Shot.”

Sometimes, however, Woodward let the photography do all the talking. In the case of the “Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young” headline, no text is used. Instead readers are treated to the visual joke of a sequence of full-bleed black and white photographs of the band members in the appropriate order, punctuated by a page-sized ampersand.

The energy and innovation necessary to keeping a magazine fresh through almost 400 issues did not go unnoticed. In 1996 when Woodward was inducted to the Art Directors Hall of Fame he was the youngest inductee to date.

In 2001 Woodward became design director at GQ magazine. Within a year his elegant redesign had scooped the Society of Publication Designers' Magazine of the Year award.

“Woodward and his talented staff have set a new standard for what editorial design can be, in what must be one of the longer hot streaks in magazine design history. Surveying his work, one is struck not just by its formal beauty and appropriateness, but by the sheer virtuosity of its design responses.”

—Michael Bierut, The New Edition of Design Exchange