New York City

SPY Magazine

A dream job Before starting our firm, Alex served as the Art Director of the smart, fun, funny, fearless — and influential and much-missed — Spy magazine.

“It’s pretty safe to say that Spy was the most influential magazine of the 1980s. It might have remade New York’s cultural landscape; it definitely changed the whole tone of magazine journalism. It was cruel, brilliant, beautifully written and perfectly designed, and feared by all. There’s no magazine I know of that’s so continually referenced, held up as a benchmark, and whose demise is so lamented.”
— Dave Eggers

“It’s a piece of garbage
— Donald Trump

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For an April Fool’s issue, we used a double cover; the second cover fell apart. A hint of things to come?

Spy was designed on a tight budget; a lot of each issue was printed using only two colors, and we had to rely on the use of stock and paparazzi photographs for imagery. As a result, the designs relied heavily on typography to help advance the narrative.

We had to call in a lot of favors to create our covers. Supermodel Carol Alt posed free. The rats cost $300.
"Spy presaged the Web in terms of the multiple entry points and levels of information… [b]ut what ultimately makes Spy memorable, and missed, was its sense of humor eloquently expressed through its graphic presentation. Nothing, especially in print, has replaced it." — Design Historian Steven Heller

Life highlights? Getting to meet both Grampa and Uncle Miltie. Neither disappointed.


Art Director
Alexander Isley

Alexander Knowlton
Sonda Andersson-Pappan
Deborah DeSteffan
Catherine Gilmore-Barnes
Michael Hoffman

Gold and Silver Medals,
Society of Publication Designers



The Herb Lubalin Study Center
of Design and Typography

Special Collections Research Center
NC State University Libraries

Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum
Smithsonian Institution

Museum of Modern Art Library