Departures Goes From the Past to the Present With a New Worldly Brand Identity

Posted inBranding & Identity Design

Departures Magazine started in 1984 as a lifestyle publication focusing on luxury and travel sent out to American Express cardholders seven times a year. But this past June, a transition to digital was announced for the magazine, cueing up a new beginning for Departures. 

Where there are new beginnings, there is also a need for new branding. American Express enlisted the agency Giant Spoon to execute that overhaul. Rachel Gogel was tapped as the Executive Creative Director on the project, overseeing a creative team that built out a completely new brand identity system to usher in the next generation of Departures that leaves the print magazine behind and embraces a digital-first model.

“It’s important for us to evolve the stories we tell and how we tell them,” Gogel says. “It’s one of the most complex orchestrations I’ve ever been part of.” Gogel expands upon the brand system and creative process behind the all-new Departures below.

(This conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.)

What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in transitioning from a print-based brand to an exclusively digital one?

I recognized when I started almost a year ago that the transition would take significant behavior shifts. 

It’s the brand’s first redesign in over a decade. So much has changed—from design and technology to what Departures’ audience cares about. And the future of work and travel are being reinvented as we speak. It was (and is still) challenging for us to simultaneously re-establish credibility and announce our authority in this ever-changing world. 

While all past expressions of Departures’ identity came built for a print-first context, this relaunch considered scale, accessibility, and ownability as key criteria in thinking through the system from a digital-first perspective. As we consider the brand’s future, we will explore print, audio, and other experiential extensions, too. Stress testing the system beyond digital environments is important to us. But this transformation also set the foundation for Departures to have a more active dialogue with existing and future cardmembers, thanks to the real-time data and feedback we’re gathering. 

There was an opportunity to offer a more story-driven, useful, and collaborative brand experience. We took what was unique and special about Departures’ past and brought it into the future. We listened closely to the leading voices in luxury and developed creative and strategic approaches to speak to a new kind of affluence. 

We were intrigued by the idea of helping to build a publisher within an agency. Due to the pandemic, we developed the evolved brand in a completely virtual and distributed environment, unlocking new kinds of creativity and collaboration amongst several designers, strategists, editors, and producers. There’s so much talent embedded on this new Departures team from all walks of life, and it’s amazing to think that I’ve still only met a few of them in person.

This has been one of the most complicated orchestrations of my career, but that’s why it’s also the most rewarding.

How has that transition changed the sorts of stories and content pieces Departures offers? How has that influenced the overall editorial design?

The new Departures is centered on building a platform and community for cardmembers that lives beyond the traditional publishing model. We approach our editorial as quality over quantity and create content that informs and reveals the backstories. To tell compelling stories, we devised key principles to guide and unify the creation and innovation of our editorial, product, and partnership work streams, with the brand at the core. Working this way enabled everything to feel connected and consistent. The new brand identity system transpires through the editorial design and voice. The editorial team has been creating a balance of content that offers moments of inspiration and aspiration but also a sense of relatability and utility for cardmembers. 

Our cardmembers seek considered content that expands the world and enriches their lives. Departures responds to this desire with vetted, honest insights from a curated collection of contributors that inspire them to act, to go, to learn, to share, to buy, and to dig deeper. We’re now delivering a refreshed editorial product that acts as a prism reflecting all facets of the human journey through monthly themes and five foundational territories: arts, cuisine, travel, wellness, and style. That allowed us to embrace the traveler’s mindset and broaden the focus of our storytelling beyond locations and places to personal and human-centric moments.

Beyond our varied themes and story formats, the true strength of our editorial is in the diverse contributor network we have cultivated. There are celebrated writers like Bret Easton Ellis, Lani Halliday, and Shaw Bowman, as well as amazing photographers like Aya Brackett and David Benjamin Sherry. Showcasing these points of view can give our cardmembers a truly global lens.

What elements of the existing Departures brand were you intent on preserving, and what did you want to update?

We wanted to keep one foot in the past while striding forward. The new visual identity retains this dynamic philosophy: It speaks to the brand’s present and future while at the same time it celebrates its heritage.

For the visual identity, visual distillations of personal diaries, field notes, and travel sketchbooks inspired us, and the redesigned brand serves as a contemporary, tactile expression in a digital-first environment. The nameplate—a term used to honor the brand’s original, printed magazine and its respective terminology—uses expressive, calligraphic forms to celebrate storied American Express travelers’ cheques and credit cards with personal signatures.

The new custom-drawn nameplate, which retains key elements from the previous nameplates, purposefully reflects this shift. The brand’s evolution is underscored by the transition from uppercase to lowercase characters, allowing for a sense of community and approachability. Beyond the word it articulates, lowercase characters signal a more inviting, intimate, and unfussy Departures. This change reflects the progression of our brand and the luxury world as a whole.

For the type, the team explored a combination of Nib, Maison, and Mercury G2 fonts for a diverse range of typographic scale, hierarchy, and texture. Sourcing font families from reputable foundries was a critical part of the process.

When it came to color, we built a primary, secondary, and tertiary palette designed for thoughtful, creative use. The new primary brand color is Complex Purple, which we created by combining the legacy Departures Red with American Express Blue. Culturally, this shade of purple implies luxury and royalty. American Express travelers’ cheques and the brand’s original palettes historically featured the color purple as well. As this brand evolves, we want to honor our heritage but create a premium, unique, and ownable palette. As a whole, the master palette mimics the digital representation of a diary with primary colors (Complex Purple, Cream, and Warm Gold) complemented by bright secondary colors and the use of grayscale. The supporting cast of colors adds considered intensity as stamps on a document or notes over primary text. Each creates distinct markings that disrupt uniformity.

Lastly, we considered the voice and tone. In our world, the voice of luxury is real and refined. It’s smart, refreshing, and a bit surprising. In other words, it’s stripped free of fluff and loosened up—like a laid-back dinner party at an artist’s loft with eclectic guests.