Josef Reyes

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Front and back cover of Conveyer No. 2, Summer 2007.

Josef Reyes’s favorite project won’t be in his portfolio. It won’t be in a magazine, and it won’t be on a bookshelf. Only a few dozen people will ever see it. “It’s certainly not the most glamorous project ever,” Reyes says about the fax cover sheets he designed for Guerin Glass Architects. “But in my mind, because it’s the most useful, it’s the most substantial thing I produced all year.”

With his buzz cut and neat brown shirt, gray khakis, and brown shoes, Reyes embodies his design philosophy: consciously understated and meticulous. “It’s much more important for something to look appropriate than for it to look beautiful,” he says. The Hell’s Kitchen studio he shares with Peter Buchanan-Smith—formerly his professor at School of Visual Arts, now his boss—is as tiny and ordered as a ship’s cabin. The space is so small that Reyes doesn’t leave his chair when he reaches for Raymond Carver’s Cathedral, one of a series of Carver’s book covers the studio is redesigning. He searches for a way to describe the cheesy script they used to set the title. Finally, Carver-like clarity: “It’s ugly,” he says. “But it perfectly expresses Carver’s world: Formica, linoleum, that tacky ’70s domestic style.”

Reyes moonlights as the editor of Conveyer, a magazine about his adopted hometown, Jersey City. The layout reflects the subject matter; two-column text offsets black-and-white photos of sooty factories and barren windswept streets. But both are rich with hidden stories: The magazine’s font, Franklin Gothic, was first cut in the ATF factory two miles from Conveyer’s mailbox.

It’s this depth of detail that Reyes aims for in all his projects, and he compares it to how great movies are still satisfying after multiple viewings. “There’s a scene in 2001 where a guy goes to the restroom, and there are instructions on the wall for how to use this space toilet. You would think that it was just boilerplate copy, but it’s real. Every word was considered and it’s not even legible.”