Seven Questions for Dirk Barnett, Creative Director of the Newsweek Daily Beast Company

“Please put your shirt back on.” Rarely does an art director have cause to utter these words while on the job—and rarer still when the job in question is a Maxim photoshoot with starlet Olivia Wilde—but it’s all in a day’s work for Dirk Barnett. The editorial branding pro, who earned an undergraduate degree in journalism before finding his calling on the art and photo side of the masthead, moved from Maxim to Lucky last fall, but put in only a few days at Conde Nast HQ before Tina Brown wooed him to her newly formed “NewsBeast,” the Newsweek Daily Beast Company. Since then, Barnett and his team have rolled out a redesign (the eighth major newsstand title he’s overhauled), a new logo, and a special “Osama Is Dead” issue, all the while making images and photojournalism more prominent in the magazine. Now they’re working their magic on the Newsweek and Daily Beast websites. We caught up with Barnett after his presentation at Friday’s ABSTRACT Conference to ask him seven questions.

Barnett’s design work for Blender and Play: The New York Times Sports Magazine

1. What has been your best or most memorable design-related encounter?
When I was a young designer at Entertainment Weekly in ‘97, I was working on a story about Van Morrison, and we were using one of Anton Corbijn’s portraits from the 80’s. Photo editor Michelle Romero knew I was a huge Corbijn fan, and as I was designing the opener, she ninja’ed me and brought in Anton to take a look at the layout. My jaw dropped and he started telling stories about Van, etc. It was a fantastic early career moment that always sticks with me.

2. What is your greatest graphic design pet peeve?

3. What do you consider your proudest design moment?
Pulling off Newsweek’s Osama bin Laden special issue in 36 hours.

4. You were among the design star-studded list of presenters at the ABSTRACT Conference. For those who couldn’t make it to Maine, what did you talk about?
At ABSTRACT, I talked the conference attendees through “a day in the life” of what it means—and takes—to art direct, conceptualize, and design a news weekly magazine in 2011. Looking through the lens of Newsweek’s recent redesign, I walked through how we dealt with the Japan earthquake and tsunami disasters and bin Laden’s death.

5. What’s on your summer reading list?
Keith Richards’ Life and Jo Nesbø’s The Snowman

6. What’s in your Netflix queue?
I’m obsessed with Breaking Bad. It’s the only thing I make time to watch, and I’m almost through season three.

7. You have just received $100,000 that must be used for a single dream project. How would you spend it?
I would make a typographic sculpture of the alphabet for my son’s school playground.