Fred Woodward

Fred Woodward was born 1953 in Louisville, Mississippi, a small agricultural community of about 500. Growing up in a community focused on agriculture, most people did not understand his passion and interest for art and graphic design, including his parents. When he left Louisville to attend college at Mississippi State University then University of Memphis, he was still somewhat lost, switching majors from journalism to physical education to political science before finally settling on graphic design, something he knew he was passionate about. However, he did not realize until his third year of school that he could potentially have a career in design. His career started out slow, beginning as an unpaid, part-time studio assistant; but over the course of the next ten years, his career took off. He went from an unpaid assistant to working as the art director at an array of different outlets local to him, including magazines in Memphis and Dallas. In 1982, Woodward went to work at the Sunday Magazine of the Dallas Times-Herald, followed by a post as art director of Texas Monthly.

Woodward was taught by his colleagues and accepted standards from influencers in the field. Ronn Campisi at the Boston Globe and Greg Paul at the Cleveland Plain Dealer had already begun to modernize the look of Sunday magazines. Woodward claimed they showed him the “possibilities of format.” As his career continued to develop, the editors that Woodward worked for developed a certain respect for him. Texas Monthly editor Greg Curtis recalled “Fred breathe new life into [the magazine].”

These determinative years were a time of growth and learning for Woodward. He flourished without any pressure from publishers or competition. If one were to look at his earlier works and compare them to his current works, one could see the progression of confidence slowly blossoming from piece to piece. He started using cleaner, more discreet and less fashionable typefaces. An unmistakable way of approaching typeface would eventually become a trademark of Woodward’s signature style, which can be seen in Rolling Stone magazine.

In the summer of 1987, Woodward started working for one of the most iconic and well-known magazines, Rolling Stone. It was the job he had been hoping for a decade to get. He went on to spend fourteen years working for the magazine; this is perhaps what he is best known for. Almost 400 issues were released that he oversaw. In order to understand Woodward’s unparalleled contribution to the magazine, one has to take into consideration the historical context that preceded Woodward’s time there.

Rolling Stone made its debut in the late sixties and early seventies, drawing the attention of music fans by supporting classic rock artists like the Eagles, Queen, and Aerosmith. However, in the following decade, the magazine struggled to keep up with the progressing music industry and lost touch with the youth. So, in the ten years preceding Woodward’s career as art director, Rolling Stone converted from rock’n’roll bible to mainstream publication.

When Woodward joined the magazine, the grunge movement had just begun, and other competitors had already recruiting younger and more passionate writers to cover it in their magazines. This caused Rolling Stone to look old and middle-aged. It was Woodward’s job and responsibility as art director to change that image. He started his job by spending days studying the last twenty years of visuals in order to better comprehend the legacy that he had just inherited. Woodward payed his respects to the magazine’s design legacy by reintroducing some of the original feature, like the Oxford border.

Rolling Stone’s visual style was enhanced by Woodward’s unique contribution of typography, photography and the way in which they worked together in the magazine. The calculated decisions he made with typography gave meaning and helped to set the tone for whatever was being discussed. In addition to the typefaces setting the mood, the way Woodward positioned groups of words or letters was designed to generate emotions in the reader. He would break up the letters of a word or section off groups of text with the intention of having the reader read the titles in a specific way. He would also fill up a whole page with type, so that the photograph and the type treatment are connected. Woodward continued to work towards a look and feel that was distinctive and unlike all the other publications by working with talented designers to come up with new typefaces and alter some of the older, classic faces for their independent use. With Woodward in control, the collection of typefaces increased at a continuous rate of about two styles per month. Continuing his creative streak, Woodward helped in generating a typographic response to photographs. One can observe where he used this in certain 1992 issues of the magazine.

After only two months of working at the magazine, Woodward’s first cover came out. The cover displayed an image of the heavy metal band Motely Crue. Despite the magazine’s most acclaimed cover, an image of John Lennon and Yoko Ono intertwined with one another, being published before he started working as art director, Woodward still had his fair share of iconic covers. An example of one of his many iconic covers was released in 1993. The cover features Janet Jackson topless with her breasts covered by the hands of her husband at the time, René Elizondo, Jr. His hands are the only part of his body pictured. There were two versions of the photograph, one full-length and one cropped. Woodward decided to go with the original full-length version to use for the cover. Journalists stated that it became one of the most memorable and noteworthy magazine covers of that year and helped to establish Jackson as a sex symbol.

Critical acclaim aside, Rolling Stone went on to win more international design awards than any other U.S. magazine, thanks to Woodward. The magazine won a total of seventeen gold and silver medals at the Art Directors Club of New York in 1990, thus setting the record of the most awards given to a single recipient in the history of the club, going back 72 years.

Some claim that Rolling Stone magazine already had previous contemporary and inventive art directors, but it is inarguable that Woodward’s significant art direction helped cultivate that reputation. Separate from the magazine, Woodward himself has received multiple awards and honors. He won the first ever “Best in Show” award from the Society of Publication Designers in 1995. In 1996 he achieved the record of being the youngest member of the Art directors Hall of Fame. The next year, the Type Directors Club awarded him with the Lifetime Achievement Award, one of the most prestigious awards given. The list of his various awards, honors, and achievements continues to go on for the next ten years. By 2009, Woodward had been nominated for eight National Magazine Awards. Some critics claim that Woodward’s success and reputation are due to his time at Rolling Stone; this is easily disproven by his career at GQ Magazine, where he currently works. He has worked as the design director for the magazine since 2001. Woodward is also currently the president of the Society of Publication Design.



Mednick, Scott A. “Fred Woodward.” Graphis 45.(1989): 40-55.

Hess, Charles. “The Fine Art Of Collaboration.” Print 41.5 (1987): 47-141.

Berry, Colin. “Rolling Stone: The Illustrated Portraits (Book Review).” Print 55.2 (2001): 40.