County Highway is a new newspaper based on an old idea—that nothing compares to the joys of reading in print. Positioning itself as “America’s Only Newspaper,” the bi-monthly publication harkens back to the glory days of ink-stained broadsheets, as well as the alternative press, that covered local communities alongside national issues. Pentagram has created a visual identity and editorial design for County Highway that looks back to the heyday of 19th-century newspapers and celebrates reconnecting with print culture.
Pentagram worked closely with County Highway’s co-founder and editor, David Samuels, to develop the look and feel of the publication. Samuels wanted to appeal to and cultivate an audience that is not afraid of a long read, and County Highway is really a magazine in the form of a newspaper. It has an outsider persona that is anti-digital and a nostalgia for the golden days of the newspaper, before publishing gave away all of its content for free—a model that has largely proven unsustainable. (Co-founder and editor-at-large Walter Kirn was once a writer at Spy magazine, and this playful, slightly contrarian sensibility is carried throughout.)
The project was conceived during the pandemic lockdowns, when people moved out of urban centers like New York to more rural areas and started looking for ways to live and think outside of the city, hence the name. It covers everything from art, literature, and political commentary to agriculture, herbal medicine and living off the grid; in the tradition of the alternative press, an entire section is devoted to music.
Pentagram’s design pays homage to classic 19th-century newspapers with typography inspired by the period, including Shift (designed by Jeremy Mickel at MCKL), along with other display typefaces. Multipart deks of headlines speak in the clipped cadence of vintage newspaperese, and long columns of text are punctuated by pull quotes or spot illustrations. The modular design translates to the paper’s online presence, where the County Highway website makes select articles available for subscribers while signaling they are part of a larger experience offline, and headline blocks tease the newspaper’s stories on social media.
The nameplate incorporates a linework illustration by Lisa Orth, a noted tattoo artist and the original art director of the legendary Sub Pop Records. The masthead doubles as a graphic motif that can be scaled to appear on everything from County Highway’s custom-painted newspaper delivery van to branded merch like t-shirts and whiskey.
The newspaper visuals feature a mix of commissioned illustrations and photography, including a regular Op-Ed illustration by Robert Pollard, frontman of the band Guided by Voices. The Op-Ed section also pictures the pantheon of County Highway’s patron saints, literary figures who are each represented with their own illustrated icon (a whale for Herman Melville, sunglasses for Joan Didion, a tab of acid for Tom Wolfe).
Music journalism gets its own section at the back of the paper, with graphics that have a more contemporary feel. The back page of the paper is an old-school marketplace of classified ads for goods and services, with a few humorous listings mixed in, again in the spirit of Spy.