Behind the scenes: Modern Design Review

by Steve Watson in August 2014
Art & design

There are a few new design magazines in the ether at the moment. The first issue of Fiera is due out in November and Dirty Furniture is currently Kickstarting its way into existence, while Modern Design Review has already hit the shelves.

A quick flick reveals that this latest design title is a magazine determined to do things differently, its stories grouped together in esoteric trains of thought rather than explicit sections. It’s a wonderful read, so I caught up with editor-in-chief Laura Houseley to find out more about her thought process, and to ask whether there’s really room on the shelves for so many design titles.

Modern-Design-Review-Kukkapuro

I have to admit, when I read in the opening letter about a magazine based on chains of thought, I was sceptical. But as I read the magazine I could really see where you’re coming from, with clustered themes like time and craft, and then light and shadow running through the stories.
That’s the way I think about design, and I think it’s the most interesting way to present design as well. I enjoy that rhythm through the magazine, following one story on from another and it being a stream of thought.

Those themes are quite clear to the reader, but are there other chains of thought that are slightly less obvious?
There are so many! For example there’s the cover, which represents new minimalism and the idea of this new approach to pared-back design that’s quite poetic and quite beautiful. That runs through a lot of the stories and we don’t necessarily highlight it there, but perversely I decided to highlight it on the cover!

It makes for a really interesting reading experience, but is that esoteric approach a more difficult sell?
I’m hoping not. It’s been received very well, and I really want the magazine to have genuine longevity. I’d like people to keep picking it up and finding new things in it, finding links and references and drawing them together.

That may mean it takes people longer to get used to the way we present editorial, but I don’t think that’s any bad thing. We’re in it for the long run – I’ve been in design journalism for 17 or 18 years now and I really was desperate to try something new.

Modern-Design-Review-stair

What’s your take on the design press at the moment? There are some big design magazines out there, plus new ones like Fiera due to come out soon. Do you think there’s room for all of you or will some have to fall by the wayside?
I genuinely think there’s room for all of us. Design is such an inspiring and vital discipline and it’s so multi-faceted with so much going on, that I think there’s room for many more design magazines. Modern Design Review approaches it from a very different angle – a lot of design magazines are instantly pegged as interiors magazines, meaning, “they will help you buy a sofa” and I think it’s quite refreshing to do away with that idea and just focus on design as a creative discipline, which is what we’re trying to do.

It struck me as well that you’re doing more than reporting on design – with Daniel Rybakken’s photo essay you’re giving him the platform to actually create something himself.
All these ideas stem from a genuine love of the subject. Daniel is a really young, incredible designer who will do great things. And his own way of representing his work is so beautiful that I thought, “Why would we have somebody else interpret what he does, when his way of telling his story is so fantastic?”

So we gave over the art direction of that story to him, and I think you get a whole other perspective on somebody’s work when you do that. A lot of the stories are about picking out something very small and really luxuriating in it – so taking one idea or one thought, and really giving space and time to it.

Modern-Design-Review-joint

That really came out for me in the Japanese wood joints story. They’re fascinating objects and by giving them that much space you’ve really done them justice.
Exactly. And it’s so much fun as well. That was the first story I knew we’d put in – I’d shelved the idea for years and I knew it would be in there. It was the first story we shot, the first one we laid out, and I didn’t give it a second thought until we were at the printer and I suddenly thought, “Have I lost my mind? Will people understand this? Will they think it’s just the most crazy story?”

Modern-Design-Review-bear

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