Printout – the design special

by Steve Watson in May 2014

The Book Club in Shoreditch was invaded by designers and Germans last night, as we brought together some of Europe’s most exciting design talent to talk about their creative approach to making magazines. Unfortunately Danielle Pender from Riposte couldn’t be with us and we hope she’s feeling much better very soon, but our remaining speakers made the most of the extra time to deliver an inspiring, insightful look into what they do.

First up were Ana Lessing and Kevin Braddock from Winter, the first magazine from Berlin’s A Mag For All Seasons stable. Winter is more an arts project than a conventional magazine, and was conceived in response to a particularly harsh Berlin winter. As Ana explained, they see the season as a time of contrasts, and so that concept informed every aspect of the art direction.

From size and format (closed it’s a narrow rectangular shape, open it’s almost square) to colours (the cover is black, an “anti-cover” that opens to reveal lots of white) to the content itself (running from dark, brooding pieces to funny, Manzine-esque silliness) everything about the magazine is built on contrast.

They also wanted the feeling of the physical object in the reader’s hands to tell the story of winter, so they used eight different papers, moving from thin to thick to thin again, all of them in different shades of white, to recreate the different phases of winter.

Ingeniously, the papers were all left over stock from the printer, which the team painstakingly searched out and were able to buy at a discount rate. Time and again through the evening the speakers talked about the primacy of the physical object, and it was refreshing to hear that primacy doesn’t have to come with a premium price tag.

Edward Vince from Talc was up next, talking about his porn magazine that’s not a porn magazine. Starting out by raising £10,000 on Kickstarter, “the best way to test whether a project is worth doing”, Ed talked about Talc as a response to the “pornification of design”, which has seen the fetishisation of design to the levels of typography porn, print porn, paper porn, etc.

Inspired by Wet magazine, and its ability to communicate a place and time (Venice Beach in the late 70s), he also referenced classic Playboy as a major reference point, and detailed the several ways in which Talc takes its lead from those magazines. For example it had to be gloss (even though he’d much rather work with uncoated stock) it had to be saddle stitched (even though that meant he had to ruthlessly cut content to keep the pagination low enough to staple it all together) and it had to have a centrefold (even though that might be seen as a bit cliched).

Interestingly, Ed doesn’t fancy his chances of making his living out of selling magazines, and instead conceived Talc as a much broader brand. The magazine is just one way of getting Talc content out into the world, and while they’ve already made stickers, t-shirts and postcards, he says that future issues might not be printed on paper at all – for example a hook up with a skate brand could lead to an ‘issue’ being released on decks, hats and t-shirts rather than bound into a magazine.

Kai von Rabenau rounded out the night with his excellent reflections on mono.kultur, the magazine he and some friends started “as a hobby” nine years ago. Originally intended as an interview magazine, they realised early on that they didn’t have enough money to print a conventional magazine, and so decided to break up the interviews and print each one as a small issue its own right.

Such tight focus on one person might seem limiting, but actually it gives a lot of freedom to the design, allowing Kai and his guest designers to experiment and create the most fantastically adventurous editorial design. Whereas most magazines act as “umbrellas” and so need a strong identity to unify lots of content, mono.kultur started from the opposite end so they were able to pull back the magazine’s identity and focus instead on the interviewee.

In real terms that means a masthead in 8.25 point type, and a magazine that gets reimagined and redesigned every issue. And as the guest designers have competed with each other, the magazine has incorporated up to six paper stocks in one issue, concertinas, pull outs, even scents instead of images. Or as Kai put it, “it’s become like an archive of the things you can do with print – all the things that make magazines special”.

All these changes have meant that the magazine has stayed fresh for readers, and also for Kai and his team, who are in it for the love – “as a magazine that doesn’t generate much money, it does generate a lot of joy”. It covers its own costs, and while they have looked into advertising to make it pay a little more, Kai found that they were having to speak to all sorts of people they didn’t really want to be speaking to – “PR agencies are a total nightmare in terms of intelligence”.

As Jeremy noted in his summing up, if you’re going to make your own magazine, you should make YOUR OWN magazine – something that’s totally yours and satisfies your own creative desires. That’s exactly what all these magazine makers are led by, and it was wonderful to hear from them first hand. Thanks again to all the speakers, and especially to Ana, Kevin and Kai, who travelled so far to be with us, and watch out for details of our next Printout coming soon.

A Mag For All Seasons

Image courtesy of @PangusAngus

Close Icon

Join our magazine club! Subscribe to Stack and every month we'll pick a different independent title and deliver it to your door. You never know what you'll get next...

Subscribe now