Magazine makers

Making Magazines 2012. Photo: Phil Sayer

Just returned from the fantastic Making Magazines 2012 conference – a joint effort between our chums at Magculture and Eye Magazine.

What can I say – it was a sell-out – with speakers as diverse as Gill Hudson (editor of Reader’s Digest) and Russell Davies (founder of Newspaper Club). The audience was diverse too, with students hoping to gain some insider knowledge rubbing shoulders with heavyweights like Paul Harpin of Haymarket Publishing.

Everyone learned something on the day about making magazines.

“It’s not a proper job” opined Marissa Bourke, who was lured away from working on Vogue to become Creative Director for UK Elle.

“I never thought about having to use Futura” she revealed, in conversation with Simon Esterson of Eye magazine, “so I just hid myself away and re-designed the magazine without telling anyone”.

Either no-one noticed, or Bourke has got away with it, as some foreign issues of Elle appear to have started using the new font. Needless to say she won Redesign of the Year 2008 along with Cover of the Year 2008 at the BSME Awards.

The relentless art-direction of celebrity covers does take its toll though. Some stars are very approachable, like Kylie. Others have a tendency to take over – like Lady Gaga, who became very involved in the selection of the images for the cover. Pete Doherty, who guest-edited the mag one month, was a bit of a handful apparently. Who knew?

Bourke spoke too, about the design of the subscriber covers, something most consumer magazines have now developed. It might surprise people to learn that the newsstand issue can take many weeks to design – as cover lines change on a daily basis – but the subscriber issues (which are already paid for), have less intervention, and are rattled off in ten minutes or so. Bourke often produces some of her most creative work like this.

It does seem odd though, that one minute she was talking about flying a team out to LA to do the cover, and then in the next breath saying there was zero budget for the twice yearly ‘Collections’ supplement. There though, Bourke’s creativity reveals itself again. Clothes are laid on the photocopier and literally scanned, in a colourful collage – and then the photocopy used as an image on the page to amazing effect.


I really was inspired by Matt Curtis – who showed his remarkably inventive work for Eureka, a science magazine supplement for the Times newspaper.

His ethos appeared simple. “The Times newspaper is serious, so the magazine needed to be fun”.

Every layout was an absolute gem, showing both ingenuity and hard work.

Try spray painting plastic spheres from a model shop, then supergluing them together, photographing them from above (in proportion with your double page spread), to illustrate nuclear fission. Not a fake PhotoShop shadow in sight – it’s all in the camera. Or stripping down a Kalashnikov to its constituent parts and hanging it up with fishing wire to show an exploded ‘Eagle’ style three-quarter view of the gun. That’s dedication.

Curtis spoke a lot about pace in the magazine. Allowing full bleed double page spreads to interrupt the flow between complex infographics, allowing the reader time to stop and think or gaze in wonder.

There is humour too, in the work, possibly derived from all those meetings in the pub (that’s rule number four). He is playful with the type in headlines, cheeky with the details in infographics, or he’ll set columns of text to echo a wave.

Curtis deserves his promotion to “Olympics Art Director for the Times” – his made-up title – as they created the role especially for him. I can’t wait to see how he gets on.

The main speakers were interspersed with historical snapshots from experts in their field. Cathy Olmedillas, founder of Anorak magazine, spoke of her passion for style bible The Face, while Jeremy Leslie of Magculture unearthed a midget gem in Lilliput magazine, a pocket-sized men’s title from the thirties. I have a copy of that somewhere on the shelf – I might bring it out for a blog post in the future.

The packed day was rounded off with an ice cold beer with proceeds going to the St Bride Library.

Look out for Making Magazines 2013. You can’t afford to miss it.

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