Ever since Derek Birdsall created Nova and Neville Brody sculpted The Face, editorial designers have enjoyed a high profile; their work always in the public domain, an integral part of the general public’s enjoyment of magazines and newspapers.
Designers working in the trade today clearly relish their roles. Damon Murray, a founder of design consultancy Fuel, says he’s ‘never had a proper job’. The group works on a range of projects from film titles to publishing its own books. Murray believes editorial design is still one of the best areas for ‘making your mark and trying something different’.
‘This is harder to do in other areas of design, where more obvious commercial pressures tend to iron out any idiosyncrasies,’ he says.
And there are plenty of young designers proving him right, making an impact in the editorial design world just a few years after leaving university. Dan Barber is deputy art director on The Independent. Barber had planned to work as a commercial graphic designer, but a holiday job as a Mac operator at The Daily Mail changed his mind. He joined the paper’s art desk after he graduated and moved to The Independent almost three years ago.
Working on a daily paper means fast-paced design, on which Barber says he thrives. ‘Some of my best ideas are those that have resulted from the pressure of having to do something instantly. You’re forced to keep it simple and because there’s so little time to spare there’s no chance to overwork it. You can’t look back – you’re always thinking ahead.’
It’s a theme other designers echo. Last year’s Press Gazette Young Designer of the Year Amar Hussain has been working in editorial design since 2003, starting in contract publishing and moving to ‹ News Magazines to launch The Sunday Times interior magazine, Inside Out, in November 2005.
‘Editorial design is ruthless, fast, and of its time,’ says Hussain, pointing to titles like lads-mag Jack that burst on to the scene before fading away. ‘It’s always moving on and tends to be very of the moment.’
Weekly glossy Grazia is today’s ‘of-the-moment publication’. Sarah Shaw, a designer at the title, has been working in editorial design for two-and-a-half years and joined Grazia three months ago. ‘I love working on a fast-paced, high fashion glossy weekly,’ she says. ‘I get to design just about whatever I like, which is brilliant as there’s nothing more frustrating for a new designer than doing the same pages all the time.’
But every job has its downsides. Not all magazines have a long shelf life and Shaw’s first job was on a new launch called Cut, which was closed after 13 issues and saw her made redundant. ‘Getting made redundant was very scary,’ she says. ‘But in the long run it was the best thing that could have happened, as from there I went to Sugar and then to Grazia.’
And there are creative limitations too – especially in newsprint. ‘The nature of the medium means that some things won’t print well, or just won’t work at all because of the paper’s qualities, and that can be frustrating and disappointing,’ says Barber.
Although it’s a fast-paced environment, once you’re on a title you tend to be evolving the design rather than making dramatic changes, so work can sometimes seem routine. ‘A magazine is like a friend to a reader, it’s familiar territory and you can risk that relationship if you make wholesale design changes,’ says Hussain.
All three agree that getting your foot in the door is a combination of hard work and determination. Shaw spent several months at various titles on work experience placements. ‘I only got a job when I had a good understanding of what a designer does and could design pages to a high standard. I didn’t get paid for my work experience and had to support myself by working in a bar in the evenings and on weekends,’ she says.
It’s important to build up contacts every step of the way, as getting your first job is as much about who you know as what you know, says Hussain. And think laterally about your portfolio, as art directors like to see you have ideas and passion. ‘Along with your work, bring a scrapbook of ideas and cuttings that you like. Keep an eye on other markets, like the US, and see how they do things,’ he advises.
Barber agrees that ideas are the currency for success. ‘You need to be a creative thinker with tons of ideas. One is never enough,’ he says. ‘Even in a junior position I would talk to the art editor about his ideas and suggest some of my own. Showing that level of enthusiasm and having the confidence to try new things and offer different perspectives are what make the difference.’
Designers are bullish about the future of the print medium despite the fact that young readers are deserting the sector and budgets are getting tighter as advertisers seek new ways to reach their audience. ‘Integrating properly into the Web will be necessary,’ says Hussain. Designers will need to develop a broader skill set and be confident working on Web-integrated software. Shaw agrees. ‘Producing brilliant websites that keep readers engaged and hopefully bring them back to the magazine is one way to keep up with the new generation,’ she says.
Barber believes a strong, recognisable brand will be key. ‘In the future, it’ll be increasingly important to keep the look of a publication true. In five years – who knows? Maybe we’ll see roll up e-versions of newspapers that can be carried around as easily as a paper version, but with constant updates.’
Dan Barber, Deputy art director, The Independent
• Absorb as much influence and inspiration as you can, from as many different sources as you can find. Good editorial design is more than just drawing and filling boxes on a computer
• Don’t be afraid of messing up. There’s no such thing as a bad idea, only no idea
Amar Hussain, Senior designer, Inside Out
• Listen to advice that people give you and take it on board. They haven’t just fluked their way into a job
• Stay positive and enthusiastic
Sarah Shaw, Designer, Grazia
• Get in contact with the art directors of your favourite magazines and ask them about work experience
• Be very enthusiastic and sure about what you want to achieve
Damon Murray, Co-founder, Fuel
• Take an interest in things outside the design world. We’ve always found that other interests benefit what you do
• Be determined. Be lucky