Mag power

There’s plenty going on in the world of art direction at the moment. Yolanda Zappaterra meets up with three stars on the editorial design circuit, whose bold titles are making a strong visual impact

It is a long time since the mantra ‘print is dead’ got dropped, and almost 20 years on from the advent of the Internet it’s heartening to find that the opposite is true, thanks, in part, to the Internet. On-line, the vast virtual space for all sorts of interests to be explored, has resulted in more print publications in the real world to feed those interests, and more art directors keen to produce titles that cover them in the most visually compelling way they can. Here we look at three such publications and their art directors.

Title: State of Play
Art director and editor-in-chief: Tia Grazette
What: Independent style-led political magazine
Frequency: Biannual
Date launched: May 2007

Thirty-two-year-old designer Tia Grazette has come a long way from ‘working in graphic design for a number of companies’ when she graduated with a graphic design MA from University College Falmouth. Since then, an impressive art director’s path has led her to freelance for a number of top-flight fashion and lifestyle magazines, among them Vogue, Wallpaper and The Sunday Times Travel magazine, before working as an art director on lifestyle publication The Quarterly, BBH’s magazine Zag, Business Week publication Fashion Week and the BAA magazine Emporium, all while at Show Media. In all of these titles, her eye for composition, colour and impact shine through, perhaps rooted in her first love – ‘I was big into oil painting before I did my BA in graphic design,’ she says.

Last June, Grazette gave up her job as deputy art director of Tatler to freelance and work on State of Play magazine. This, a style-led political (in its widest sense) magazine, is best described as the hip, sassy sister of Socialist Worker. It combines art, style, politics and polemics in a mix that has yet to find its feet, but exhibits a grassroots energy and passion that begs us to forgive its occasionally didactic tone.

‘Overall, politics as a subject matter has quite a dull image, so the strong visual styling of the magazine helps to keep the target readership interested in the content,’ says Grazette. She feels the ‘compelling visuals and energetic pace of the magazine keep the readers engaged by pulling them in to each page, whether by surprising them, intriguing them or keeping them entertained. It’s definitely a dream project – not only do I get to art direct a magazine, but I also get to come up with ideas for editorial content and curate exhibitions, which keeps me more than happy,’ she says.

Title: Plastique
Art director: Matt Willey
What: Independent women’s fashion magazine
Frequency: Quarterly
Date launched: May 2007

Bristol-born Matt Willey graduated from Central St Martins College of Art and Design in 1997, but took his time settling into design, wisely turning down a number of overseas jobs to stay in London and figure out his future. Within a few years he was creative director at Frost Design, working on Zembla magazine before leaving in 1995 to set up Studio 8 Design with Zoë Bather.

At Studio 8, Willey handles a range of projects, much of it editorial design, even when the title is not one he’d personally be interested in – women’s fashion magazine Plastique being a good example. ‘I’m not interested in fashion, but I got involved with Plastique because I knew I was going to be able to do pretty much what I wanted in terms of the typography and layout. I’d get a free rein, which felt like an exciting and fairly rare opportunity,’ he says. ‘I can’t pretend that I identify easily with the magazine’s intended audience – fashion-obsessed women with attitude. I design the pages in a way that appeals to me and then I hope other people like them too. I like large type working in black and white, I like the typefaces I’ve used… I’ve done these things because they appeal to me, not because I’m concentrating on the intended audience.’

The result is a magazine that’s a long way from the traditional fashion magazine, a deliberate decision on the part of Willey and the Plastique team. ‘We didn’t want it to be girly or clinical or saccharine or fluffy. It was to be ballsy and confident; full on. I think the design is fairly unapologetic, it’s very masculine for a women’s magazine,’ says Willey. It’s also quite reminiscent of Zembla, I suggest. ‘There is bound to be a similarity between the typographical approaches of Zembla and Plastique because I was so heavily involved in Zembla,’ responds Willey. ‘The big difference is the content and the way in which we respond to it. It’s a strange set-up, far from ideal I’m sure, but it’s working better than I thought it might,’ he says.


Title: Intelligent Life
Art director: Sue Vago
What: Lifestyle magazine launched by The Economist
Frequency: Quarterly
Launched: September 2007

Sue Vago hasn’t had an easy time on Intelligent Life, art directing a title that was savaged by a number of designers and critics dismayed at a revised design overseen by John Warwicker at Tomato. A magazine ‘that appears not to have a clue about even the basics of magazine design’ and ‘makes the impression of a [sic] unsubstantial cosmetics brochure’ were just two comments on Jeremy Leslie’s Magculture blog when the magazine launched in September. Ouch. But Vago is made of stern stuff. ‘Actually, Jason Kedgley at Tomato took the lead on this project,’ she points out. ‘We’ve had lots of positive initial responses to the design – in The Guardian and Campaign, for example. Tomato was chosen precisely because they are not purely magazine designers, but hybrid designers with experience in print, Web and film. It was this cross-pollination of ideas, and the creativity that came with it, that we wanted.’

In terms of content, Vago is ‘particularly proud of the fact that, in the UK, we’ve been the only magazine to carry a 12-page photo-essay. This has been a great success and created a lot of interest both from readers and photographers. The photo-essay is central to our vision and it has become as much a part of our identity as the masthead,’ she enthuses.

Vago is inspired by such content-driven design, and remains confident that ‘the design effectively communicates the brief of “luxury communicated through beauty and intelligence”. Which isn’t to say that she wouldn’t like to get her teeth into more esoteric projects, given a dream art director’s job – ‘more arts-based features such as typographic poems by Apollinaire or Frans Masereel wordless graphic novels would definitely inspire me as an art director,’ she says.

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