Web pro, print lover

by Steve Watson in May 2012
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The last few months have seen the launch of a couple of print magazines made by web design professionals – The Manual is made by Belfast-based Andy McMillan, while Offscreen comes from the Melbourne desk of freelance web designer Kai Brach. There are lots of differences between the titles but both are beautifully made, using a wonderful physical object to discuss the theory and practice of web design.

I wanted to understand a bit more about the thought process that leads a web designer into print, so I fired a few questions off to Kai and he replied with a set of really illuminating, insightful answers. From the willingness of big publishers to be led by tech companies, to his own use of InDesign online tutorials to piece a magazine together, he presents a useful way of thinking about the differences between print and digital.


I’m really interested in the idea that people working in a digital world might turn to print to express themselves and their industry – what made you want to work in print?

The web community is fantastic and I still enjoy being part of it immensely. Everyone is pushing the envelope, is helping each other and is excited to build something that can potentially change the world (as clichéd as it sounds). The advantage of digital is that you iterate fast. Most of the work you do is never really finished, instead you keep improving, keep pushing out changes until the data that comes back confirms your decisions.

I’ve been doing this for around 10 years, but at some point last year I felt like I’d increasingly lost touch with what I was doing all day. The benefit of iterating also means that you hardly feel that sense of accomplishment that a carpenter must get when he’s finished building a piece of furniture. Our trade as digital creators has no tangible output. “All” that comes out is a new release number until it’s updated once again.

So, after a short hiatus, I decided to make something tangible – a real product. I’ve always been a big fan of indie magazines. I like the physical experience they provide. They seem to be the only things that make me put my iPad or iPhone down for a while so I can solely focus on the reading experience. During my travels, I met a lot of interesting people with some fascinating stories about how they got started in the web industry. It kinda made sense to tell those stories in a unique way. Creating a new magazine out of those stories seemed like a nice challenge as I was growing tired of pushing pixels around the screen anyway.

It’s a really beautiful magazine – was it the first time you’d worked in print? 

I’d done the occasional flyer or letterhead in the past but nothing that could be compared to the complexity and scope of making a whole magazine. Photoshop and pixel-based design was where I felt most at home. So I spent a few months watching InDesign, typography and pre-press videos on lynda.com (which is a great tool for autodidacts by the way!). I also read a couple of books on editorial art direction and publishing.

Spending a few intense months in InDesign was a nice change and I particularly loved the typographic fine tuning it allows. You don’t get that in web design where everything adapts to the individual device, browser and settings of the user.

What sort of magazines were you inspired by?

There are so many to mention here. Though, I think most of my inspiration came from Monocle. Their tightly edited pages emotionalised by simple but beautiful photography sparked the idea of Offscreen. I’m a big fan of the mix of smaller and larger pieces of content to allow for little breaks in between. A similar style magazine is Brownbook, which I consider a Middle Eastern version of Monocle. There are lots of smaller indie-mags that helped me find my own visual language. I’m looking at Collect from Adelaide (one of my favourites), the Travel Almanac or Underscore (from Singapore).

Lots of people in the print world seem to feel quite threatened by digital – do you see the same thing happening the other way around? Or do digital professionals tend to feel quite warm towards print?

Offscreen clearly targets a group of people that has been (almost) over-exposed to digital. To them enjoying something in print is like a mini-vacation away from the screen. Not sure if this is representative on a larger scale, but I believe print will more and more serve as some sort of escape from our always-on society.

However, I don’t think anyone in digital feels even the slightest bit of competition coming from print. People working in digital usually think that their industry is the way forward, and they are probably right.

Ninety percent of the content I consume on a daily basis comes from a screen, not a piece of paper. There are just too many formats that work better in digital due to mobility, accessibility, archivability, etc. Newspapers, books and many mainstream magazines should indeed put more effort into innovating in digital. So far it seems like tech companies come up with new ideas in this area and the big publishing houses just “try them out”, usually with a half-assed execution, when they should be the ones leading the way, investing and exploring. It’s a massive opportunity – surely with a lot of obstacles and high chances of failure, but nobody said it’d be easy.

I think there is still room for print to grow in a smaller-scale market where people don’t mind spending money on a high-quality product. They buy it not in spite of, but *because* of the “old-fashioned” way it’s delivered. It’s the same type of people that buys music on Vinyl or Moleskin sketchbooks. They appreciate the physicality as long as it offers a personal, unique experience.

What surprised you most about making Offscreen?

That the first thing people point out to me when they receive the magazine is the smell of the ink. It’s kinda funny to see so many people on Twitter talking (positively) about sniffing a magazine!

But honestly, I think the biggest surprise was the lengths people will go to express their personal experience with a printed product. Again, this may be because we as an industry are not used to seeing this type of content in a printed publication. What I hear through Twitter, Facebook and emails is that people are really enjoying how Offscreen forces its readers to take a break from work. In that sense, I’m also surprised that only a few people have emailed me to ask for a digital version (ebook) of the magazine. They seem to get and embrace the idea behind it quite well.



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