Making Magazines

by Steve Watson in March 2012
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I’ve been meaning to write this post for the last few days, but DIY, rugby and Mothers’ Day conspired to stop me over the weekend and yesterday got way too busy.

On Friday I joined the sold out audience at Making Magazines, the event organised by Jeremy Leslie (magCulture) and Simon Esterson (Eye) to raise funds for the temporarily closed St Brides Library. More often than not these events tend to include one or two good speakers amongst several hours of waffle, but the line-up suggested that might not be the case this time and I wasn’t disappointed.

The highlight of my day was the excellent Russell Davies speaking about his thoughts on the future of writing with machines; the overlap between human creativity and computer algorithms, silly mistakes and accidental profundity. At the start of the week he’d been speaking on a panel at SXSW and it felt like we were lucky enough to be catching some early thinking he’d been developing for that event and had processed a little more by the time he reached us. He presents using lots of videos and pictures, many of which are on his blog. Check it out – his last five or six posts constitute the most thought-provoking thing I’ve read this year.

Another SXSWer was Danny Miller, managing director of The Church of London. As a member of the Church I can’t speak impartially, but his talk on lean communication and mixing print with digital had the audience rapt and lots of people afterwards said that his was the most inspiring thing they’d heard all day.

Illustrator Christoph Niemann also touched on the impact of technology on his work, sharing some prototypes of interactive illustrations that he’s been experimenting with – think an illustrated chicken walking on top of a spinning toilet roll tube, or a meerkat that you push down into a teacup. He claims that he has no idea what he’ll use these illustrations for, but I think he’s cannier than that – expect to see Neimann’s interactive illustrations all over your iPad editions within six months.

But it wasn’t all about the technologists – Gill Hudson, editor of Readers’ Digest, spoke at the start of the day about the pressures of making one of the world’s best-known print titles with a team of eight people, all the time having to respond to the pressures of tablets, Twitter, Facebook and keeping one eye on what’s coming next. It was a fascinating insight into life on a major mainstream title, and a reminder that print is still far and away their biggest earner.

Also worthy of special mention were Simon and Jeremy speaking about notable magazines from the past – Simon chose German magazine Twen from the ’60s and ’70s, while Jeremy went for squaddies’ favourite Lilliput from the ’30s. Andrew Diprose talked about his dual life art directing Wired UK and The Ride Journal,  Matt Curtis gave us a look behind the scenes on The Sunday Times’ Eureka magazine and Marissa Bourke talked about the dual challenges of art directing Lady Gaga and changing fonts at Elle.

That’s far from everyone who spoke on the day, but it should do for the purposes of this post. Congratulations to Jeremy and Simon for programming such a fantastic day of magazines, and thanks again to St Brides for hosting another great day out. The (admittedly pretty steep) ticket price all goes towards preserving the St Brides library and funding a full-time librarian, and the need for cash seems to be leading them into hosting a really solid set of events at the moment. It’s definitely worth keeping an eye on their site to see what’s coming up next.

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