Highlights: QVED 2016 – day two

by Steve Watson in February 2016
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With Bavarian oompah still ringing in my ears from last night, it’s time for a look back at the best bits from day two at QVED. (The monster schnitzel and giant steins of beer should obviously count as best bits, but we won’t go into that here).


Gail Bichler – The New York Times Magazine
The day began with a fascinating account of last year’s redesign of The New York Times Magazine, by design director Gail Bichler. She explained the thinking behind their subtle update of the magazine’s logo, which was tweaked to become wider, more angular and streamlined, and was joined by a more informal logo for use online, mirroring the magazine’s slightly lighter tone on the web.

Commissioning new fonts was, she said, pretty terrifying, because while she and art director Matt Willey drew on a wide variety of sources, they were in effect starting from scratch to create a set of tools that would make or break the redesign of this very typographically based magazine. In fact throughout the redesign they chose to foreground text, emphasising The New York Times Magazine as an inherently literary title.

Probably most impressive, though, was the way that all this work in print and online provides a platform for their insanely ambitious special projects, like the virtual reality partnership with Google that saw 1.4 million cardboard VR viewers distributed to readers, or the Walking New York installation / artwork / media event created with French artist JR.

All the virtual reality pyrotechnics and multimedia experimentation could easily overshadow the magazine, but the platform they have built is so solid that instead it stands as part of a cohesive whole, created by people who are pushing at the boundaries of what a magazine can be.


Erich Nagler – Medium
The multimedia experimentation continued with the next speaker, as Erich Nagler took the stage to talk about his work as art director at Medium. Looking back on his work as art director at The New York Times, he described the challenge of commissioning artwork that would function well as a static image on the printed page, but which would also subtly animate for use online.

Designing for the internet, he said, is all about the scroll, and his gentle animations, like shadows moving on a wall or a sign swinging in the breeze, helped to engage the reader more deeply and guide them down the page. Moving to Medium, he no longer had to worry about artwork also existing on a printed page, and so he was free to experiment more with video, gifs and other moving parts.

I’m a big fan of Medium and its functionality for both writers and readers, so it was great to see Erich talking through some of their editorial projects designed to stretch the platform, for example making use of its social functions or aggregating a single story from lots of other pieces.


Netherlands panel
The middle of the day saw the Netherlands session of QVED curated and presented by Jaap Biemans, aka coverjunkie. First to the stage was Sabine Verschueren, described by Jaap as “the best designer in The Netherlands”.


Sabine Verschueren
Sabine began with the first thing she ever published – the zine she made as a nine-year-old girl for her younger brother. From there she drew a line through to co-founding the Dutch Carp magazine, and right up to her most recent project, designing De Persgroep’s new online magazine Paper.

Designing an online magazine, Sabine identified some key user-experience elements like having a clear beginning and end; readers feel satisfied knowing that something can be finished. She designed a web app with a simple, clear interface featuring little more than the article and the option to share.

She ended her presentation by pointing out that a lot of media today is looking more and more like magazines: “newspapers look more like magazines, brands want to publish magazines, you need editorial content for social media… In short, we like to consume information in the form of magazines”.


Tom Janssen, Sim Kaart and Nanda Meijer – Voortuin magazine
Next up was the most inventive presentation of the day, from the team behind the alternative magazine Voortuin (Dutch for front yard), which started out as a zine in 2012. Tom read the ‘story’ of Voortuin, while Sim and Nanda stood centre stage with a guitar and a songbook, ready to perform.

From its original zine format, Voortuin grew organically, taking on new formats and involving more contributors. Taking an anarchic approach to the magazine format, they play with shape and physicality and defy or disregard established rules. For example, after they had problems with pages falling out of the magazine because of the glue not holding properly, they made the next issue without any binding at all. Or for their bonsai tree issue they produced a magazine so small it could only be read with a magnifying glass.

It was a brilliantly refreshing presentation, showing a group of independents doing the opposite of what most publishers would consider sane by playing with their audience and defying expectations. And in the ultimate tease, Sim and Nanda never did break into song.


Isabelle Vaverka – Foam magazine
Next up was Isabelle Vaverka, art director at Vandejong Creative Agency. The studio was approached by Amsterdam’s photo museum Foam in order to work on their branding and communication. Rather than making a catalogue that’s a repetition of the exhibition, Vandejong suggested to produce a magazine in order to showcase more work and more artists outside the four walls of the building.

The resulting magazine features the work of photographers selected from around the world, presented under a single unifying theme and printed on up to 10 different papers. There are essays and editorials to help provide context, but Foam is all about foregrounding the photography – they even experimented with different ways of getting rid of text on the cover, including printing the masthead on a removable sticker.

Isabelle and the Foam team are currently working on making Foam accessible to a broader audience, including expanding their editorial content to include interview features and editor’s notes.


Lars Harmsen – 100for10
The Netherlands session was followed by Lars Harmsen, who took to the stage to present his publishing project 100for10, which is all about making unique artwork available to a broad audience. He publishes art books of 100 pages and sells them for €10 each, out of which the author gets €2.50 – a larger percentage than usual. It’s all made possible by print on demand, since there’s no risk on the part of the publisher having to print copies upfront.

Lars also made a €10 trailer to sell his concept, which I’m going to let speak for itself:


Debbie Millman – Sterling Brands / AIGA / Design Matters / Print magazine / a ton of other stuff
I’m not a big fan of inspirational talks, mainly because I don’t generally find them very inspiring. But Debbie Millman closed the second day of the conference with a beautifully crafted story of perseverance and success that was as fantastically motivating as it was charmingly self-deprecating.

Titled ‘A Cautionary Tale of Dreams, Magazines and Rejection’, she recounted the many dead ends and disappointments in a career that has nonetheless led her to being president of Sterling Brands, president of AIGA, host of her hugely popular podcast Design Matters, and most recently the editorial and creative director of Print magazine. All at the same time.

I don’t think I’ve ever heard somebody speak so warmly and entertainingly about the accidents and mishaps in their professional life, and it made for a brilliant end to another outstanding day of talks and presentations.

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