So I was in Amsterdam for a uni trip and immediately wanted to wring out us much publication information and opportunity from the city as possible.
One of my favourite magazine MacGuffin in based in the city, quite close to central and so I emailed they're studio about a possible interview or chat.
I was lucky enough to get a reply from Kirsten and Ernst, the editor and directors of the publication and even luckier to secure an interview. The premise of the interview was an informal chat about art directing, starting a magazine, and transitioning from the student to the professional.
The studio was small and at the very top of one of the many stretched-high houses in the centre of Amsterdam. All white with wood and primary colours, a small kitchen, coffee machine and the two creators at they're desks.
They forgot I had an unofficial appointment with them but they were still friendly and inviting, I had 30 minutes and a small coffee in a handle-less mug.
They interview roughly played out like this:
L : so you journey from student to now
K: So I did art school first, then graphic design for two years, then art history, I then worked for a foundation here in the Netherlands that is supporting designers, then I worked as an art director for a broadcasting company.
L: so you went straight in to art directing from your studying.
K: no, with the foundation job I was more of a curator.
Later on, because i had this mix of writing and making that was a perfect combination for a job (art direction)
And Ernst is a mix of all sorts, architecture, designer, art historian the list goes on.
We met years ago when we both work at the Netherlands postal service as designers, I worked on the printing side of the postal stamps and Ernst art directed the design of the stamps.
As Ernst is also a visual designer he has a project involving researching for an outside space, we wanted to know whats going on in the design world, why are people more interested in innovation and not the craft. All the parts of design that liked that wasn't apparent in the industry at the time.
Ernst also already had a magazine created call Club Donny, a magazine about nature in the city, heavily involving photography.
After a research trip to Vietnam as well, we thought in would be a good idea to start this magazine.
After Club Donny reached it 10th and final issue, we thought to make a platform for design in a different way. It was more of a drive to stretch the definition of design as opposed to just make a magazine.
E: With club donny, it existed merely as a art form than a magazine and so if i made a magazine it would have to look like the glossy magazines you see in the corner shops.
K: of course we wanted to make a magazine that would sell but also have our own voice and experimentation and be independent but also a wide distribution, make its own budget
E: Survive in a kiosk
K: Which we are still struggling with
L: I don't think you are, from my a consumer's perspective, you're one of the most interesting magazines, and easiest to choose from amongst the collection of recent independent publications.
K: Thank you but the struggle is with selling most of the copies and securing a sponsor for each issue and even selling all of the print run isn't enough.
L: do you have one sponsor an issue?
K: in the last 2 years we have had a private investor, had some grants from foundation for creative industries in the Netherlands.
E: All the costs should be covered by a advertisements, that is almost a publication rule.
L: But real review appear to have no sponsors, however i'm unsure as to whether they had secured a private investor.
K: what they do is kinda what we do in regards to paying all of our contributors, but really small amounts.
and we don't earn anything ourselves, so having other things like Jack Self has the real foundation, is key to keeping things running for the magazines and yourself.
E: to find other means to make it. We have been lucky to find this studio that has been subsidised by the city council.
L: Im in that hard step between graduating and becoming a professional and starting something with my own money or by myself.
E: the best thing to do is to just start, to just do. Don't wait around.
K: and in the end its also about having a network, having a list of people to work with and build a good relationship with. Doing things and building your portfolio. In term of our publication its really important that we work with a good graphic designer (Sandra Kassenaar) the three of us work very well together and learn from each other and she is also based locally.
She is always connected to what we are doing, since the start, so its a very organic process.
So we are editor in chief but we are also art director and we are also researcher and artist.
Stack and Magculture
K: for us its really interesting to meet them and talk to them about all the same issues and topics we experience. but also we had a lot of awards from this world that we didn't know existed and its incredible.
E: It opens doors! Especially in London where of course Magculture is massive and hugely influential. And they are so enthusiastic its almost embarrassing when they keep on writing about us, and praising us and awarding us.
K: but its also very nice that in London and UK that they're is this rich culture for magazines.
E: So yeah, how to start as an art director, just make things and be serious about it.
K: You have to make your platform thats what it really is about.
I was really surprised by the loyalty to magazines, supporting each other.
L: Thats probably because people go to magazines for an experience, a tone of voice, purely for entertainment or a specific perspective as opposed to reading a magazine just for information like pre-internet eras.
E: Thats exactly what we put across on our platform
K: then, and I know its a cliche, but its about always doing what you're passionate about.
For us that was the world of design and design objects, so you have to find your own niche.
Before we started we looked in Utternaim, the magazine shop around the corner that is fantastic, if you want to know anything about magazine trends and niches then you just have to ask them. But also if your'e starting out its hard to get in there.
E: Funnily enough we were looking at the format of our magazine and just saying "what the point".
L: So with the format, was the content more important to you than the design, did you make the content first and plan the design around the information or did you apply the information to a design grid to planned beforehand?
K: So, I think, its quite closely connected and we develop it together with Sandra as well what we wanted was a magazine you wanted to keep, with it being a bi-annual simply because we are unable to do the amount of work we do, for a more frequent release rate per year, we wanted to give the customer something worth waiting 6 months for.
It should be a mini-exhibition on one theme that you can turn to two or three years later and it still be relevant and useful. And its also good to have back issues that are still relevant so they can keep on selling past the release dat of the proceeding issue.
Also in terms of the writing we enjoy a range of reading experiences, so large reads but also much smaller pieces in the same issue. To make it accessable.
L: the colours all in one issue, can you explain your colour choices?
K: We choose a colour for each issue, so its one extra PMS colour.
But the difficult thing will always be the cover, we plan on doing it first or in the middle of the process but it always ends up being the last thing to do. You want to have something that stands out in the shop but also a connection to theme, but also different from everything else.
L: do you feel more pressured to do issue 6 compared to you optionally doing issue 1 when no one knew what MacGuffin was
E: Its a relief now as we have a template now.
K: I think the template is quite clear for us at least and we are always really excited when we have a knew theme as its fresh research. Although issue 2 was difficult as we won all of the awards with issue 1 and the second was the follow up.
Things we have avoided doing so far with the theme has been abstract ideas like the void or the hole, we have decided to research the bowl for issue 6 which in a way i still abstract.
L: Were you already friendly with the contributors of issue 1 or did you make professional relationships only for your magazine?
K: It was a mix we had friends that were professionals but also most the contributors were professional connections and people we hired for the job.
We were especially lucky to find a great final editor that like our work and everything we do and understands completely what our tone of voice is.
Our tone of voice is: we want to be in-depth and through with our research but also airy and like with our execution and communication.