Sunday, November 04, 2007

OPTIC and the World of Magazine Design

For the last two weeks in our Design and Intentions class with Milton Glaser, we've been immersed in the world of magazine design. The first week, we were asked to come up with the concept for a magazine, with a great deal of emphasis placed on a marketable concept that would be able to find both advertisers and subscribers. I spent a great deal of the week leading up to the due date unsure of what I would pitch. I had a few ideas of my own in addition to those I solicited from the folks at a Canadian Thanksgiving dinner I went to at the weekend.

Despite the large volume of feedback, I wasn't happy with any of the prospects. I couldn't see myself wanting to work on the magazines if the entire exercise went into another week of development. At three in the morning, the day of the presentation, I had a flash of inspiration and set to work on "OPTIC: A DVD Magazine of Visual Culture".


I pitched "OPTIC" as a bimonthly DVD and companion booklet for subscribers of all ages that were interested in visual culture like fine art, film, fashion, design and more. Each issue would have a governing theme that categorized the content inside. In place of traditional articles and print advertising, the DVD would contain interviews, short films, video art projects and humorous goofs, in addition to 10-20 second commercials. I was and still am pretty enamored with the idea and was happy to present it to the class, feeling that I had landed on a concept that I was happy to both work on and stand behind.


Unfortunately, during the critique, I was told that it was next to impossible for a DVD magazine to turn a profit. "OPTIC," it would seem, was dead in the water. Six of the magazine ideas that were more audience-friendly or fiscally viable were selected by Milton and the rest of us volunteered to work on the projects. One of my colleagues pitched a magazine of artful erotica and me, the consummate sex culture fiend that I am, joined that group.

I've never designed by committee before so I was concerned, nay perplexed, about how a group of people manage to achieve an overall aesthetic cohesion on a project. How would three designers with three completely different perspectives complete a workable finished product?


It turned out to be easier than I initially believed. Theresa and David, the other folks in my group, are really easy to get along with. We brainstormed ideas for interviews, feature articles and smaller bits of interest for the front and back of the magazine. We all have pretty different sexual/cultural interests which made for a really diverse content. We were supposed to have 16 pages (8 spreads) for the following week, so we divided up the workload and got to work.

Early on, our layouts weren't meshing very well. We ultimately decided that OPTU, the Greek word for "gaze," was less of a commercial monster and more of a large format art magazine. The variety of sexual peccadilloes on display practically demanded a looser grid layout than, say, Newsweek. That gave us the editorial freedom to design a layout about the difference between "kink" and "fetish" differently than you would a photo spread of erotic photographs printed with an antique look.


Our group took a field trip to the Museum of Sex to help generate additional ideas and observe the attendees who, we figured, were our likely readership. In the end, we printed out the spreads, glued a comp together just before class began and pitched the whole thing to the class. Milton thought it was a great treatment of the material, said the visual layout and our intentions behind it really served the material and, when some people in the class said they wouldn't subscribe, assured us they would, that they were "just embarrassed". My group was pleased as punch.

It was a pretty great experience on the whole. I still enjoy the complete control that comes with the solo thing, but the professional design environment rarely works that way. It was nice to know that, when the time comes, I'll be able to put obsession and ego aside and turn out a great product with a group. And as for "OPTIC: A DVD Magazine of Visual Culture," well, I vow to make the model work somehow. I really want to produce an issue of it this summer. And the idea acted as a kernel for an idea I'm currently considering pursuing for my thesis. Not too bad for two weeks of work.


(These are the three spreads I designed for the erotica mag. They're all mocked up with lorem ipsum dummy text, but the pullquotes are real. Click on the spreads for a larger, correctly oriented image. And for those of you paying attention, the spreads are split in the middle by the fold of the magazine which means, yes, the crease falls on the crack of the rubber-clad ass.)

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