Autumn 2006

Editorial Eye 61

A few years ago, when interviewing Abbott Miller for Reputations (Eye no. 45 vol. 12) I asked him about the connections between design for publications and for exhibitions. He answered that it was something like a Lawrence Weiner statement: ‘words, images and artefacts arranged on a wall, in a space, or in a book.’ Which pretty well sums up the contents of this issue, from contemporary magazine art direction to French graphisme, via Millerís own article (pp.42-51) on current practice in exhibition design.

Of course it is one thing to arrange a collection, but another to edit, to choose what is shown. Some collections appear to show everything the curator stumbled upon. In ‘Cabinet of curiosities’ (p82), Luke Pendrell describes ‘Catalog’, the work-in-progress show by Alex Williamson and Martin O’Neill as ‘part installation, part exhibition, part car-boot sale and part museum.’ The stickered, scrawled-upon filing cabinets (shown on the visual contents page, opposite) give some idea of the universe from which the illustrators’ collages are drawn. You might imagine something similar representing the pre-edit version of Eye – the piles of magazines, books and other projects submitted while we were preparing this issue. But when you edit, you express a point of view, an argument. Abbott Miller refers to the ‘compositional strategies of books and magazines’ employed by Casson Mann in exhibitions such as ‘Sparking Reaction’ and the Churchill Museum: ‘Objects and images are tightly edited and then given space to breathe.’

And this is the approach taken by Simon Esterson in his overview of contemporary magazine design (pp.18-33). Rather than casting the net wide into the plethora of old, new and rejuvenated magazines cramming the newsstands, Simon has chosen just five case studies. By looking closely at these very diverse titles, from a sophisticated weekly to a geek’s quarterly, Simon has been able to examine in detail some new and inspiring developments in art direction for print media, each magazine responding to its readers’ needs with intelligent and innovative image use.

Alice Twemlow’s profile (pp.34-41) of Jop van Bennekom’s fast-growing empire provides another take on where magazine design might go. Where titles such as the AJ look carefully at market research, the entrepreneurial Van Bennekom has found critical and commercial success by making magazines by instinct, for people like himself.

It is hard to imagine the anarchic French collective Bazooka spending much time with focus groups, though they did collaborate successfully with Liberation for some special issues. Roger Sabin’s account of their rise, fall and recent revival (pp.58-64) is full of arresting images, and also provides a useful corrective to the overly familiar tale of punk and post-punk graphics as a British phenomenon – not so much the fault of the original practitioners and their chroniclers, but of hundreds of lazy re-tellings, in magazines, books and websites – the ‘Chinese Whispers’ of incomplete research.

Meanwhile, in the brave new world of newspaper design, we take a look at Scraper (Monitor, pp.76-77), a piece of software that takes stories from the Guardian website and lays them out in an A4 digest edition called G24, with no further intervention from designers and editors. However there is a distinct improvement in the G24 I printed out last night – in typography at least – from the one I ran out a few weeks ago. Someone, somewhere in the system, is making and applying a critical judgement. JLW