John Plunkett, Creative Director
Wired creative director John Plunkett regularly faces a Fritz Langian feat-trying to create a visual style as futuristic as the digital technology the magazine covers. "We set ourselves a goal of trying to make the visual appearance of Wired look literally like news from the future." says Plunkett. "Like it came from another planet and landed at your feet. There's a built in contradiction, though," he adds, "because we have this printed medium that's been around hundreds of years and is completely static, and it's trying to report on something that is constantly moving."
Every week Plunkett commutes to Wired's San Francisco office from Park City, Utah, where he and partner Barbara Kuhr, who's creative director of the new online service Hot Wired, head up Plunkett & Kuhr, a design firm known for its Sundance Film promotions and museum installations and not, Plunkett proudly concedes, for ever touching a magazine layout: "We don't know about any of the rules of magazine design."
Which explains Wired's unconventional touches: In an eight-page news briefs section called Electric Word, a gossip column snakes horizontally through the multicolored pages. "We're trying to signal what it's like the first time you log onto the Internet and you're trying to find your way around," he explains. "You're completely on your own, and it's completely nonlinear and there's no signpost to let you know what to do and where to go."
The book opens with a four-page spread that illustrates an important quote from the issue with a provocative electronic image, which Plunkett likens to a billboard designed to lure readers into the magazine. A sense of the computer monitor's radiance is also conveyed through Plunkett's choice of inks. "We use fluorescent inks, not necessarily because we love them, but because it's the closest you can get to an electrified feeling."
Too many electrons crowding a page are liable to blow a fuse, Plunkett admits, pointing out a story in an early issue called "Love Over the Wires" in which black type was set over a fluorescent blue background, nearly blinding anyone who attempted to read it.
"We're trying to innovate," Plunkett explains. "Sometimes we succeed and sometimes it becomes so complicated that I don't think anyone would want to read it."
"We had to learn," he adds. "That's still our motto. Our publisher says if we haven't failed publicly once a month, we've failed our mission."
Vaughan Oliver, Creative Director
Vaughan Oliver's album cover art is the subject of a major retrospective at the Pacific Design Center's Murray Feldman Gallery in Los Angeles this month-a fact one would hardly believe while listening to the humble words falling from his mouth.
But then again, the British designer is talking about his role as creative director at Huh, a new music magazine from RayGun Publishing, which marks his publishing debut, not to mention the first time he's used a computer in his 13-year career. "It's almost like a college project for me," Oliver says. "I like magazines and I'm always picking them up, but I don't actually sit and think about how they are designed. I think I'm struggling with it at the moment."
Until now, most of the work emanating from Oliver's V23 studio in London has taken the shape of sleeves for record label 4AD artists Frank Black, the Pixies and the Breeders. "With a sleeve, I'm the one putting the details on, right down to the logo and catalog number," he says. "It's a package, and something that's timeless, if it works well."
At the Santa Monica, Calif.-based Huh, however, Oliver forgoes some of that control, designing covers and some layouts from his London office while overseeing pages laid out by staff designer Jerome Curchod, a former art director at a Swiss music magazine.
Huh's fairly conservative look and legibility is meant to appeal to the masses. The magazine is part of a subscription deal with Warner Music Enterprises; each month subscribers will receive a cassette of new music videos, varying from rap, heavy metal or alternative. "Huh is covering all genres of music," Oliver says, "so it's a bit more classical in its approach." At the same time, pages retain the flavor of an Oliver album: departments carry detailed logos, photos are cropped at odd angles and the masthead is a 3-D logo that will be shot by 20 photographers and rotated monthly to match the cover image. Oliver is even thinking about an L.A. move. "I'm bitten by the book," he says.
Scott Clum, Creative Director
Paging through Blur can give you the queasy feeling that you've just knocked opened someone's private journal. Scribbled notes torn from a notebook pass for editorial, snapshots are cropped like puzzle pieces and headlines arbitrarily appear on stories, which vary from profiles of fine artists and skateboarders to a gallery of Japanese comic book art and reviews of underground bands.
Indeed, the design of this quarterly magazine, which began in 1991, and now reaches about 5,500 readers, reveals a lot about its creators, Scott lives," explains Clum, who started the magazine with his childhood pal to further explore their mutual art and pop culture interests.
For Clum, who's based in Silverton, Ore., Blur (he adds a space after the
"u" in the title as a way of "slowing people down") is just one of many projects; he runs local Ride Design and is design director at both
Morrow Snowboards and RayGun Publishing's Bikini. Collaborating from New
York, co-publisher Wilson is a photographer and illustrator who designs covers for DC Comics' Sandman Mystery Theater and handles photography and music reviews for Blur.
Compared to Bikini, which "is toned down" and "not about reissuing design concepts," Clum explains that Blur "is more of a visual magazine.
And while I'm not out to make things completely illegible, I do feel that some stories lend themselves to unreadability at times because that enhances part of the story." For instance, in a story about Doug and Mike
Starn, the fine-art photographer brothers suggested that Clum print their notes in place of a story. "They're shy, and the best way for them to express that was to let you grasp them from their notes, if you could read them. The point was not to make it so accessible because Doug and Mike aren't that accessible."
Clum tends to tiny details at Blur, down to stylized bylines and photo credits. Even page numbers are embellished with photos or illustrations.
"I usually choose each typeface by emotion, and it all depends on the mood I'm in. Blur is a very serious magazine." The name should be a clue:
"The thickest part of the action is in the middle of the blur," Clum explains. "I've always been attracted to blurs in photographs because it told me there's something there that can't be captured. In the magazine, we try to capture what's on the inside."
Jason Pearson, Creative Director
When Jason Pearson graduated from the Kansas City Art Institute in 1992, he was among the first to leave the Missouri school's new hypermedia program. This helps explains how unplugged he felt at TVT Records, where he got a job art directing print ads and CD boxes. "I was always missing the music," he recalls. "It really adds to the graphics and sets the pace for the whole thing."
Now Pearson is back in the groove in New York at Dennis Publishing's Blender, a CD-ROM pop culture magazine that is scheduled to launch next month. Working closely with type director and programmer David Cherry, who's a former type and electronic services director at J. Walter Thompson/New York, Pearson animates layouts, integrating them with audio and video. A table of contents looks more like a colorful planetary constellation: Click on a sphere labeled Microwave and you're propelled through worlds of software, music and film reviews, all highlighted with video samples. Headlines become visual icons for each story and nifty escape chutes to reach the beginning of each story.
"There's no such thing as a spread-there's screen after screen. You can go wide angle, you can move things around, and you can spin around, like you would a camera, and do a 360, which you can't do on a printed page."
Finding appealing fonts for the monitor proved a big challenge, Pearson says, explaining why they choose many of the faces from the library of Chicago's T-26. "Postmodern, disintegrating fonts work really well in this medium because they were created in the computer and come from a pixel," he says. "On the screen they're back in their square environment.
"The classic magazine interface still works," Pearson says, explaining the table of contents and traditional format. Coupled with the format, the magazine's appliance motif and low-tech interface is intentional, he adds. "So, you don't have to take a class to learn how to read Blender."
Bart Nagel, Creative Director
Since the unabashedly bizarre Mondo 2000 touched down on newsstands in 1989, it's inspired a dozen more-mainstream cyberculture magazines. All of which doesn't worry creative director Bart Nagel, a commercials stylist and photographer turned art director.
While Wired is simply toned down for the masses, magazines like Axcess, a teen Mondo manque, lack editorial analysis, Nagel believes. "It doesn't put as much thought into what the aspects of technology and culture are-it just tries harder to represent what they look like."
Any traces of conceit are absent, though, when Nagel explains Mondo's beginnings. "I learned to design Mondo as I was actually designing Mondo, which seemed to work really well because we were trying to convey to the reader that there's technology out there that's come down to the level where amateurs can use it and make professional-looking products with it."
Without knowing all that much about typography, layout or the Macintosh, Nagel admits "it started off pretty crude. And when we found out we could do color on the computer it really got out of hand. Now it's settling into something more constant.
"I buy RayGun and I go 'Wow, it'd be cool to do this,'*" he continues, "but Mondo is hard to read from the standpoint of where the concepts and the vocabulary are coming from. So deconstructed type would only confuse the issue even more."
Despite the magazine's reputation as a pixel showcase, Nagel insists that he often avoids computer generated art, which has so often in the past been stuck in a hackneyed orbit of pixel pastiches and chrome spheroids. "I went after people who were into doing paintings with acrylic or gouache or weird collages. The concepts of the image are what I pride myself on. I have a darker sensibility, and these images seem to work well in the context of Mondo."
Page numbers and departments come and go, Nagel says; it's all part of a casual attitude that extends to experimenting with spreads in which strangeness is no stranger. "We've achieved our notoriety and fame by being as weird as we are,"