31 August 2009

The FT on media publishing

The Financial Times devoted a full page today (31 August 2009) to media publishing. The articles are interesting but inconclusive. This reflects where things are: the new technology isn't there yet, so neither are the new business models. Meanwhile, everyone's making stabs in the dark. McLuhan's "the medium is the message" remark suggests that the medium is insufficiently compelling at present to generate the breakout content that would finally shift the tide.

25 August 2009

Monocle dissected

Monday's Times had an article on Monocle by David Carr. While expressing admiration and envy, Carr bored in on the editorial/advertising divide and Monocle founder Tyler Brule's cheerful ignoring of it as his magazine serves up product, service, and even city and country endorsements. While Carr suggests that the divide is still honored if not revered in the US, my sense is that it's long since been blown through, not least by the Times itself. I think Brule's point is that readers can trust his discernment. If it doesn't make his map, it probably won't make it into Monocle, either. Malcolm Forbes did this, too, after a fashion, but his eponymous mag and its offshoots were never quite as interesting.

18 August 2009

Getting the story

I discovered recently that the story that I believed to be accurate about a particular project was not exactly wrong, but not exactly the real story, either. What appeared (quite plausibly) to be primarily a sustainability story turned out to be all about the community that the client has attracted from its earliest days - not unlike the following that Saturn has among its devoted customers (but with a lot less heartache along the way). It made me realize that there's a kind of "urban legend" quality to project stories, especially if a lot of different people have touched them. It's a reason to get the original team to tell it - and document the telling. Especially when work is pouring in, that doesn't always happen. Fortunately, the lead designer saw it and commented on it. Even the client, reviewing an earlier version, addressed it in its own skewed terms instead of just saying, "Actually, we had something else in mind here."

12 August 2009

Kindle thoughts

During a meeting I attended last week, the lunchtime speaker held up a Kindle and asserted that "this will kill that" (in so many words - this phrase was actually Voltaire's, as quoted in a book review by Kenneth Frampton). A few weeks ago, when I mentioned the Kindle to a colleague, she replied that because she doesn't take the train, she has no reason to buy one. Today, another colleague made this comment. I realize this is a seriously limited sample, but it made me wonder if the early adapters of this device are business people who fly and workers who commute. E-books are in my sights as a potential outlet for design publications, but they'll have to evolve to the point where the graphics are photogenic. Perhaps this will be Apple's contribution.

11 August 2009

arcCA next?

A note from arcCA indicates that, to make room for the awards feature, the rest of the issue will be exiled to the web. Author photos - now there's an attraction! - and teaser text will be the lure to drive readers there. The goal is to hit the predetermined page length - the inherent limit of most magazines, unless ad revenue dictates otherwise. Having once almost gone under due to a 144-page issue of Design Book Review with no corresponding ad heft, I know the problem. The web doesn't have these "cost of real estate" issues. Its drawbacks are the lack of tactility and tangibility, but Kindle may blow through that soon anyway. On the other hand, I just finished reading Julie Kim's excellent SPUR Urbanist (she's the editor), which appears to be doing well and complements a robust website. It's short and to the point, probably sized just right for a tiny editorial team to put out monthly. That's another virtue of a product with inherent limits: you can stick to them and make them work for you.

09 August 2009

Arcade appeal

I had an email today from Kelly Rodriguez, the editor of Arcade, asking for support. Design Book Review was also perennially in dire straits. I still don't know how we did it with so few people and for so little money. Perhaps that era is over for magazines, but is still possible on the web, which is why I'm here and not there. I'd like Arcade to survive as a print publication, though. It's excellent, and it's also one of just two design magazines on the west coast that publish real criticism. Get out your wallets!

08 August 2009

Copy this

A colleague noted how similar design firms can sound, each describing itself as client-focused, business-savvy, etc. Yet, as anyone knows who's worked for more one firm, the reality is different. The only antidote is authenticity: case studies that are unique to your firm - especially first-person accounts by those involved; metrics and proof statements; and insights based on real knowledge, either gained directly (through experience) or through research. As with fiction, it's better to show it than to state it.

03 August 2009

After the flood

David Carr in the NY Times: "Modern media success is enabled by brutal cost control and using hard, fast numbers to convince advertisers they will get a return on their spending. Once stalwart magazines like BusinessWeek are up for grabs and entire formerly lucrative categories have been wiped out. The magazine canard of associative glamor, of selling aspiration by the bucket-load with page after page of pricey merchandise, is all but dead." Carr notes that Tina Brown's new vehicle, the web-based Daily Beast, "has 1.5 million unique visitors a month. She pays her writers," he adds, "increasingly an exception these days."

02 August 2009


My takeaway from reviewing the regional architecture and design journal Arcade is that specificity matters, both for print and digital publications. This echoes Rick Klau's advice. (His remarks at a panel I attended several months ago motivated this blog's creation.) Arcade's focus is on the northwest - Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver and their environs. This permits a wide range of topics, but viewed always in regional terms. This perspective lends coherence to the journal and makes it interesting to outside readers. The challenge for Arcade may be to broaden its impact. Regional journals (El Croquis, for example) certainly have the potential to find a larger audience. That audience is hungry for difference, I believe, and specificity is part of what provides it. The other tack is to try to cover the world, but this is viable only when there's a specific (and compelling and enlightened) editorial rationale for what's being shown. Among design magazines, Abitare and Domus have it. In another realm, Monocle and Wallpaper illustrate the difference between having it or not.

01 August 2009

Reviewing Arcade

Today, I went through four issues (volume 27) of Arcade, the Seattle-based design journal. Doing so triggered a lot of thoughts about the merits of print vs. digital as media for covering design. One of the issues has a great piece by Trevor Boddy on architectural criticism. He talks about the merits of film and about the web's potential to "broadcast" criticism, but he also notes the greater immediate, local impact of newspaper-based criticism. Yet (as he notes, too) as local newspapers decline, architecture critics are the first to go. Arcade is a beautiful thing - tabloid format, 48 pages, even glossy color printing for a photography feature. It's also really and truly regionally focused, without the parochialism that this can sometimes engender. It makes me nostalgic for print, but it has all kinds of limitations that the web doesn't. On a personal level, I initially organized my own tiny journal, Common Place, as a printed publication, and then ported it to the web. Now that I've launched it there, however, I find myself wanting to go directly to that medium. It's a dilemma.