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John L. Walters: The Editor Who Keeps An “Eye” On Graphic Design Worldwide. The Mr. Magazine™ Interview.

December 5, 2018

A Behind the Scenes Look at Eye Magazine: The International Review of Graphic Design…

“I think what we’ve seen throughout the maturing of web publishing is we have had to rediscover what we like about the magazine format. If you go back to 1920s when you see the magazine form come into focus with the idea of the double-page spread and the drama of the big picture across two pages, or the way you can use type to animate the page and excite the reader. That’s been developed and refined and changed for nearly 100 years and it’s what you would call a mature medium, whereas, because online technology and the actual devices used changes all of the time and it keeps getting updated and reengineered, that hasn’t had a chance to settle.” John L. Walters…

Eye Magazine is a beautiful and collectable graphic design journal, published quarterly for professional designers, students and anyone interested in critical, informed writing about design and visual culture. Eye, the international review of graphic design, shows the design disciple the latest and most arresting visual displays and the importance of fusing all of the elements, from the editorial to the typographical, together to create the most powerful design possible.

John L. Walters is the editor of Eye, and also an author, composer, and music writer. I spoke with John recently and we talked about the power of design in a magazine and the inimitable magazine format that complements design so brilliantly. It was an absolutely delightful conversation and one that opened up an extraordinary insight into the world of design and all of its components.

So, I hope that you enjoy this glimpse into Eye Magazine and many of the aspects of graphic design that may or may not have been known to you. I think you will enjoy becoming a pupil of Eye (yes, pun intended). And now the Mr. Magazine™ interview with John L. Walters, editor, Eye Magazine.

 

But first the sound-bites:

On two special issues of Eye Magazine that covers the subject of magazines themselves:Yes, two special issues. It’s a subject that has always interested the magazine, before my time and since I’ve been editor. And regularly we cover the subject of editorial design in magazines, because I think there is an aspect of graphic design that is constantly being renewed. The subject matter, the content, is always changing. And then the way magazines are designed is constantly evolving and the technology with which we put magazines together is also constantly changing.

On whether the changes going on today cause publishers to have to do something differently with print than digital:Well, it’s something that you referred to once, magazines have always been competing with other forms of communication, whether it’s radio or TV, newspapers, and now we have all of the myriad means of distributing information online, some of which resemble magazines, however work in totally different ways than magazines. So, I think what we’ve seen throughout the maturing of web publishing is we have had to rediscover what we like about the magazine format. If you go back to 1920s when you see the magazine form come into focus with the idea of the double-page spread and the drama of the big picture across two pages, or the way you can use type to animate the page and excite the reader. That’s been developed and refined and changed for nearly 100 years and it’s what you would call a mature medium, whereas, because online technology and the actual devices used changes all of the time and it keeps getting updated and reengineered, that hasn’t had a chance to settle.

On how he would define Eye:We have a phrase that we use on the masthead: we’re an international review of graphic design, and we try to stick to that. It’s a magazine for all graphic designers. We’ve really stuck to that all the way through the magazine and as you know, we’ve maintained exactly the same format all the way through. If you have  a shelf with copies of Eye from number one to 97, the present one, they line up precisely.

On magazines being about the experience and not just content:I think you’re right, the magazine format gives a certain kind of authority to the things that you write about. And it gives you a chance to look at what’s been happening. If it’s an overview, you’re looking at what’s happening with a particular area that connects together. If you’re doing a profile, such as the one about Michele Outland in the new issue, you’re looking at the person and you’re looking at the work, and in her case, you’re looking at two different magazines. So, that provides a way of showing that content is equal in a way that’s more than a blogpost a little news item, or a thing that focuses on just one aspect of that.

On what advice he would give someone who was thinking about starting a new magazine:It always pays to be realistic and of course, you have to look at all of the financial challenges of putting a magazine together, from paying contributors, writers and photographers, to dealing with the print bills and the distribution, and dealing with the way you promote and advertise your magazine. There are lots and lots of aspects of magazine making that can be a little hidden behind the shelves of magCulture or whatever your favorite independent mag store is. But I don’t think I’d discourage anyone from going into magazines. One of the editors I worked for used to say it’s the best job in the world.

On what he thinks is the biggest challenge facing the magazine industry today:I don’t know if I can speak in general about that subject, because I know people who work at very different magazines, they work on newspaper magazines, smaller mainstream magazines, and my wife, who’s a magazine journalist, and also works in a very mass market area of women’s publishing, which has definitely transformed in the last two years. So, I think each of those titles, each of those sectors, faces its own challenges, which are quite different. I think it’s very good that magazine people get to talk to each other to sort of find out what’s going on, because I think there’s a lot that the mainstream sector can learn from the Indie sector.

On what he thinks is the biggest misconception people have about him:The biggest misconception is that I will see someone’s email if they assign it to the editor. It’s one of the great worries of an editor, that you will just miss a great story from a great new writer, because it’s the first time they’ve emailed you and it might end up in your junk mail; it might not even look like a serious proposal and of course, as you probably know, we are always very pleased to have new contributors. Each copy of Eye Magazine, I would say, has four or five, even more, writers who are new to magazines. So, that’s one of the ways that we aim to keep it fresh and find new voices and find new experts. I’m always very keen to find new writers and hear from them.

On what he would have tattooed upon his brain that would be there forever and no one could ever forget about him:My job, really. I’m the editor of Eye Magazine and I’m very proud to do that. And it’s also a great responsibility, and if I go to give a talk – recently we did a film night, a  presentation, and it was very good to be able to introduce the magazine. Going back to my earlier point, it was very good to be able to introduce the magazine in a social setting, where we were showing some short documentaries about graphic design.

On what someone would find him doing if they showed up unexpectedly one evening at his home:It varies, because I do end up going out quite a few evenings because there’s some event going on to do with design or sometimes to do with music. I still occasionally write about music as well as design, typography and digital content. When I’m at home my wife and I like to chat and we both like to read. My wife is also an editor and writer and she’s an expert in children’s books and children’s literature, so she has a new project that she’s been working on. So, a lot of our evening activities rotate around design, literature and music.

On what keeps him up at night:(Laughs) Reading about Donald Trump and Manafort and the whole crew.

 

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with John L. Walters, editor, Eye Magazine.

 

Samir Husni: Why two special issues on magazines from a magazine?

John L. Walters: Yes, two special issues. It’s a subject that has always interested the magazine, before my time and since I’ve been editor. And regularly we cover the subject of editorial design in magazines, because I think there is an aspect of graphic design that is constantly being renewed. The subject matter, the content, is always changing. And then the way magazines are designed is constantly evolving and the technology with which we put magazines together is also constantly changing.

And as you probably know, the whole independent sector has reaped benefits from the fact that you can now make a magazine of very high standards and it’s much easier. You don’t have the massive startup costs that you had back in the day; all of the old methods of publication – we can now produce very good quality pages in our studios, in our bedrooms, if that’s what we want.

As magazine makers, we have taken advantage of those changes in order to change what we do and improve the quality of what we do, and it seemed like a subject that was worth paying attention to.

Samir Husni: As you look at all of the changes, the innovation that took place say 100 years ago, whether it was in the type of paper or the type of presentation or design, how do you think the changes that are taking place today, changes with the presentation, with the design of the magazine affect print? Is there something that you have to do differently with print than digital? Maybe something that says: we’re not trying to compete with digital, but here’s what we can do in print.

John L. Walters: Well, it’s something that you referred to once, magazines have always been competing with other forms of communication, whether it’s radio or TV, newspapers, and now we have all of the myriad means of distributing information online, some of which resemble magazines, however work in totally different ways than magazines.

So, I think what we’ve seen throughout the maturing of web publishing is we have had to rediscover what we like about the magazine format. If you go back to 1920s when you see the magazine form come into focus with the idea of the double-page spread and the drama of the big picture across two pages, or the way you can use type to animate the page and excite the reader. That’s been developed and refined and changed for nearly 100 years and it’s what you would call a mature medium, whereas, because online technology and the actual devices used changes all of the time and it keeps getting updated and reengineered, that hasn’t had a chance to settle.

I think what we’re seeing now is a kind of interesting golden age of magazine design where really good design is in collaboration with the writers and editors and all of the other parts of the team. They can produce something very strong and powerful that may be hitting a smaller section of the market, but it’s serving that smaller market really well. And that makes it an exciting area to still be in. Ten years ago when we went independent with Eye, the future seemed very uncertain, but right now there are things to worry about, but it feels like we’re in a very strong area of activity.

Samir Husni: If someone asked you to define Eye, what would be your elevator pitch about the magazine today?

John L. Walters: We have a phrase that we use on the masthead: we’re an international review of graphic design, and we try to stick to that. It’s a magazine for all graphic designers. We’ve really stuck to that all the way through the magazine and as you know, we’ve maintained exactly the same format all the way through. If you have  a shelf with copies of Eye from number one to 97, the present one, they line up precisely.

I would also say that it’s a magazine of design and visual culture, because designers by their very nature, in fact our readers who are graphic designers, are not just interested in design, they’re interested in aspects of the visual world that help them do their job, help them understand what’s going on, and maybe inspire them to do new things. There are things that are not strictly graphic design that we put in and that interest our readers. Of course, there’s also a big focus on typography, so every four issues we do a typography special issue, recognizing that type, design and typography lies right at the heart of graphic design.

Samir Husni: One of the things that I’ve always advocated is that magazines are much more than content, that if the magazines were all about nothing but content, then they would be dead in this digital age. Magazines are more about the experience. As an experience maker or an experience creator, can you define the process that you go through with Eye to create that experience?

John L. Walters: I think you’re right, the magazine format gives a certain kind of authority to the things that you write about. And it gives you a chance to look at what’s been happening. If it’s an overview, you’re looking at what’s happening with a particular area that connects together. If you’re doing a profile, such as the one about Michele Outland in the new issue, you’re looking at the person and you’re looking at the work, and in her case, you’re looking at two different magazines. So, that provides a way of showing that content is equal in a way that’s more than a blogpost a little news item, or a thing that focuses on just one aspect of that.

And that goes with regular things that we do in Eye, such as the “Reputations” interview, that gives us a chance to give a really meaty appraisal of someone’s work, which might go back generations, as it does in the case of David Driver. And also gives us the opportunity, with a very articulate interview, to really understand how they tick and how they think and do the job of graphic designer/art director.

Samir Husni: With your experience and background, if someone came to you and said they were thinking about starting a new magazine, what advice would you give them? Or would you tell them to just forget about it?

John L. Walters: (Laughs) It always pays to be realistic and of course, you have to look at all of the financial challenges of putting a magazine together, from paying contributors, writers and photographers, to dealing with the print bills and the distribution, and dealing with the way you promote and advertise your magazine. There are lots and lots of aspects of magazine making that can be a little hidden behind the shelves of magCulture or whatever your favorite independent mag store is. But I don’t think I’d discourage anyone from going into magazines. One of the editors I worked for used to say it’s the best job in the world.

You get to deal with such a lot of interesting people and collaborators, and the creative rapport you have with your fellow writers and assistant editor, art director/designer – it’s such a great way of collaborating and putting things together, the pages become a feature and it becomes a part of the magazine and you feel very proud. So, I think that experience, whether you’re young, old, or somewhere in between, it’s still one that’s worth trying. It’s been our observation with the Indie magazines that some magazines just come out for two or three issues, it’s a kind of testing ground for the makers. They learn about what they’re interested in and maybe learn then how to design, how to make a design work, which isn’t as easy as in some instances it may look in our pages. It takes a great deal of very deep thinking about material that goes on for a long time before text and images are assembled on the page.

We’ve also seen over the years that a magazine can also be a Launchpad for other things. It may be that the young magazine makes it now, but will be inheriting a very different media world in the next 20 years, and be able to use those magazine skills to make something that we can only dream about.

Samir Husni: What do you think is the biggest challenge facing the magazine industry today?

John L. Walters: I don’t know if I can speak in general about that subject, because I know people who work at very different magazines, they work on newspaper magazines, smaller mainstream magazines, and my wife, who’s a magazine journalist, and also works in a very mass market area of women’s publishing, which has definitely transformed in the last two years. So, I think each of those titles, each of those sectors, faces its own challenges, which are quite different. I think it’s very good that magazine people get to talk to each other to sort of find out what’s going on, because I think there’s a lot that the mainstream sector can learn from the Indie sector.

Going back to the personal view of Eye Magazine, obviously the biggest challenge is just getting your magazine out into the market to the widest possible range of people who will enjoy it. And distributing it in a subscription base and then be able to distribute without too much hassle, things getting lost, and also getting out to shops, so that someone who has never heard of the magazine can walk into a magazine store, find it on the shelves, and decide that they like it and become one of our most ardent supporters, you know that moment when you find a magazine and it’s just right for you and you fall in love with it and you start following it. And that’s more difficult to do now that there are fewer mag stores. So, I think we need some brave new Indie mag stores to make that possible for a new generation of readers.

Samir Husni: What do you think is the biggest misconception people have about you?

John L. Walters: (Laughs) The biggest misconception is that I will see someone’s email if they assign it to the editor. It’s one of the great worries of an editor, that you will just miss a great story from a great new writer, because it’s the first time they’ve emailed you and it might end up in your junk mail; it might not even look like a serious proposal and of course, as you probably know, we are always very pleased to have new contributors. Each copy of Eye Magazine, I would say, has four or five, even more, writers who are new to magazines. So, that’s one of the ways that we aim to keep it fresh and find new voices and find new experts. I’m always very keen to find new writers and hear from them.

Samir Husni: If you could have one thing tattooed upon your brain that no one would ever forget about you, what would it be?

John L. Walters: My job, really. I’m the editor of Eye Magazine and I’m very proud to do that. And it’s also a great responsibility, and if I go to give a talk – recently we did a film night, a presentation, and it was very good to be able to introduce the magazine. Going back to my earlier point, it was very good to be able to introduce the magazine in a social setting, where we were showing some short documentaries about graphic design. The finale of the evening was a film we’d made about Eye – number 94, which is the Type Special Issue we did with 8,000 different numbers, covers, which has won awards and it’s probably drawn more acclaim and attention than any other issue of the magazine.  We haven’t had the opportunity to show the documentary in the United States, but we’re hoping to make that available next year.

Samir Husni: If I showed up unexpectedly at your home one evening after work, what would I find you doing? Having a glass of wine; reading a magazine; cooking; watching TV; or something else? How do you unwind?

John L. Walters: (Laughs) It varies, because I do end up going out quite a few evenings because there’s some event going on to do with design or sometimes to do with music. I still occasionally write about music as well as design, typography and digital content. When I’m at home my wife and I like to chat and we both like to read. My wife is also an editor and writer and she’s an expert in children’s books and children’s literature, so she has a new project that she’s been working on. So, a lot of our evening activities rotate around design, literature and music.

Samir Husni: My typical last question; what keeps you up at night?

John L. Walters: (Laughs) Reading about Donald Trump and Manafort and the whole crew.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

 

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