Archive for the ‘Words of Wisdom’ Category

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Fighting For Freedom, Democracy, And Justice – The Lebanese Way: Journalist Paula Yacoubian, The Newest Member Of The Lebanese Parliament In An Exclusive Interview with Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni.

July 23, 2018

A Mr. Magazine™ Report From Lebanon

Paula Yacoubian, journalist and one of the newest members of the Lebanese Parliament.

“I feel like I have an obligation to give back and I enjoy it. I love to feel that I’m useful and that I’m helping. And honestly, I cannot imagine myself sitting around. Sometimes I get tired and I want to go and just have fun like everyone else. I go for one day and then the next I realize that what’s fun for me is helping people. So, it’s not only an obligation, it’s a pleasure to help, honestly.” Paula Yacoubian…

“Although it is not yet in the Guinness book of records, I read my first national newscast at the age of 17. Reading the news was not the only skill I started to develop… I had the chance to develop my news writing and language skills…” So starts the biography of one of the most recognized names in Lebanese media Paula Yacoubian. At age 42, Ms. Yacoubian was elected last May to the Lebanese Parliament.

During my visit to Lebanon, I was so intrigued by the story of Paula Yacoubian, I felt the need to meet with her and find out more about the many changes that took place in the Lebanese media since I left my home country in 1978.

Honest, truthful, energetic, ambitious, are but a few of the adjectives that I can think of after my meeting with Paula. She beams with enthusiasm as she recalls her career and her plans now as a member of the parliament rather than a member of the media. The old adage, “nothing will stop us now,” is certainly applicable to her mindset.

I met with Paula at al Mandaloun Café in the Achrafieh district of Beirut and the conversation that followed shed some light on her career, the media, and the issues that are of major concern to her and, if I might add, the majority of the Lebanese people.

“Is it more powerful to be a journalist or a politician in Lebanon?” I asked her. Paula Yacoubian’s answer will surprise you.

Reporting from Beirut. This is the first of interviews and stories about the media in Lebanon, my birth country.

So join me as we go on a journey of Lebanese media and politics in the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Paula Yacoubian.

But first the sound-bites:

On how Lebanese media has changed in the 25 years she has been involved with journalism: Technically, it has changed and evolved. We have beautiful, big studios and great technologies. However, the problem is the owners are the same and the media in Lebanon is part of the political system.

On who supports Lebanese media: All Lebanese press is supported. Even the Lebanese media that is published outside is no longer supported by foreign governments, but rather is supported by well-known, influential Lebanese individuals. There is no more foreign support of the media in this day and age in Lebanon. The days that Qadafi or other Arab leaders paid to help and launch Lebanese media are long gone.

On some of the stumbling blocks that she’s faced in starting her own communications company: I decided to start my own company because I knew as a journalist I would never be free unless I had my own company. As an employee I would never have the freedom that I would have as the owner, the boss. I care about freedom a lot and without ownership there is no financial security, no building self-confidence and no independence. Because, as you know, working for someone else is never secure. At any time they can let you go regardless of your performance or ability.

On the moment she knew that she wanted to be a journalist:
It happened by pure coincidence. I was paying a visit to someone in television and they asked me would I be interested in doing a screen test. And I said yes, why not. I was in the elevator with the lady and I asked her what kind of anchor she was looking for and she said a news anchor. I wondered how in the world I could do it, but I took the test. And the grammar wasn’t that hard to read and they liked my voice. So, the next day they told me I was hired.

On whether she feels that she has reached the top of her profession or that she still has more climbing to do: It depends on how you want to measure it. My mom’s ambition for me was to have a decent job and to have security. When I look back, I arrived a very long time ago, but you don’t know what life has in store for you around the next corner. And things unfold in your life. Now my ambitions are much, much bigger. I want to try and make a difference in my country. I want people to believe again that they can do change. And if they elect someone out of the box, out of the system, out of the ruling parties, they will do the right thing. This is how change happens.

On her social activism and why she always felt compelled to keep doing more:

“I want to try and make a difference in my country. I want people to believe again that they can do change.” Paula Yacoubian to Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni.

I like to be proactive with my life and when I feel that I can help, that I can bring something to the society that has given me so much, I like to pay back. The Dafa Campaign started because I was visiting one of the Syrian camps and it was so awful; the conditions were not human. So, I decided to do something. And I realized when you are a well-known figure you can do so much more than anyone else. A famous person can get things done, but most people don’t think of using their fame to do something for society.

On whether her work as a journalist was easier than her work as a member of Parliament: My work as a journalist wasn’t bringing any change to society. People don’t listen to journalists, unfortunately for us. I wish they did. They would know so much more. If they listened to journalists more than the politicians, they wouldn’t be living in denial. Now that I’m a politician, they listen much more to what I say, it gets more coverage.

On the trust factor that’s missing in both journalism and politics right now and the fact that she represents both: The campaigns in my race were really unheard of. They said all kinds of things about me. Some parties told very Christian conservatives that I was Muslim, because I was once married to a Muslim. I named my son Paul, he is baptized. I’ve never changed my name, it’s always been Paula.

On whether she can ever shed the journalistic Paula and just be the politician: I really wasn’t a journalist when I was a journalist. I was more of a politician, I used to give my opinion. I’ve never thought that objectivity was a really important part of being a journalist. I was always more of a politician when I was a journalist, because living in Lebanon you cannot just cover the news, the news is your life. You just can’t be objective in Lebanon and you shouldn’t be. Amanpour said it in a very nice way, being useful is more important than being objective.

On why she’s never seemed to mind crossing television networks: And it was also any challenge for me was a new challenge. I don’t like routine; I don’t like to keep on with the same thing. I get bored easily and I like new challenges, so that was partly why I used to change television stations. And sometimes circumstances forced me. Like MTV, I had to leave due to a contract obligation.

On how she felt being chosen to conduct an interview with the current Prime Minister: I think they chose the television, someone chose that that interview should be on Future Television and I was the only one who had a political show on Future TV, so I think that the network was very lucky that I was the person conducting the interview because I did everything possible to help the network with the situation they were in. And I did that despite the fact that maybe it was against my own interests, but I did what I had to do and I did the right thing without thinking twice about whether it was the thing for me to do or not.

On what someone would find her doing if they showed up unexpectedly one evening at her home: Honestly, you wouldn’t find me in the house. I don’t go back to the house before midnight. Tonight for instance, I’m having dinner with someone, an environmental specialist, before that I have another engagement, and before that another meeting. I have continuous meetings usually. Normally, I start around 8:00 a.m. and have meetings all day and then dinners in the evening that are related to what I do, such as the garbage crisis.

On what she would have tattooed upon her brain that would be there forever and no one could ever forget about her: Humbleness, because this is also one of our major problems in Lebanon, we all think that we know about everything and no one wants to be just a normal citizen, everyone wants to be someone. And we have an attitude problem. So, I just remind myself everyday about being humble, it’s just so important to stay in touch with reality and be human.

On what keeps her up at night: The garbage crisis, especially the environment. I used to say a few years ago that we can’t swim in our sea anymore. Very soon our kids will not be able to touch the sea and people would say that I was so pessimistic. And then before we realized it, it’s there. You cannot swim anywhere on many of our shores, and things are getting worse and worse by the day. And nobody cares.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Paula Yacoubian, acclaimed journalist, talk show host, and member of the Lebanese Parliament.

Reporting from Beirut, Lebanon.

Samir Husni: You’ve been at this for almost 25 years now; you started as a journalist at 17-years-old. Briefly, from your point of view, tell me how the Lebanese media has changed in those 25 years.

Paula Yacoubian: Technically, it has changed and evolved. We have beautiful, big studios and great technologies. However, the problem is the owners are the same and the media in Lebanon is part of the political system. And this is the same since the end of the civil war. They’re either directly party television or newspapers, or independent television or newspapers that need a political cover to support or defend in order for it to survive. There is really no free press in Lebanon, all the media are nothing but voices of the authority, I am sad to say.

Samir Husni: One of the very first articles I wrote in the States was about who owns the Lebanese press and I said there are three groups: the political parties, the Arab government and the foreign governments.

Paula Yacoubian: All Lebanese press is supported. Even the Lebanese media that is published outside is no longer supported by foreign governments, but rather is supported by well-known, influential Lebanese individuals. There is no more foreign support of the media in this day and age in Lebanon. The days that Qadafi or other Arab leaders paid to help and launch Lebanese media are long gone.

Samir Husni: You’ve done a lot and have established an integrated communications company that you are the CEO of. What have been some of the stumbling blocks that you, as a journalist, have faced throughout your career?

Paula Yacoubian: I decided to start my own company because I knew as a journalist I would never be free unless I had my own company. As an employee I would never have the freedom that I would have as the owner, the boss. I care about freedom a lot and without ownership there is no financial security, no building self-confidence and no independence. Because, as you know, working for someone else is never secure. At any time they can let you go regardless of your performance or ability.

Samir Husni: When Henri Sfeir took a chance on you, you were 17-years-old.

“My work as a journalist wasn’t bringing any change to society,” Paula Yacoubian to Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni

Paula Yacoubian: (Laughs) I lied about my age. I said I was 21, and he wasn’t the one to decide, actually. There was someone else who said that this girl could be an anchor and I told him that I was studying political science and that was how I started. And then he told me that my Arabic was very good, even though I was Armenian. And that’s when I told him that they were asking for my papers and I couldn’t bring any papers. And I told him that I was 17 and didn’t have any degree.

But I said one day I will have a political science degree and that’s when he told me to go and do not worry about it. So, I started with a lie and I never thought it would continue, but it was something to do during the summertime. But then it took over my whole life and I’m still somehow, even in what I do right now, I still have my journalistic skills and curiosity, even in my new job.

Samir Husni: You have a new job, as a member of the Lebanese Parliament. I guess congratulations are in order.

Paula Yacoubian: Thank you.

Samir Husni: At 17, even before going to college, when was that moment that you said this is it, this is what I want to do?

Paula Yacoubian: It happened by pure coincidence. I was paying a visit to someone in television and they asked me would I be interested in doing a screen test. And I said yes, why not. I was in the elevator with the lady and I asked her what kind of anchor she was looking for and she said a news anchor. I wondered how in the world I could do it, but I took the test. And the grammar wasn’t that hard to read and they liked my voice. So, the next day they told me I was hired.

It wasn’t something I planned or worked for or applied for; I didn’t even apply for the job. I didn’t fill out an application. But soon I was reading the newscast. And that’s how it happened. I had colleagues who helped me to read well and to know what I’m reading about. Then I learned Arabic and the grammar.

Samir Husni: But you moved from an anchorperson to a journalist, a reporter, an interviewer. And through the years you’ve become a household name in Lebanon and the Arab countries. When did you feel that you’d finally reached the top of your profession, or are you still climbing?

Paula Yacoubian: It depends on how you want to measure it. My mom’s ambition for me was to have a decent job and to have security. When I look back, I arrived a very long time ago, but you don’t know what life has in store for you around the next corner. And things unfold in your life.

Now my ambitions are much, much bigger. I want to try and make a difference in my country. I want people to believe again that they can do change. And if they elect someone out of the box, out of the system, out of the ruling parties, they will do the right thing. This is how change happens.

We have to overcome fears and believe that our country is not doomed and that it can have a future. And that the problem is with us and our choices and this political cast, this molding, and that it owns almost everything: the media, the money, the services. And they own the stories, they can do the stories the way they want. So, this is my new ambition now. But now the sky is the limit and if there are still Lebanese people who can still believe in anything, we can succeed.

Samir Husni: One of the things that I tell my students all of the time is that I never want them to say that the sky is the limit. I want them to say that they are the limit, such as Samir is the limit of himself.

Paula Yacoubian: Circumstances are important. I am lucky enough that people are ready to believe again. I think in four years we can have a major breakthrough and we can be a real alternative to this corrupt cast.

Samir Husni: But even before you entered politics, as a journalist you were involved with a lot of social issues. You did the Dafa Campaign, and I was reading some of your background and you’ve fought for women’s rights; you name it and you’ve done it. Why didn’t you just stop and enjoy being the top journalist and anchorperson in the country?

Paula Yacoubian: I like to be proactive with my life and when I feel that I can help, that I can bring something to the society that has given me so much, I like to pay back. The Dafa Campaign started because I was visiting one of the Syrian camps and it was so awful; the conditions were not human. So, I decided to do something. And I realized when you are a well-known figure you can do so much more than anyone else. A famous person can get things done, but most people don’t think of using their fame to do something for society.

For me, I feel like I have an obligation to give back and I enjoy it. I love to feel that I’m useful and that I’m helping. And honestly, I cannot imagine myself sitting around. Sometimes I get tired and I want to go and just have fun like everyone else. I go for one day and then the next I realize that what’s fun for me is helping people. So, it’s not only an obligation, it’s a pleasure to help, honestly.

Samir Husni: Do you think your work in journalism was easier than the work you will be doing as a member of Parliament?

Paula Yacoubian: My work as a journalist wasn’t bringing any change to society. People don’t listen to journalists, unfortunately for us. I wish they did. They would know so much more. If they listened to journalists more than the politicians, they wouldn’t be living in denial. Now that I’m a politician, they listen much more to what I say, it gets more coverage.

And others are always worried about my next step, what will I do. I think people are watching and they should be able to know what’s happening. They should be able to know the difference between smear campaigns and other things. I’m hoping that now I can do something if I continue, if I have the stamina and the energy. If I don’t get depressed. I can do a lot of things. But I need to feel that I have the support of the people. I think those who elected me are happy. And I hope that I’m making more people happy.

Samir Husni: Trust is the biggest missing factor in media today and in politics. And now you have double mistrust, you’re a journalist and a politician.

Paula Yacoubian: Not only that, they discredited me like no one else. The campaigns in my race were really unheard of. They said all kinds of things about me. Some parties told very Christian conservatives that I was Muslim, because I was once married to a Muslim. I named my son Paul, he is baptized. I’ve never changed my name, it’s always been Paula.

And still they had the guts to go and lie to people and tell them that I had changed my religion. With every Tweet they were saying different statements just to discredit me. And they were picking videos from my interviews, taking sound-bites and cutting them and it was going viral. Things like I wasn’t Armenian and people shouldn’t vote for me. It was a machine that had nothing to do but discredit me.

Samir Husni: But you overcame all of that and you were elected five weeks ago. Are you missing journalism? Can you ever shed the journalistic Paula and just be the politician?

Paula Yacoubian: No, I really wasn’t a journalist when I was a journalist. I was more of a politician, I used to give my opinion. I’ve never thought that objectivity was a really important part of being a journalist. I was always more of a politician when I was a journalist, because living in Lebanon you cannot just cover the news, the news is your life. You just can’t be objective in Lebanon and you shouldn’t be. Christiane Amanpour said it in a very nice way, being useful is more important than being objective.

Samir Husni: You started with the ICN (Independent Communications Network), then you went to LBCI, then MTV, then ART, and briefly at Al_Hurra in the United States. Your last job before being elected to the Lebanese Parliament last May was with Future TV. It seems that you didn’t mind working at politically diverse television stations. It seems to me, it was always Paula, rather than MTV; Paula rather than LBCI, etc…

Paula Yacoubian: Every new job for me was a new challenge. I don’t like routine; I don’t like to keep on with the same thing. I get bored easily and I like new challenges, so that was partly why I used to change television stations. And sometimes circumstances forced me. Like MTV, I had to leave due to a contract obligation.

So, it wasn’t always me choosing to leave or change television stations. I was always looking for something different. I never felt that this is what I want to do and this is where I want to stay. It’s more now that I feel that this is what I’m maybe destined for or what I’d like to do. I’m much, much better as a politician in Lebanon than being a journalist, because there is no independent journalism in Lebanon. It’s part of the system. All media outlets are part of the system.

Samir Husni: When the eyes of the world were on Paula, the only journalist to conduct a live interview with Prime Minister Hariri after he resigned from Saudi Arabia, every television channel, every country, the entire world was watching you. Can you describe for me the feeling that you had the night you were heading to the airport to do the interview and the world was watching you more than anybody else?

Paula Yacoubian: I think they chose the television station, someone decided that that interview should be on Future Television and I was the only one who had a political show on Future TV, so I think that the network was very lucky that I was the person conducting the interview because I did everything possible to help the network with the situation they were in. And I did that despite the fact that maybe it was against my own interests, but I did what I had to do and I did the right thing without thinking twice about whether it was the thing for me to do or not.

Samir Husni: My final typical three questions always start with this: 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?

Paula Yacoubian: Honestly, you wouldn’t find me in the house. I don’t go back to the house before midnight. Tonight for instance, I’m having dinner with someone, an environmental specialist, before that I have another engagement, and before that another meeting. I have continuous meetings usually. Normally, I start around 8:00 a.m. and have meetings all day and then dinners in the evening that are related to what I do, such as the garbage crisis.

So, it’s every day, ongoing. Day and night, working as a Parliamentarian. And also for the issues that I’m handling. It’s difficult to be up to standards when it comes to the garbage crisis because you have to be a bit of an environmentalist, chemist, and you have to be a lawyer to know how they are doing the TOR (terms of references). So, it’s not an easy job.

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

Paula Yacoubian: Humbleness, because this is also one of our major problems in Lebanon, we all think that we know about everything and no one wants to be just a normal citizen, everyone wants to be someone. And we have an attitude problem. So, I just remind myself everyday about being humble, it’s just so important to stay in touch with reality and be human.

And to know that chance and luck are important components in our lives and is what drives you anywhere you go. I believe there are people who are much more qualified than I am, in a much better position to do what I’m doing and they just don’t have the same chance. If we’re all aware of this, maybe we’ll all be more humble.

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

Paula Yacoubian: The garbage crisis, especially the environment. I used to say a few years ago that we can’t swim in our sea anymore. Very soon our kids will not be able to touch the sea and people would say that I was so pessimistic. And then before we realized it, it’s there. You cannot swim anywhere on many of our shores, and things are getting worse and worse by the day. And nobody cares.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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Citizen Designer, Perspectives On Design Responsibility: The Presence Of Ink In Hand Design Is Powerful & Responsible – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Véronique Vienne, Co-Editor/Author, Citizen Designer…

June 11, 2018

“I was writing about the fact that taking ink to paper and writing something by hand has so much more credibility than taking that same message and printing it and putting it on a wall. So, the presence of the ink and the hand, which is what the kids did in the anti-gun movement. Kids went out into the streets in the United States and wrote slogans on panels and pieces of cardboard. They weren’t very sophisticated slogans, but they were done by hand. And the kids were holding them. And there were pictures being taken of the kids holding the pieces of cardboard. And those pictures made it onto the Internet.” Véronique Vienne…

The second edition of “Citizen Designer” attempts to answer the question of what it means to be a designer in today’s corporate-driven, over branded global consumer culture, according to the powers-that-be behind this simplistic, yet powerfully-written book. Between the essays that are raw and informative to the glossary of terms and words used religiously in the design community written by former art director and co-author of the book, Véronique Vienne, this dynamic tool is far from a mere self-help guide to great design.

Recently, I spoke with Véronique, via Skype at her home in South France, one half of the team (along with Steven Heller) who put this book together and we talked about the social change and responsibilities that designers can affect and do have in our world. Véronique believes that design can and should be more than just a service to clients and can bring about political and social manifestations of importance within our society. This new edition of the book, the first having been written some 15 years ago, contains a collection of definitions and brief case studies on topics that today’s citizen designers must consider, including new essays on social innovation, individual advocacy, group strategies, and living as an ethical designer.

Véronique said she felt compelled to participate in this updated version due to the upheaval in the world today, with the American political front and many other important issues. And after having spoken with her, Mr. Magazine™ can certainly understand her dedication to her convictions and beliefs; the passion in her words came through loud and clear. And her faith in the power of design is inspiring.

So, without further ado, please enjoy the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Véronique Vienne, co-author, Citizen Designer.

But first the sound-bites:

On the book “Citizen Designer”: About a year ago, the publisher thought that it would be a good idea to bring back the book and update it. And we did. I wasn’t keen on doing it, but I thought that it was my duty to revisit the topic in light of the political situation in the United States and in the world, and all the things that had happened since the first edition. And I thought we needed to take a good look at the profession, not only because of the political situation, but because of the evolution of technology and social networking and all of that. It’s a totally different situation today.

On her belief that graphic designers have a social responsibility: Since I came back to Europe, I can say that in America I think design is miles apart from Europe. The American graphic design community is unfortunately held hostage to marketing. They think they’re apolitical, but you cannot be apolitical. If you’re apolitical, that’s a political stance. You have to stop thinking that you can be apolitical. You serve an economy based on different principles and if you serve that economy, you serve the principle of that economy. You have to stop being naïve.

On what she believes the role of ink on paper is in today’s digital world: I wrote about this very topic in a recent posting on a blog called “Common Edge,” about architecture and design. I was writing about the fact that taking ink to paper and writing something by hand has so much more credibility than taking that same message and printing it and putting it on a wall. So, the presence of the ink and the hand, which is what the kids did in the anti-gun movement. Kids went out into the streets in the United States and wrote slogans on panels and pieces of cardboard. They weren’t very sophisticated slogans, but they were done by hand. And the kids were holding them. And there were pictures being taken of the kids holding the pieces of cardboard. And those pictures made it onto the Internet.

On having worked in magazine media and media on both sides of the Atlantic and some differences that she still sees today: There are many differences, of course. When I came to the States in the early sixties, it was a different time. It was the Cold War; it was Camelot, the whole thing. And I was very gullible, in a way. I bought the bull. I loved America and I still love America. I am very proud of my American passport. I adore the country, I really do. It is my home. I think in English, I write in English and I love the country.

On why a book about design has no pictures: One of the realities is that publishers nowadays want the authors to get the pictures for free. Or do the research for the picture. And you spend half of your time doing the photo research. I’m not interested in that. The second thing is people go online all of the time to look at pictures. To have really good pictures and really good illustrations, it’s a job in itself. Steve and I did a book that does very well, which is going into its second edition called “100 Ideas That Changed Graphic Design.” For that one we did a lot of research and we got designers to give us information for free and they signed paperwork and documents that we could publish it on the moon if we had to. And half of your time is spent chasing images, when actually readers go online and Google the image.

On where in the book she would like for readers to begin: Steve and I put the glossary in front, because I think it’s the first thing they should read. Second, one thing we did not do is make it a self-help book. It’s really a collection of essays, without us trying to have a theory behind it. At the very beginning what I think is there is going to be a change of mentality in the design community. We have to find our soul. We have to find that designer within ourselves. And everybody does it in a different way.

On why the book is dedicated to Michelle and Barack Obama: Yes. I think both Steve and I are sentimental and we thought they were two great people. We love them. And it came from the heart. I think one of the reasons that we did the book is because we’re under the shock of the Trump election, which did not reflect our convictions.

On anything else she’d like to add: Yes, I hope it’s a book that people can browse through and find essays here and there that resonate with them. I love the design; I think it’s very spartan. I think it’s readable. We wanted it to be easy to read, in terms of typography. The design is there in the typography; the choice of the designer. It’s a very humble book. We’re not proclaiming that we know anything. It’s a little grass roots; we wanted it to be that way, because I think that’s the way it’s going to be. I don’t believe we can change the world, but we can try to make sense of it.

On what she would have tattooed upon her brain that would be there forever and no one could ever forget about her: Smart, intelligent, provocative, and honest.

On what someone would find her doing if they showed up unexpectedly one evening at her home: You’d find me cooking for my friends. I believe that around the table, around food, around a glass of wine, yes, but also around food which takes a longer time to enjoy, a dinner, a meal, lunch, people can get to know each other and can spend some time.

On what keeps her up at night: I don’t know. My daughter in Los Angeles. That’s a long way. And I hope she’s fine. It’s thinking about all of my friends in the United States and I’m in France. My heart is still with all my very dear friends on the West Coast and everywhere in the States.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Véronique Vienne, co-editor/author, Citizen Designer.

Samir Husni: Tell me about the book “Citizen Designer.”

Véronique Vienne: Steve (Heller – coeditor of the book) and I collaborated together, 15 years ago, on the book, at a more gentle time. We thought that there was already a sense in the graphic design community that there was more to design than just serving the clients; the designer maybe had another function. Another thing that they could do. Pro bono work or who knows what else.

The book was mildly successful in its first edition. It remained in print because I think universities and schools were interested in the topic. It’s a very hard-to-define topic because basically graphic designers are at the service of their clients. There’s an assignment and you try and deal with that assignment. But more and more there was a sense in the community that entrepreneurship and authorship is also a part of the profession.

So, recently, about a year ago, the publisher thought that it would be a good idea to bring back the book and update it. And we did. I wasn’t keen on doing it, but I thought that it was my duty to revisit the topic in light of the political situation in the United States and in the world, and all the things that had happened since the first edition. And I thought we needed to take a good look at the profession, not only because of the political situation, but because of the evolution of technology and social networking and all of that. It’s a totally different situation today.

And more and more graphic designers were questioning and wondering what they could do to “save the world.” You know we all want to save the world. So, we decided to tackle the topic again. We kept about a third of the articles; we reread what had been written 15 years ago, and actually they were quite a few articles that were almost premonitions; they were really good and we kept them at the back of the book.

And we generated more interviews and I did a job that I wanted to do, which was a glossary, that was my main contribution. I took all of those words that we know a little bit about and all of those terms that we have a fuzzy notion of what they are, and I thought it was important to, for myself first and then share it with designers, take a good look at what was behind the terms. I think in order to be effective politically and citizen-wise, you have to be informed. And informed with an opinion and not just informed Wikipedia-style. You need to learn more of a point of view. And that’s why I tackled this glossary.

Originally, I had wanted 100 terms, but after 60 terms, I was running out of time. I feel the first thing a graphic designer needs, or anyone for that matter who wants to make a difference, is information and trying to get some straight answers. You can’t just Google something and think you know what it’s all about. So, I dug a little deeper in those entries. And they were very brief entries, but I wanted to do them to clarify for myself some of the terms.

But with “Citizen Designer,” Steven and I had a discussion about that; what do designers actually do? And my conviction, which is partly shared with Steve, is that designers have incredible communication skills. That they can put into service a lot of good causes. But what’s depressing sometimes is to see good people with really good intentions or good causes have very poor communication skills. I compare designers in a way to scribes of the past. We transcribe, we design, but we transcribe other people’s convictions and ideas into a language that other people can appreciate and interact with.

As scribes, and I always wanted to be a scribe, this ability to make visible, to make readable, to transcribe and translate other people’s convictions into a language that is powerful is what designers can do. They’ve come to save the world by doing a campaign.

A citizen designer for me is someone who is well-educated, like a scribe, smart and savvy, but also chooses their causes and puts their talents at the service of organizations or communities, or something.

Samir Husni: What makes you connect that love of being a scribe, love of translating politics and citizens, and the social aspect with design? You rarely hear graphic designers or art directors talking about social responsibility, most talk about the font their using for this or that.

Véronique Vienne: Since I came back to Europe, I can say that in America I think design is miles apart from Europe. The American graphic design community is unfortunately held hostage to marketing. They think they’re apolitical, but you cannot be apolitical. If you’re apolitical, that’s a political stance. You have to stop thinking that you can be apolitical. You serve an economy based on different principles and if you serve that economy, you serve the principle of that economy. You have to stop being naïve.

I’m actually chagrined and upset sometimes when I look at some of the topics that are discussed in the graphic design community in the U.S. because it’s totally about a tight-fist or the vernacular or blah, blah, blah. It’s about what I call the “merch.” Recently, I was reading an article and it was talking about the royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. The journalist who wrote the article was saying that their marriage was all about love, it was all about the love of two people and it was so inspiring. And another person in the article was saying, no, it’s all about the merch. And by the merch, they mean the merchandise. The hats, the T-shirts; it’s about the merch.

And in a way I think, and I’m really sad to see it, that the American community in general, not everybody, of course, doesn’t think that they can remain on the sidelines. And that’s why I think the book is necessary, along with many more books, not just the one. This one is just the second edition. We could try to define what graphic designers could be. I know that in Europe, political statements start with a manifesto. You write it and you glue it on the wall. So, I think posturizing, writing something on a wall, writing something on a piece of paper, is really part of the DNA of graphic design.

Samir Husni: What role do you think ink on paper, print, plays in today’s digital age? And do you think that we can do the same things through the digital platforms, or there’s a big difference between ink on paper and pixels on a screen?

Véronique Vienne: I wrote about this very topic in a recent posting on a blog called “Common Edge,” about architecture and design. I was writing about the fact that taking ink to paper and writing something by hand has so much more credibility than taking that same message and printing it and putting it on a wall. So, the presence of the ink and the hand, which is what the kids did in the anti-gun movement. Kids went out into the streets in the United States and wrote slogans on panels and pieces of cardboard. They weren’t very sophisticated slogans, but they were done by hand. And the kids were holding them. And there were pictures being taken of the kids holding the pieces of cardboard. And those pictures made it onto the Internet.

It’s a little bit of what we learned with Je suis Charlie – I am Charlie – when people took to the streets. It was a viral panel that a designer had done, Je suis Charlie. And if they had printed it and took to the streets and held it…well, I think the ink and the paper and the handheld message, even in our digital age, still has a lot of power. And it’s still very much a part of how you can harness the strength of the graphic gesture, if you will.

Samir Husni: I’m very intrigued by your own story. You spent 40 years in the States, but you’re originally from France. During those 40 years you spent here in the U.S., you had a chance to work in magazine media and in media, so you’ve worked on both sides of the Atlantic. What are some of the differences that you still see today?

Véronique Vienne: There are many differences, of course. When I came to the States in the early sixties, it was a different time. It was the Cold War; it was Camelot, the whole thing. And I was very gullible, in a way. I bought the bull. I loved America and I still love America. I am very proud of my American passport. I adore the country, I really do. It is my home. I think in English, I write in English and I love the country.

But of course there was a shift after 9/11, even before. I became politicized little by little, like everybody else. With age you start to look at the situation and of course, I had been exposed in France at the Bozar. I had gone to the Bozar School in Paris, briefly in architecture, but I did finish. I had been exposed to something called the Situationists there. And so it was sort of hanging around in my consciousness.

I wrote a bestseller, believe it or not, in the States called “The Art of Doing Nothing.” And in my brain was a critique of the consumer culture. It sold a half million copies. And people completely misunderstood what it was about. They thought it was an adorable gift book. I almost invented the gift book category with it. (Laughs) It’s still in print. I had meant it to be a political gesture. And it turned out to be the opposite. It became a franchise. They wanted me to become a television guru and I refused, because that wasn’t what I wanted to do.

So it was always in the back of my mind, a critique of that consumer frenzy, if you will, but I was never able to do anything about it. And eventually, with the second Bush administration, even before we get to our time, there was an empty intellectualism in the United States. Anti-French intellectualism. And in order to survive, I suppressed in me the desire to be more honest; it was self-censorship, I guess that’s called. After a while, 40 years, I realized that self-censorship was becoming hard; I wanted to do something else. And I couldn’t do it.

I was writing for a women’s magazine at the time, I was no longer an art director, I was writing for an architecture magazine; I was writing for a lot of different things. But I somehow always had to push the merch. And I wanted to go back to a place where I didn’t have to be fabulous all of the time. It’s so tiring to be fabulous all of the time. In the States, in order to survive, we have to be fabulous. If not, you don’t count, you don’t make a difference. So, I wanted to try living in a place where being fabulous wasn’t part of the picture. That’s why I went back to France, and to take care of my mom, who is going to be 100-years-old in a few months. I split my time between Paris and the South of France, where I moved back into the family home.

Samir Husni: As I was reading some of the essays in the book and flipping through the pages, I noticed something. Here is a book about design from two graphic designers, but there isn’t a single picture in the book. Was that intentional?

Véronique Vienne: One of the realities is that publishers nowadays want the authors to get the pictures for free. Or do the research for the picture. And you spend half of your time doing the photo research. I’m not interested in that.

The second thing is people go online all of the time to look at pictures. To have really good pictures and really good illustrations, it’s a job in itself. Steve and I did a book that does very well, which is going into its second edition called “100 Ideas That Changed Graphic Design.” For that one we did a lot of research and we got designers to give us information for free and they signed paperwork and documents that we could publish it on the moon if we had to. And half of your time is spent chasing images, when actually readers go online and Google the image.

So, we made a choice. And we decided it would be a bad idea, because the image we might find and be able to afford, there would be no budget for those images. And it was so insignificant compared to what could be done. So, we decided that we would hopefully write things that people would want to read. But we may be wrong. “100 Ideas That Changed Graphic Design” is a lot of illustrations. And it’s doing well, very well.

Samir Husni: After buying the book, if someone asks you where in the book would you like for them to begin, what would you say?

Véronique Vienne: Steve and I put the glossary in front, because I think it’s the first thing they should read. Second, one thing we did not do is make it a self-help book. It’s really a collection of essays, without us trying to have a theory behind it. At the very beginning what I think is there is going to be a change of mentality in the design community. We have to find our soul. We have to find that designer within ourselves. And everybody does it in a different way.

And so this is not a prescription; we don’t say do this or do that. Everybody has a different approach. And some are a lot more theoretical and some are just gut feelings. And so we left the essays in a raw state, because as an engaged community we are not quite together yet. We’re still in the stage of trying to find ourselves, and I’m talking about the French as well as the Americans, which are the two communities I know well. I think it’s going to take time for us to figure out what on earth we’re doing. Are we already so incredibly obsolete that we’re just kidding ourselves? And I think the book is reflecting a lot of the different attempts by individuals to make sense of what they can do.

Samir Husni: You’ve dedicated the book to Michelle and Barack Obama, why?

Véronique Vienne: Yes. I think both Steve and I are sentimental and we thought they were two great people. We love them. And it came from the heart. I think one of the reasons that we did the book is because we’re under the shock of the Trump election, which did not reflect our convictions.

Samir Husni: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Véronique Vienne: Yes, I hope it’s a book that people can browse through and find essays here and there that resonate with them. I love the design; I think it’s very spartan. I think it’s readable. We wanted it to be easy to read, in terms of typography. The design is there in the typography; the choice of the designer. It’s a very humble book. We’re not proclaiming that we know anything. It’s a little grass roots; we wanted it to be that way, because I think that’s the way it’s going to be. I don’t believe we can change the world, but we can try to make sense of it.

I was reading recently about the first books, before the invention of the printing press, it was on scrolls, and it basically said that the very fact that we can go back to the book and leaf through it now, allows us to not scroll through a text like in the ancient times, but online we’re back to scrolling. When we go back and forth in print, our relationship, our mental relationship, the structure of our analysis of a text was changed because we were no longer following the linear narrative, we could go back or we could go forward. We could comprehend the whole thing and then choose where we wanted to go.

And that was a major change in our mental structures, because of that leafing and that ability to go back and forth. The mental structure of the text disassociated from speech, because when you scroll, it’s like when you speak, you have to listen to the end of the sentence. In a book you are free from that, you’re free from the speech and it’s a different thing.

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

Véronique Vienne: Smart, intelligent, provocative, and honest.

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?

Véronique Vienne: You’d find me cooking for my friends. I believe that around the table, around food, around a glass of wine, yes, but also around food which takes a longer time to enjoy, a dinner, a meal, lunch, people can get to know each other and can spend some time.

One of the things that’s most interesting about what’s happening in the design community is the realization that, and you made a point when you mentioned a Skype interview before we talked, that we need to give it the time. Time is really part of design. You can’t design something because you’re smart and you’re doing it all electronically. I think you need to learn to listen to other people, to hear what they have to say, not be in a result mode. To me, that’s one of the most interesting things that is happening in the design community, the realization that you have to do field work. You have to go ask the people what they want. You can’t just have a brief and try to respond to that. So, you’d find me cooking.

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

Véronique Vienne: I don’t know. My daughter in Los Angeles. That’s a long way. And I hope she’s fine. It’s thinking about all of my friends in the United States and I’m in France. My heart is still with all my very dear friends on the West Coast and everywhere in the States.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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TypeNotes Magazine And How The Typewriter Changed Typography And The Way We Communicate…

June 7, 2018

Every now and then, a magazine grabs my attention, I really mean grabs my attention, and it becomes impossible to let go. One such recent magazine is TypeNotes, “A journal dedicated to typography & graphic design.” The magazine is published by the UK’s FONTSMITH that was founded by its creative director Jason Smith.

The first article of issue two is what grabbed my attention. The title “Tap Dance” and the subtitle “Fontsmith designer Stuart de Rozario on how the typewriter changed typography and the way we communicate.” Now, I know some of you don’t even know what a typewriter is, thus you will need to buy the magazine to learn the entire history of the typewriter.

Here is the first two paragraphs from the Tap Dance article… It is worth every single word:

The sound of the mechanical typewriter is a familiar one to many of us, who grew up to its distinctive percussive clack and chime. It’s also the sound of a bygone era; a machine handed its redundancy by computers, tablets and mobile devices.

The fall of the typewriter is just one moment in a long history of changes to how mankind has used written communication, from cave paintings to letter carving and handwriting to texting. Humanity as we know it simply couldn’t have existed without mark making and visual communications.

To read the entire evolution of the typewriter you have to find yourself a copy of issue two of TypeNotes at a newsstands near you. Enjoy.

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Magazines and Slow Journalism: Ernest Journal Provides A Great Example…

June 4, 2018

The back page of the British journal Ernest leads with the words, “Curiosity & Slow Adventure.” Nothing describes what a print magazine can and should deliver than those three words. After all, I have always taught my journalism students that their degree should not be in journalism, but rather in curiosity.

Ernest defines itself as such:

Ernest is a journal for enquiring minds. It’s made for those who value surprising and meandering journeys, fueled by curiosity rather than adrenaline and guided by chance encounters.

It is a repository for wild ideas, curious artifacts and genuine oddities, replete with tales of pioneers, invention and human obsession.

Ernest is founded on the principles of slow journalism. We value honesty, integrity and down-to-earth storytelling — and a good, long read every now and then.

And allwhat Mr. Magazine™ can say is AMEN!

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What Is A Magazine? “Polpettas On Paper” Provides Us With The Best Definition Yet…

May 26, 2018

“Polpettas on paper” is an international magazine created and produced in Spain. The name is taking from the word “polpetta” which in Italian means “meatball.”

Here is how the editors of “Polpettas on paper” define a magazine:

“We think of the elements of each story as ingredients: the artists we interview, their works, the time we spend with them, the cities they live in. All these ingredients are chopped up, mixed together and baked into delicious meatballs, each one a unique, easy-to-digest story. The pages of this magazine combine into one very tasty dish. Enjoy.”

What a wonderful way to describe what a magazine really is.

Enjoy, indeed!

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Liz Vaccariello & Her 11 New Rules for Making Magazines. Mr. Magazine™ Presents Highlights From The ACT 8 Experience

April 27, 2018

Liz Vaccariello, Editorial Director, Parents Magazine Network, Meredith, speaking at the Magazine Innovation Center’s ACT 8 Experience, April 18, 2018.

If the phrase “energetic enthusiasm” was defined in the dictionary, you’d find Liz Vaccariello’s name written categorically beside it. The editor in chief of the Meredith Parents Network has an exuberance for her brand and the industry in general that is contagious.

Liz was our opening keynote speaker for the first full day of the ACT 8 Experience on Wednesday morning, April 18. While the air in the room was expectant when she took the stage to give her presentation, by the time she accepted the resounding applause and descended the stairs to once again take her seat, it was electric.

Several beautiful covers of Parents magazine began the story she told showing mothers and their real-life children together in varying poses, and progressing into the stories within the magazine’s pages that brings the lives of different people, such as celebrities, Jenny Mollen and Jason Biggs, along with their two sons, onto a level that we all understand, that of simply being parents. Liz’s belief is that Parents magazine, and ALL magazines, can have an emotional connection with readers, and that the cover is the best and most important place to start.

But the meat of Liz’s talk was about her 11 New Rules for Making Magazines, which you will find below. And along with each one she presented, we were as engaged as new students on the first day of class, learning these rules as though they were the difference between an A and an F in the class, and for all intents and purposes, when it comes to a successful magazine, they are.

1. Understand your audience
2. Diversity matters
3. Don’t be too cool for school
4. Go for “Wow” instead of “Ugh”
5. Know that digital natives skim print differently
6. Let your audiences tell stories too
7. Welcome advertisers as partners and collaborators
8. Art is your story’s best friend
9. Display copy is crucial for voice
10. More is not necessarily better
11. Use humor to break through

And to see these rules presented as only Liz can click on the video below.

To watch the entire ACT 8 Experience presentations please go to mr.magazine.me and search for ACT 8 Experience.

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The Secret Of Making Life (And Magazines) More Meaningful: Words Of Wisdom From South Korea’s B Magazine…

February 14, 2018

Every now and then I read something that stops me in my tracks… something so powerful that it needs to be shared with anyone and everyone involved in magazines and magazine media… This blog’s words of wisdom (WOW) comes from the publisher and CEO of the South Korean B magazine, Suyong Joh:

“Nowadays, when many people talk of the inevitable disappearance of print media or the analog era and tout the need to focus all of our attention on the new digital realm, I continually try to imagine a world in which warm sunlight and trees in gardens are just as valued as the realm of artificial intelligence and robots. Because regardless of which way we turn, I believe that both will co-exist so as to make our lives even more meaningful.” Suyong Joh, Publisher, B magazine, Issue 60, English edition, Page 9

And the people said amen!

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