Launching a magazine isn’t easy, but it needn’t be inordinately difficult. Dan Grabham gets some tips from the people behind a recently-launched fashion magazine
Starting a new magazine can be a daunting task, whether you're a small group of designers or a large company such as Future, which publishes Computer Arts Projects. There are benefits - you have a clean slate, after all - but it's a good idea to make sure you're beginning in the right manner. After all, what you're creating is unlikely to be a one-off; it will probably be the first in a series and will set out the stall for the issues to follow.
In this feature (you'll need to plan some of those), we take a look at the launch of a new magazine by the London College of Fashion and give you some advice to think about for your own magazine projects. Called Pigeons & Peacocks, the magazine is designed to attract new students and, as you'll discover, a lot more besides.
Hannah Clayton is marketing manager at the college, where she has worked for eight years following a career in theatre and broadcast journalism. She explains the raison d'tre behind the project. "It's part of my current role to promote London College of Fashion to prospective students and other stakeholders, including industry contacts and supporters of the college," she explains. "One of the ongoing challenges we face is in creating innovative ways to reach our students, to get them excited about coming to London to study here whilst also managing their expectations."
The college decided to work with an external design agency - Why Not Associates - on the project. Daniel Freytag worked alongside Geoff Williamson on the design of the magazine. "We called it Pigeons & Peacocks because we wanted to introduce the idea of contrasts and different personalities. It's also kinda weird and quirky," explains Freytag. The team asked a final year student, John William, to edit the new magazine. William has now graduated from the college's BA (Hons) Fashion Promotion degree where he specialised in Fashion Journalism, and was working on his final projects while also editing Pigeons & Peacocks.
"The intention was to excite and challenge whilst focusing on the global fashion and lifestyle industries," explains Clayton. "It should appeal to anyone interested in fashion, culture and London. Furthermore, it should reflect both London and the college's diversity, engaging with the dichotomous 'glamour and grime' of our capital city. It is not an obvious marketing tool with no obvious branding, although it aims to celebrate the work of our students, alumni and existing staff."
Unless you're very lucky, time is always an issue with any magazine, and Pigeons & Peacocks was no exception. In this case, William says the timeline of the launch provided some challenges. "Because I came to the magazine fairly late in the day, I had to turn the concept and content round within two to three months. I wanted the first issue of this magazine to be as loud and vibrant as possible." Indeed, when launching your magazine you'll need to think carefully about future issues. It's no good giving yourself six weeks to do the first issue, if you have two to do the second and no idea how to maintain the standard of the first issue - or how you get the content.
The different parts of the magazine have a very different design but, as with any good magazine, there are similar aspects throughout. One thing that is noticeable is the huge variety of colours and layout styles. "I wanted the first issue of this magazine to be as loud and vibrant as possible," says William. "When we began we had a rough idea of what the magazine should look like: raw and energetic, with the use of vibrant and contrasting colour," adds Freytag. "The creative process was a bit of a rollercoaster ride," he says. "We had a rough idea of what we wanted to say and what it should look like: the grid, selection of unusual fonts, and treatments.
"We also wanted to play with the scale of elements on the page. With regard to fonts, we chose ones that allowed us enough flexibility to change the pace and tone of voice for each article. However we didn't want the magazine to feel like a pick-and-mix of font styles. We settled on three that we could treat and manipulate in various ways to serve each article." As for the grid used, Freytag says they wanted flexibility. "We used a three-column grid throughout. However, if something didn't work within this structure we weren't afraid of breaking some rules. The design process was very fluid and evolved on a day-to-day basis. We were conscious of allowing each article room to breathe. If we needed to bend or break the grid, then we did. An important part of the process was to see the mag as a whole, and not as individual spreads."
The size of the magazine was based squarely around budget. Freytag says the team wanted to avoid using bog-standard A4, and so decided to get the most they could from a B1 (707x1000mm) paper sheet. "It was important for our client to be as 'green' as possible. When we realised the scale of the printing and the amount of paper involved, our choice in using recycled and FSC papers was really satisfying," he adds. "We also wanted to use uncoated papers whenever possible to give the mag a rawer and less polished feel. Using uncoated papers also allowed us to increase the bulk of the magazine, making it feel more substantial."
The focus of your own magazine is also important - something you need to clearly define before you start. "From the outset we decided that we didn't want to create another slick, polished version of other industry magazines out there," adds Freytag. "It also wasn't about the college going on about how great its courses are. We wanted Pigeons & Peacocks to reflect the energy and dynamic nature of the individuals studying at LCF." To provide structure, William separated Pigeons & Peacocks into generic sections such as culture, fashion, accessories and beauty. "We tried to turn magazine conventions on their head. In the fashion section we have a photo shoot that features cardboard cut-outs of the current collections; in the accessories section we have a feature about fake handbags; and in the beauty section there is a piece about perfumes that incorporate smells like shit and semen," explains William. "The ideas for most of these features just came to me when I was thinking about London, opposites, and a different point of view. I hope the final result is quite subversive." The finished magazine features interviews with Giles Deacon and cult jewellery designer Tatty Devine.
Time clearly had a major impact on the gestation of Pigeons & Peacocks. "Because of the short timescale, this gave all of the content - and the design process - a great deal of spontaneous energy," says William. "Working with Why Not Associates was excellent. The art direction was a fantastic collaboration between me, Daniel Freytag and Geoff Williamson. Because I had such a specific point of view with the editorial content, I was quite bold and bossy with the design side, but Daniel and Geoff are excellent designers and put up with my demands."
Getting hold of contributions can be tricky on every magazine, whether it's a community pamphlet or a consumer magazine, especially if those contributing are doing so on a voluntary basis. "Getting people on-board proved the toughest challenge," agrees Freytag. You need to know how to handle your contributors: set deadlines, maybe even false ones, and have contacts in reserve that can turn around quick work when others drop out.
A challenge on any magazine is with its key selling ground - the cover, and Pigeons & Peacocks was no exception. "For the cover we faced quite a dilemma," muses William. "Although personally I find a face on a magazine cover to often be the most powerful lure to a new reader, we couldn't really have one person on ours: too much would be projected onto them. This person would have become a symbol of London College of Fashion and therefore would alienate massive groups of people who felt like they didn't relate to them," explains William. "I ended up scribbling in my notebook, going back to what London means to me. Starting with cheeky rhyming couplets (and also not so rhyming ones) I wrote a kind of rap/ nonsensical poem about Pigeons & Peacocks; it worked well, and I decided it had enough energy (and mystery) to be the cover. I'm so pleased with it now: it's quite vulgar but I'm quite into that. I think it really draws people in."
Clayton is also enthusiastic about the choice of cover. "Our decision to go with a typographical cover is related to our ongoing efforts in ensuring that people recognise that London College of Fashion is about much more than clothes design," she says. And she has also been pleased about reactions to the finished magazine. "I'm very pleasantly surprised by how it's been received. It marks a turn in how we communicate with students, and people have been wowed - which is what we were after!" William is equally pleased: "I'm very happy with how issue one turned out. It's extremely high energy and candid. Looking forward to issue two, I'm thinking about ideas of taste: 'good' and 'bad.' I'm excited about creating utterly vulgar features."
"It was a risk to go in such a different direction and we are looking forward to developing it," adds Clayton. "My advice to anyone is take a risk and you'll be surprised how willing people are to contribute and support you." Freytag's advice for those wanting to produce a magazine is similar. "Give yourself enough time, and don't get carried away with how it looks - that's easy. What it says and how it is said are much more important."