City of Sound is about cities, design, architecture, music, media, politics and more. Written by Dan Hill since 2001.

Hillman on magazines and newspapers, right and wrong

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There was an incredibly quote-worthy and insightful interview with the legendary designer David Hillman in the Online Press Gazette the other day. Now of Pentagram, Hillman’s CV includes design work on numerous newspapers and magazines, including Nova, the redesign of The Guardian in 1988, De Volkskrant, Il Sole 24ore, Le Matin De Paris, New Statesman & Society etc. And when I say interview, it’s more of a laser-guided rant, lashing out at the paucity of imagination in much contemporary thinking about news and print media and simultaneously hinting at gaps in the markets and recipes for success. It’s worth a read not just to those interested in newspapers and magazines, but also advertising, redesigns, cropping photographs, broadcast news, the creative process in general and so forth. I’ve filtered some choice morcels for you below, with my emphasis.

"Nova did stand out on the shelves, but it frightened people. Even though it was launched as a women’s magazine, the intent was to make it a nongender magazine. There were articles that we felt both men and women would want to read. One of the things agencies didn’t like about the magazine was that it couldn’t be pigeonholed. It wasn’t like Vogue. We had a high male readership, which was no good if you were pushing cosmetics. The ads were crap as well, that’s the interesting thing … There were probably fewer magazines around in those days, less but better. There was a battle; the Nova cover with only a pair of legs on caused a tremendous furore at IPC because no one had ever put anything on the cover but the face. My argument was, it was a fantastic picture that stood out on the bookshelves and sold extremely well."

"There was a magazine about insurance I did a long time ago, called Post. I thought, Christ how dull; do I really want to do it? I suddenly realised it could be the most fantastic photographic magazine that would ever be published, because what they’re talking about is disasters. The first issue we did was about insuring boxing events, so the cover was an amazing black and white fight image of Muhammad Ali. If I had to do it full-time, we could have turned it into Paris Match or Picture Post. There was so much good stuff to illustrate it."

"If I had the energy I’d do a magazine which has a little bit of everything in it. It’s one of the risks of the way the communications business has gone or is going; everything is segmented. It’s that dreadful word ‘brand’ that’s used all the time. And for me, everything’s too pigeonholed. There are no more what I call general interest title"

"It’s built into the British psyche that there is someone, the minute they hear it’ll be redesigned, they’ll be writing that letter. I tell my clients that one of the risks one runs is that it’s impossible to redesign anything, especially a magazine or newspaper, without upsetting somebody."

"There’s a bit of me that thinks The Daily Telegraph will end up as the winner in the newspaper design wars, because they’re the only ones who have stuck to their guns. The Telegraph, forget its politics, as a kind of sit down and read something that is concise and precise, it’s fantastic, because it hasn’t got 15 tonnes of supplement, most of which you throw away. The only stupid idea they had was giving The Sunday Telegraph that ridiculous masthead and making it look like the Woman’s Weekly my mother used to read — it had exactly the same typeface."

"It looks like the fucking Beano with pictures … I hate The Observer. I think it’s a total bloody insult. When I did buy a Sunday newspaper, it was always The Observer. Now it’s just colour and design and type 15 feet high for no apparent reason. I saw one of the supplements the other day and the cover gave this promise that the inside didn’t live up to …"

"I think the newspaper’s role is comment and fact, which for me, is much more the way French newspapers run their lines, especially in the way they report news — they always give opinion. That’s not to do with design, it’s to do with an editorial attitude. When you’ve got all that sorted out, you’ve got to look at how you put it all on a page."

Online Press Gazette: If you ask me … David Hillman


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