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

Monocle, week one

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Had a good talk with The Great Russell Davies on Saturday. At one point he cheekily asked, “So is that it for cityofsound then?” (Given Monocle work blitzing my already fairly patchy frequency of posting). A few recent posts hopefully suggest otherwise – and of course I will keep this thing going, by hook or by crook – but I’ve been working hard in the last week and a half. Haven’t looked at the internet at all, except the bit we were building. Apologies to you loyal readers as a result, but here’s what I did.

Week one, and one week to get something new online at A couple of hooks were planted in the magazine – in the Lego CEO interview and the Japanese Maritime Self Defence Force stories – so as it hit newsstands worldwide, there had to be something there. We also wanted to give a sense of direction to the online offering. And by the skin of our teeth, we did it. This first version of – a version 0.1, really – is a taster for what’s to follow. It doesn’t have any depth to the design and architecture, but does give some broad brushstroke indications of our approach.

There’s no magazine content up there to begin with. That’s due to our feeling that needs to have its own character, its own direction. We’ll be pushing audio and video, then photography and text, in that order. The magazine content will follow, to provide an immensely rich, cross-referenced supporting archive, but we’re keen to ensure that each medium plays to their own strengths. So the video content has been beautifully shot, is well edited and well produced, with the beginnings of title sequences – courtesy of filmmaker Adam Mufti, shooting the magazine covers through the printing press. We’re essentially setting up a broadcast network, without all the vestiges of a broadcast network.

Monocle ident

Our initial concentration has been as much on individual elements of new audio and video formats – running orders, idents, interstitials, new content types – as it has been on structure of the site. (I’m very much aware this bespoke content creation approach is deliberately swimming against the tide, in terms of a new media defining itself by chattering around ‘2.0’, but hey. I don’t feel the world needs five new section editors’ blogs, say, or another academically interesting but ultimately pointless mashup of feeds. I do have some ideas for geolocation-based feeds and subscriber services, later on, but we’ll see how this all pans out.) So there’s been no talk of platforms or applications thus far, and much of last week was consequently spent commissioning content production, getting it delivered, edited, encoded, uploaded as it was switching servers, domains, creating layouts etc. And thus Monocle 0.1 has a world premiere of the trailer for a new Murakami adaptation, All God’s Children Can Dance, and the sound of the number one show on Afghan radio, talked through by the presenter, Massood Sanjer; a fascinating interview with the CEO of Lego, Jørgen Vig Knudstorp; a photo slideshow from the Japanese Maritime Defence Force (JMSDF) story, with audio voiceover from the journalist, Fiona Wilson; as well as some tasters of our PDF-based global destination guides, 25×25. All done last week.

Monocle website

The site is being hammered somewhat as I write, so we’ll be upgrading our hosting asap. Also, a quick squint at Google Analytics reveals that most users have Flash 9 installed, so we’ll switch to the Flash 9 versions of those videos. (Flash 9’s pretty amazing, better quality, at less than half the size.) In the meantime, bear with us. Or check the version of the Lego Q&A that I uploaded to Google Video. I’m keen to explore these external syndication options, as you might imagine, having devised ‘the whole internet is your canvas’ strategy for the BBC recently, as part of the 2.0 work.

It’s been great to handle audio and video content again, actually. Ironically, I did very little of that at the BBC – an organisation ostensibly about those things – and hadn’t really edited audio or video for about five years, since my days at state51. There, working across numerous music industry clients – from Spice Girls to Chemical Brothers to Bryan Ferry to David Sylvian – the generic multimedia worker of the late ’90s would comfortably switch from Premiere to SoundEdit Pro to Photoshop to BBEdit. I thought those days had gone, until I had to edit the JMSDF slideshow audio down by half, found myself downloading Audacity, and spending a couple of hours in Sennheiser-land. I love those craft processes, actually, and though I don’t imagine I’ll be doing that much again, I did enjoy it. Likewise, to be thrown back into a world of codecs and bitrates, Sorensen Squeeze, and so on, was a rapid but rewarding learning curve. At state51, we ended up with a (very special) specialist for that kind of stuff – Matt Fretwell, who now works at Pretzel – but again, it’s just a rewarding craft process to be around.

So, that was the week that was. Many thanks to development agency Rufus Leonard, who have been stars, as have Slipmode on the post-production front. Also, at Winkreative, the designer Maurus Fraser, working with me and Richard Spencer Powell, Creative Director of Monocle.

Meanwhile, the paper version of Monocle has been hitting the shelves, generally to great acclaim. It’s been interesting to see where newsstands place the magazine. Seems they’re struggling with a publication which blurs boundaries between current affairs, business, culture, design etc. Here are some shots, also indicating how well the black cover stands out on the kiosk, I think.

Monocle in situ

Monocle in situ

Monocle in situ


14 responses to “Monocle, week one”

  1. Frankie Roberto Avatar

    Some very initial feedback:
    * Rolex international clock thing is naff.
    * Countdown to next issue is naff (though presumably just temporary?)
    * A / B / C / D / E branding is too weak – how am I supposed to remember what they all stand for?
    * Video player is nice although the focus on the print press seems a bit odd for an online format (although does lend some gravitas)
    * The yellow bold sans-serif font on black doesn’t look good.
    * Would be nice to clean up the URLs by removing the .php suffix.
    Look forward to seeing some more…


  2. Dan Avatar

    Cheers Frankie. Most of those things will come in time; as soon as we have any serious text content to work with, we’ll be going black on white. Though I think video works well on black. As for the A-E, you’ll get it, over time 🙂
    Most people like the countdown thus far, though it won’t always be that big, clearly. We do have print rhythms to work with and convey, though. As for the Rolex clocks, well we’re exploring bespoke advertising models rather than banner ads, put it that way.


  3. Fred Avatar

    Surely that means most early visitors have Flash 9? (Doesn’t matter to me, since my primary constraint here is bandwidth.)
    Anyway, congratulations on the site’s distinctive identity – I knew there was no way you would ape 2.0 conventions. And on producing such high quality, complementary content in short order. It’s all I can get, until you get your Kinshasa distribution sorted.
    Like Frankie I would lose the countdown (but keep the next issue date, of course).


  4. John C Avatar

    I’ll register a vote for the Rolex clocks. I’d much prefer to see bespoke ads than the fruit salad bedlam you usually get shouting at the margins of otherwise well-designed sites. Or worse, at The Independent and elsewhere, dumping windows and other graphics over the text.


  5. John C Avatar

    Monocle is still not in the shops around here yet (haven’t checked the city centre), including places that stock less popular mags like The Wire and Sight & Sound. The newsagents I asked hadn’t heard of it either. Grumblings were made about distributors and being “in the provinces” when I told them it was out elsewhere. I know it can be ordered but I rarely do that with mags.


  6. Dan Hill Avatar

    Cheers for the info, John. That’s very frustrating. This magazine distribution business – which isn’t really my side of the business – is bloody tricky. It should be in town – I’d guess Magma on Oldham St, Cornerhouse etc. It’s in WH Smiths in London, so could well be there too. We’ll try to get individual issue ordering via the website at some point, too.


  7. Hana Loftus Avatar

    I picked up a copy of Monocle at the Eurostar lounge before setting off on holiday last week – enjoyed the quality of the reporting immensely (though thought the ‘design’ section was surprisingly weak – pictures of buildings etc way too small) and spotted your name attached to it quickly too as I scanned the staff/contribs page for anyone I knew, thinking ‘ah…how fun it would be to work for them’….
    The site also looks great and amazing for such a short period of work. Good luck with it all – and with the clamour of people who will now be pestering you for a job!!


  8. adrian Avatar

    cool. just missing the rest of those 25X25 destination guides – particularly the Paris one..


  9. BrunoG Avatar

    (…) Overall, Monocle comes across as fresh, original, careful not to be influenced in its editorial choices by the media system’s herd logic (no stories on the “hot topic of the moment”, and zero — zero! — celebrities and people gossip). It strives to report from the ground (what other magazines do less and less) and it includes practically no commentary nor opinion columns (hence, no “celebrity bylines”). The mag is also well attuned to its target readership. (…)


  10. Steven (in London) Avatar

    Congrats on the website. I’m loving it. Just checked out the piece on COS. Great stuff. Keep up the amazing work.


  11. aboutthisboy Avatar

    Congratulations on a great first issue, I’ve posted up a brief review here:
    and can’t wait to see where you take the wonderful addition to the newsstands. (Oh and WH Smiths in Marylebone Station have got plenty of copies and in a sensible position, as I would expect!)


  12. Andy Avatar

    Just a great first issue. I really enjoyed it and subscribed right away. I’ve always thought that a ‘New Yorker for Europe’ could be a great success and Monocle is pretty much what I was hoping for.


  13. Clive Parfitt Avatar
    Clive Parfitt

    I bought the first issue of Monocle magazine as a try-out, having been an avid reader of Tyler Brule’s articles in weekend FT. It has good potential – similar to Intelligent Life from the Economist. My gripe is that an annual subscription costs 50% more than 10 individual issues….you must be joking, sorry. Clive Parfitt/London


  14. Ed Boal Avatar
    Ed Boal

    I just bought the December / January edition of Monocle and I cannot understand why have not chosen to buy it until now – it is stylistically superb, edgy, clean and interesting. I have read various comments on other websites who slate the magazine completely but some people just enjoy ridiculing publications I guess! I look forward to the edition on 17th January and this is definitely something that will be filling up my bookshelves. As a lawyer I love the content and as a design enthusiast the typography is salivating!


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