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How did you get started in editorial design? My first taste of editorial was at Concrete Design in Toronto, which looked after the art direction and design of Azure, a great magazine on art, culture and design. When I was asked to work on Azure, I felt very lucky, but I also felt immense pressure. Thankfully, with the guidance and leadership of Melissa Agostino, Diti Katona and John Pylypczak, I didn’t mess it up too badly! It was incredibly fun and different than corporate design work. There is something about a periodical, with its consistent revisiting, that is exciting to come back to each time. Azure was like my high school sweetheart; that was where my love for editorial design was born, and where I learned that editorial design could be fun, lyrical, surprising and smart.

My marriage to editorial happened at the New York Times Magazine. From edit to research to photo to design, everyone was incredibly talented in her or his role, and there was a mutual respect across departments. I was in awe of how everyone came together to make this beautiful and compelling thing each week.

You defined the creative vision at the California Sunday Magazine. How did you work to set it apart from other titles? Had I not gone through the experiences I did, California Sunday would look very different today. California Sunday is a byproduct of all my experiences—and therefore, all the incredible designers and mentors I’ve had the pleasure of working with. They helped shape the way I look at and approach design.

Over my career, I’ve noticed that inexperience tends to lead to imitation. Experience, on the other hand, tells you that imitation is safe—and lazy. My goal for California Sunday was to get noticed, not blend in. And for me, being different needed to be rooted in reason. So, when my editor, Douglas McGray, described that he wanted the magazine to feel “cinematic,” that’s what I set out to do. That was my reason. All of the things that make the magazine feel special are in the service of making sure it reflects that vision.

What excites you about magazine design right now? It’s never stagnant. Every magazine’s goal is to be better than its previous issue. If you coast, you’ll die—unfortunately, quite literally. With that survivalist mind-set, you’re bound to see some exciting things you’ve never seen or experienced before. Once you break out of traditions and conventions, great things will happen. No one is going to survive just making the same thing they’ve been making for the last few decades. The more that magazines can focus on offering something unique for their readers amidst a media landscape that offers a lot already, the greater the likelihood that they’ll thrive. Of course, that’s often easier said than done. Any decision to change involves risk and mitigating it.

Bring the story to life and do it in surprising ways.”

What’s a recent story you worked on with photography director Jacqueline Bates that you’re especially proud of? Last winter, we published our first-ever photography issue based on the theme of home. It was an epic and ambitious undertaking, with our photo department—Jackie Bates and Paloma Shutes—commissioning 34 photographers. Plus, there was an audio component that enabled readers to listen to the people they were seeing. We also produced an accompanying photo exhibition at the Aperture Foundation’s renowned photo gallery, which gave visitors the opportunity to walk through—and listen—to the issue. It wasn’t any one thing, but rather the scale and totality of the whole project that made it particularly special. That issue had so much depth—it felt alive.

What does it feel like to switch gears and adapt your creative vision to a “live magazine”? It’s a different format and medium with different parameters and rules, but the sensibility and philosophy is the same: bring the story to life and do it in surprising ways. Sometimes, we assume people are limited in their capabilities because of working in a particular medium, but we forget that there’s a core set of skills that is often more valuable than the skills associated with the medium alone. My art directors, Annie Jen and Supriya Kalidas, had never worked with storytelling in a live format before. Now they’re pros—and I attribute that to their experience in making magazines.

How do you keep the California Sunday Magazine and Pop-Up Magazine audiences on their toes? Making surprise a goal in everything we do. Not just in terms of stories, but with design, imagery and overall experience. Nowadays, experiences are prevetted, reviewed, hearted, favorited, starred and thumbs-upped so we can make sure we don’t waste our time and money. Your leisure time is valuable. So we want to make sure you gain something from spending time with us.

What’s the most exciting magazine cover you’ve seen recently? I have a very high bar for type covers. This may not be a popular thing to say, but I don’t find them effective, unless what they’re saying is particularly compelling. George Lois set the bar when he put “Oh my God—we hit a little girl.” on the cover of Esquire. But Gail Bichler, Jessica Walsh and Matt Willey nailed it with the “He Said/She Said.” cover for the New York Times Magazine’s December 17, 2017 issue. Timely, poignant, smart, direct, simple and provocative. That paintbrushed period was the best detail.

What’s one thing you wish you knew when you started your career? You don’t know yourself as well as you think. I thought I’d spend my career designing logos and identities. The idea of encapsulating the whole ethos of a company visually seemed like such an enticing challenge. But I learned that I suck at it. I wasn’t as good as I wanted myself to be. It was a harsh revelation. But coming to terms with your own limitations is important, because it points you closer to where you should be. I never thought I’d enjoy editorial design as much as I do. And it’s not so much magazine-making perse—it’s wrapping design around good stories which can be in a number of mediums. That said, always keep yourself open. Don’t pigeonhole yourself. You never know what opportunities will come along and make you rethink who you think you are.

Leo Jung is the creative director for Pop-Up Magazine and the California Sunday Magazine, which won the National Magazine Award for Excellence in Design in 2017 and the Society of Publication Designers’s Magazine of the Year award in 2017 and 2018. He is the former design director at WIRED and deputy art director at the New York Times Magazine. His work has been recognized by the Art Directors Club, the Type Directors Club and the Society of Publication Designers.

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