Jessica Rose: An Unconventional Approach to Design

Getting into the design field is not always a direct path, and Jessica Rose a perfect example.

The Canadian designer and artist is the art director of Wallpaper magazine in London. Having designed more 100 magazine covers—from Toronto Life to The Sunday Times Magazine—Rose is working on the graphics for a new book with Laurence King publishers called How to Sweep a Room.

She’s also part of our 100 Designers Everyone Should Know list (stay tuned for that to be revealed soon on HOWDesign.com) for her unconventional approach to design, which she talked to us about from her London office.

It all began for Rose in the early 2000s, where she was working as a curator at one of Toronto’s most well-known cultural institutions, The Drake Hotel. Rose was working under the mentorship of Carmen Dunjko, a famed Toronto graphic designer and creative director of Pod 10 Art & Design, who is known for having more than 400 awards to her credit for her work with Club Monaco, Holt Renfrew and The Canadian Cancer Association.

As an artist, Rose got into graphic design by accident, making all the posters and visual material for her project The Movement Movement, a performance art piece that began in 2006 and involved hundreds of participants jogging around museums. “Graphic design has always been a part of the way to communicate and tell stories,” she says. “Thinking of graphic design beyond the page is definitely part of it.”

Then came a surprise—in 2008 she was offered the job of an art director position at Toronto Life magazine, one of Canada’s largest monthly lifestyle magazines. “I was on the path of contemporary art, so it was a bit of a surprise,” Rose says. “I wasn’t trained in design at all; I come from an art background, but I still had mentors who were creative directors, who specialized in editorial design. My introduction to graphic design was through that lens.”

Rose was at a crossroads—at the same time she was offered to take the art director job at Toronto Life, she was accepted into a masters of fine art program at the California College of the Arts in Oakland. “I had no intention of going into design,” Rose says. “I decided not to go to art school; it was a new direction in my life with magazines. I knew the opportunity would never come again, being an art director, so I delayed doing my masters.”

Things got off to a big start, but Rose had a lot of catching up to do. “I fell in love with the magazine-making process,” she said. “I’d never worked at a magazine before, so there was a chance I wasn’t going to succeed and lose my job in the first six months.”

The first magazine cover Rose designed was on the topic of gun violence in Toronto. Rose laid out an orderly set of bullets representing the number of people who had died. “The cover completely tanked on the newsstand; it still is to this day the worst-selling issue of Toronto Life,” Rose says. “It was a concept cover. But it won a National Magazine Award, and that’s how things started.”

Rose wound up in London after getting her masters in fine art at Goldsmith’s College and working as a freelance designer. While doing her MFA at Goldsmith’s College in London, she started working at The Sunday Times Magazine, which took a different approach to its covers.

The Sunday Times Magazine is attached to a newspaper, so you don’t have to worry about newsstand sales,” she says. “If there is not enough yellow on the magazine cover, you don’t risk 50,000 less people buying it. There’s almost a witchcraftery around newsstand sales; it frees you up to what a magazine cover can be.”

One of Rose’s most popular covers includes a cover story of how Princess Diana’s life in the paparazzi relates to Rihanna’s self-controlled image on Instagram. Rose created a face on the cover that was half Diana, half Rihanna. “When this cover came out, Rihanna was in London and ended up tweeting that the magazine was sitting in front of her hotel room door and she loved the cover,” Rose says. “Since Rihanna Tweeted the cover, the story got a lot of buzz and millions of people saw it.”

What makes a good magazine cover? According to Rose, it’s one that resonates and communicates with a lot of people. “The best thing is making an image that becomes a poster that gets [a] lot of power as an image in pop culture,” she says.

It’s quite a coincidence that Rose has wound up as art director of Wallpaper, as it’s a return to her art background, as the magazine features artists, designers and architects. “It’s what we’re around all the time,” she says.

A lot of lifestyle magazines would opt to have a person making eye contact and looking friendly and using the color yellow on a cover, but Rose has opted out of that approach at Wallpaper. “Telling the story of the brand might be more important than using yellow and italics,” she says.

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