Robert Priest and Grace Lee have produced a wealth of smart, elegant magazines, including O, The Oprah Magazine and the late, great Condé Nast Portfolio. They’ve made their mark in the digital world as well, creating the award-winning O, The Oprah Magazine app, interactive pieces for The Fiscal Times, and, most recently, Turnstile, a digital game-day app for Kentaro. They’ve designed books, websites, and corporate identities. Priest + Grace is good—as you can see by my effusive praise (and link to their website).
For further evidence, have a look at Priest + Grace’s new business and design endeavor, Howler, a print magazine about soccer for the North American audience. Maybe it’s the oversize format (10 by 12 inches), or perhaps it’s the abundance of illustration, or the dynamic type treatments. The only soccer figures I know are Pelé and that Beckham fellow, but I’m ready to subscribe.
Recently, I had the opportunity to talk to Robert Priest about Howler, which had its premier issue funded through Kickstarter. I learned a little about start-ups and lot about soccer.
Why soccer? Why now?
Since we founded Priest + Grace in 2009, Grace and I have been trying to start a magazine about global football. I knew European football from my early years in London, and we traveled there and to Manchester and Liverpool to watch games and talk with writers and editors about helping us. After coaching my kids at soccer and watching the ‘academy’ and ‘travel’ players across the East Coast and down in Virginia and Florida, I could see a groundswell of passion for the game that wasn’t apparent even five years ago. It is growing rapidly, and in Seattle, for example, they draw 50,000 people for every game. That would be the sixth biggest attendance in the Premier League in England, which is widely regarded as one of the top three leagues in the world.
Just over a year ago, we met two editors in New York, George Quraishi and Mark Kirby, who had the idea of creating a publication about soccer from the perspective of the North American fan. We decided to merge and try a hybrid magazine that met both challenges.
The popularity of the game has never been in question, but the interest of the North American fans seems to have increased immensely. In fact, you can see a more complete selection of games here on television than you can in Europe.
Can you talk about the Howler audience? They seem urban, upscale, and pretty cool. You are reaching them so successfully through the design.
I think they’re smart, educated, and open to reading about all aspects of the game. We agreed at the outset that this wasn’t an action-photograph kind of publication. There would be a few iconic photographic moments, but we would concentrate on having longer, more contemplative pieces of writing. This, coupled with some opinionated illustration, was our call to action. As it turns out, you don’t really miss the action because the design and typography are so aggressive and unbridled.
Howler was funded through Kickstarter. Did you decide to fund it independently to maintain a greater stake in its design and editorial? Can you tell us a little about plans to expand on the brand?
Yes, we financed the magazine’s first issue with a successful Kickstarter campaign that got us off the ground. The agreement we have is that the four founders are responsible for the way the magazine looks and reads—and that, of course, is completely liberating. We rarely argue about the look, but George, Mark, and Graham [Parker, the magazine’s senior editor] will certainly weigh in if they feel strongly about something. We have had lengthy discussions on how to handle the issue of racism, for example.
The magazine is a quarterly. If we are successful, we may consider publishing more frequently or having a daily online presence. Grace has designed a brilliant site, and we’ll have it up running to full capacity someday.
You are a prolific, legendary publication designer. How did this project differ to your experience designing O, The Oprah Magazine and your GQ and Esquire days?
This is very different. It’s a labor of love for all four of us. Just finding the photographs takes me long hours of research. We always want to find the perfect image, even if it’s just a thumbnail of someone who played in Italy 60 years ago. You alluded to my experience, and that has been invaluable. I think the magazine will get to a point when it can be judged against the perfectionism of Susan Casey, Jim Nelson, and David Grainger. A long way to go, but we’re trying!
It’s crucial to stay relevant in the digital era, and to that end Priest + Grace is venturing into the world of apps and social media. What’s it like to move fluidly between both worlds?
We created the app for O, The Oprah Magazine. We have designed game-day apps for sports events. We’re working on several more apps right now for vastly different fields. It is very apparent that many progressive companies are focusing on mobile apps for the phone and iPad to the virtual exclusion of a web-based presence. Magazines seem like old news, don’t they? And yet Howler is our reaction to that. We wanted to energize the medium. In fact, you could argue that we’re in a fascinating transition from the more traditional magazines to younger, quirkier, experimental publications. Just look at Coverjunkie for the diversity. It’s fantastic.