In 1995, Kit Hinrichs and Delphine Hirasuna took on an ambitious adventure with the Corporate Design Foundation (CDF), when they launched @issue: The Journal of Business and Design. It was immediately embraced by the design and business communities because it was the only publication that really addressed how design directly impacts businesses and their brands. It was also smartly designed by Hinrichs and printed on high-quality Potlatch (now Sappi) paper (Sappi also underwrote the costs of the publication).
The original @issue was published to wide acclaim among designers and corporate types.
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Hirasuna says, “At the start, Kit and I agreed that any case study we chose had to feature a company or brand that was considered a success both from a business and a design point of view. Also, design had to be the major contributor in making the product/brand a success. Given those restrictions, the field narrows considerably. Also, we wanted to include interviews with both the corporate managers and designers on the project. Through case studies, design classics, quizzes, CEO interviews and ‘how-to’ features, we wanted to show how design is very much a part of people’s lives.”
“The quizzes, particularly the brand alphabet and shape equity quizzes, were winners. It made people recognize that they a lot more about brands than they thought. So many designers and mar-com people told me that they posted the spread on their office wall and handed out at management meetings to make the case of good branding,” Hirasuna says.
@issue was highly coveted by designers and brand managers within major corporations. It validated the idea that successful businesses and design go hand-in-hand—that designers deserved a seat at the corporate table being part of the brand discussion, not relegated to a drawing board waiting for direction from an account manager.
This FedEx article appeared in the first edition of @issue, and Hirasuna still considers it one of the best articles they’ve done.
Unfortunately, in 2008, @issue eventually went the route of many print pubs—that is, out of print, due to the sagging economy. “Kit and I did not want to lose the equity built up in the @issue brand, so I suggested that we create an interim, digital magazine,” Hirasuna recalls. In May of 2009, the online version was born, sort of. “The first post says March, but that’s because I didn’t know we were live until someone posted a comment. I was stunned! It was like hosting a party and finding out that the guests were sitting in the living room while I vacuumed and dusted and shoved magazines into the closet,” Hirasuna says.
The first online edition of @issue was a huge learning curve for Hirasuna and Hinrichs. The grid, designed by Hinrichs, was too rigid for online use.
Of course, they ran into many hurdles launching that online version, from trying to use Hinrichs’ standard grid format (which didn’t work in an online setting), to finding and curating good content on a weekly basis. “The blog was an avocation, not a real project, so it took a back seat to any paying jobs,” Hirasuna admits. Part of the goal for the relaunch is to provide a format that can accept ads, so more voices can be brought in and the publication can be a bit more self-sustaining, rather than a side project for Hirasuna and Hinrichs. The new design allows for more flexibility, not only for ads, but for various content modes, as well.
When considering what’s new about @issue—besides the fact that the actual URL technically can’t use the “@” symbol in its main name—Hirasuna reflects on the past. “A decade ago, everyone followed three or four design magazines. They were the arbiters of good design. They were virtually the only source of design information. The only way designers could gain recognition for their work was by entering competitions and getting profiled in one of the magazines. The web has leveled the playing field. Anyone and everyone can post their work online, on YouTube and Vimeo. They can pin what they like on Pinterest, Tweet and blog. The ease in ‘exposing yourself’ has not made people more visible, but more anonymous. When there are thousands of design websites, blogs, posts out there from every part of the world, how do you get seen, how do distinguish yourself from everyone else?
The newly designed site will accommodate ads and content running along the side.
“With the relaunch of @issue, we hope we can delve into issues of interest to those in design communications and other creative endeavors. We want to show different design solutions, discuss trends, share insights, and raise awareness of the role of design in business success,” Hirasuna notes.