Newsweek will end its print edition on December 31, but Peter Bil’ak of Typotheque is starting one soon, once he raises 18,000 Euros by November 15. The magazine, Works That Work, is a design magazine with no portfolio presentations, “just pure inspiration from the real world.” It will showcase examples of unexpected creativity from around the globe, like the legendary urinals at the Amsterdam airport which reduce cleaning costs by up to 85 percent, or a documentary about how reducing traffic signs actually improves road safety. (Info on the magazine and the online fundraising for it can be found here.)
Nonetheless, since I have realistic skepticism about magazine start-ups, I recently asked Peter some follow-up questions about this venture.
Why start a new magazine in this age of over saturation of design magazines?
I consider myself a curious and well-read person, but I rarely read design periodicals these days. They seem fairly predictable, and after a while you recognize the contributors, interviewees, themes, etc. This is not necessarily a critique of design magazines, but an observation that increasing professionalism narrows one’s perspective; it deepens knowledge in one particular area at the expense of ignoring other possibly interesting fields.
There is also a personal motivation: for the past couple of years I immersed myself in the subjects of type design and language and now I try reverse the trend of over-specializing, hoping to extend the boundaries of my activities, to make my work more open and collaborative. I’d like to learn new things, not working in-depth only, defining the niches, but looking at the breadth of the profession, keeping the perspective of an outsider to design.
So I tried to conceive a magazine that I’d like to read myself, which is much harder than thinking of some anonymous readership.
What differentiates Works That Work from other case-study mags?
The magazine will look at the margins of design. One of the ideas of the magazine is to demonstrate that creativity is not the exclusive domain of artists or designers but that we are surrounded by creativity in daily life. They are so much embedded with our daily routines that we rarely pay attention to this kind of creative thinking. All human activity is designed and the most successful examples are fairly invisible. I’d like to highlight them, and by doing so change the perception of seemingly mundane objects and activities. I mentioned some examples in the introductory video; another example of the invisible work in the first issue is considering the work of the literary translator, which negotiates the relationship of the writer and the reader. This is not something considered by traditional design periodicals, as there are no spectacular images to show, yet the process of the work may be quite relevant. So there will be a lot of unrelated subjects; the pilot issue will also include a transcript of a theatre play about artificial languages.
You’re not showing portfolios, but are you featuring the designer as well as the design?
We are not overly dogmatic about avoiding work of designers. It’s just that in many cases the designer of some presented pieces is unknown. Looking at the pilot issue—there will also be one straightforward design contribution—showing a poster of a well known designer, and presenting the process, over 200 steps, that it required to design it. Seeing this amount of work changes the way most people will look at this poster again. In short, Works That Work is not about celebrating individuals, but about understanding work and its motives.
How will you distribute the magazine?
One of the reasons why some traditional publications struggle to survive is their reliance on existing distribution systems which eat a large portion of the cover price. With Works That Work we intend not only to publish, edit, and design a print and online magazine, but also to create our own distribution channel. The magazine will be made affordable, and sell primarily online on WorksThatWork.com. We are hoping to create a direct relationship with the reader without any intermediate parties. This will also allow us to use the best of each medium, online and print, closely integrating them. There might be some selected bookstores stocking the magazine, but over 90 percent of the sales should be made online.
What is your goal or wish for this journal?
It’s very hard to create long-term goals, but I just wish to be as excited about this magazine in a couple of years as I am now.