Eye in the 80s

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Eye, The International Review of Graphic Design, published in the UK, is now 80 issues old. It was founded by Rick Poynor, now writer at large, and currently edited by John L. Walters, who joined as managing editor in 1997. He became editor in Fall 1999. In 2008 art director Simon Esterson, Hannah Tyson and Walters bought the magazine in a management buy-out from Haymarket. (Tyson made an amicable split from the company in 2010.)

I have written for Eye since number 1 and continue to admire the magazine’s ability to adjust to the new definitions of graphic design with smart and alluring journalism and commentary. Walters blends contemporary coverage, historical retrospection and current criticism in a manner that continues to grow (Eye 80 is the largest yet) in size and stature. I am using the occasion of this auspicious number 80 to reflect on the past and present with a few questions aimed at the esteemed editor:

There is an implied “turning point” in the number 80 (or any such round number). I disagree. Numbers and anniversaries are overrated. Every number is interesting. Every issue is important!

Okay. Well let’s say 80 issues of Eye are quite a milestone. Did you always believe that you’d hit that number? I always thought Eye was worth defending and protecting, even when I was just a part-time employee, rather than co-owner. But with a small magazine you worry about survival all the time.

What have been the most significant changes from the Rick Poynor years to your own tenure? I’ll leave their significance for others to judge, but there have been countless changes.We have a website (an archive going back 20 years, launched in 2002, which we’re redesigning for later this year). And there’s the Eye blog, launched in 2008.There are regular Eye contributors who were kids when Eye began. We have Twitter (315k followers!), Facebook, Flickr and even Vimeo/YouTube as extra channels of communication.There’s the wonder of e-commerce – the Eye shop, where you can buy copies and subscriptions online as easily as buying books on Amazon, https://bitly.com/Eyeshop.There are technological changes: color throughout, digital photography and platemaking; more efficient, greener printing at Pureprint. And the content always changes, because graphic design itself is always changing. We have always taken design history seriously, but the context within which we observe it keeps shifting, too, and there’s always new research (see Frederico Duarte’s Pan Am piece (Eye 73), or Sébastien Morlighem’s Excoffon article (Eye 79).

Another big change is that the ‘media sea’ in which we swim, with all its hazards and delights, predators and nourishment, is totally different to that of twenty years ago, and is likely to keep changing just as rapidly. However a few things haven’t changed, including its dimensions, so they all stack neatly on the bookshelf.

Obviously, those changes reflect what’s evolved in graphic design itself. How would you characterize those shifts? What’s changed in magazines isn’t necessarily the same as what’s changed in graphic design, though there are parallels. Technology evolves rapidly; human needs and interests change more slowly. What’s exciting is that our subject matter seems limitless. Designers and writers sometimes worry that the term ‘graphic design’ itself is becoming obsolete, and propose that we us ‘communication design’ or ‘graphic art’ or something else. (You see this anxiety reflected in the re-naming of courses that goes on within educational institutions), but I don’t buy that: ‘graphic design and visual culture’ does it for me!

A question about design criticism. Eye has been in the forefront. Do you believe design criticism has also evolved – and how? I’m not sure. As design evolves it naturally puts more challenges in the way of writers. We’re always keen to find new voices, people (designers and professional writers) with something to say.

The current Eye 80 is a quite expanded issue. At a time when some design magazines are folding or shifting to web only, what is your rationale for pushing full-steam as a print journal? Making a print journal is what we do, and it’s what our readers and advertisers expect, though we do put plenty of energy into the online channels. Furthermore, the medium of the picture magazine still has the ability to convey information and entertainment, and to excite and inspire readers, in a way that other forms don’t yet. Like the illustrated book, the picture magazine is a mature medium. (This, by the by, is the challenge for editorial websites and apps, which are generally at an earlier stage of development, of which more later.) And when that medium’s in the hands of a master art director such as Simon Esterson (and before him Nick Bell [27-57] and Stephen Coates [1-26], it’s what makes publishing Eye such an intense pleasure. Plus we don’t have some of the restrictions (pagination, paper quality, awkward ad placements, middle management, coverlines) that less independent magazines have.

Another point worth making about the confidence of Simon’s art direction: since the redesign [for Eye 72], we have used different typefaces for each issue of the magazine, though the grid remains the same. [From issues 41-72 the display typefaces changed with each issue.] What counts most is the content: the articles and their associated images, but each issue also demonstrates a typeface ‘in action’, through editorial design that frames and communicates that content.

Do you see Eye moving in yet another direction? We’ve made big changes in certain areas while remaining faithful to the original format of the magazine. But we’re always led by the content: what’s the story? where are the pictures? what would our readers like to learn about? what do they need to know about?

Our biggest concern right now is redesigning the website in a way that integrates the archive of articles from the printed magazine [eyemagazine.com] with the more ephemeral (or ‘tabloid’) approach of the Eye blog [blog.eyemagazine.com]. And yes, we know it’s long overdue. We have a huge archive (with its high search ranking) to preserve and expand, and we don’t have a big budget. Wish us luck.

What is your favorite, if I can use the word, thing about editing Eye? There are several things! Graphic design, as a subject, is always changing, and there’s always something new (to witness and to do). We bust a g
ut to make the latest issue, but by the time it’s going out to our readers, we’re already on with the next one, with a different set of themes and writers. It never feels like the same old same old. If I’d had to write out my job description, it would have changed every year I’ve been editing Eye.

I love the immediacy of Twitter, and the Eye blog posts we publish most days, and I also relish the slow, steady way we work up to a big, carefully researched piece, such as Martha Fleming’s article about Allan Fleming, or Rick Poynor’s overview of the dictionary format. It’s complementary mix of instant and delayed gratification.

What’s more, the design world is full of fascinating, dynamic, eccentric people, who make interesting work, and they all have stories to tell.

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