MacGuffin, The Magazine

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MacGuffin magazine is the product of Kirsten Algera, an Amsterdam-based design historian, and Ernst van der Hoeven, an architecture historian/artist. “Ten years ago, when Dutch government bodies still upheld high standards of quality,” Algera says, they worked together at a unique design department: KPN Art & Design (Royal Dutch Postal and Telephone Services). While doing her PhD research on graphic design and subcultures in the Netherlands, Algera collaborated with van der Hoeven on projects at the intersection of art, design and crafts. They worked together on the magazine Club Donny, a biannual journal about nature in the urban environment, co-founded by van der Hoeven ( They also created Indigo Cascade with Black Hmongh weavers from Vietnam (nominated for the Dutch Design Awards last year). I just received a copy of MacGuffin and was interested to speak with Algera about it.


What was the trigger for MacGuffin?Making long rides on a moped through the north of Vietnam in 2013, in search of local indigo dyers and hemp weavers, we talked about the lack of platforms to investigate the relationship between design and crafts, to discuss no-name design, and to tell (personal) stories about the everyday life objects.

Most of the design conferences and magazines we know focus on (technological) innovation, iconic designs, portfolios and the endless stream of new objects. We felt design is a part of a much wider story when it enters our day-to-day life. We wanted to discuss the ‘Life of Things’ rather than the ‘Design of Things.’

We were also fascinated by the fact that even in retail there is a tendency to focus more and more on finding, and less on designing. Like in Japan, where Muji is reinventing itself as ‘Found Muji,’ selling found products—in other words already existing, instead of new designs.

After crashing into a Vietnamese water buffalo with our moped (this is no joke), we decided to make a magazine that could offer an alternative approach to describing design, using objects as plot devices, like the MacGuffins in Hitchcock films. We imagined that each magazine would be in the geostationary orbit of an object, using that object as a starting point to explore the stories (historical, cultural, political, visual, etc) it generates.


In an era of digital everything, why print?Since our goal was to make a magazine that combines longer texts and visual essays, we thought it a better medium than ephemeral internet. And because our objective is to make a thematic anthology, it would be nice to collect them. But most of all: We have a background in graphic design, and we love printed magazines and the craftsmanship of printing. We enjoy reading and rereading them, touching them, keeping them. Actually we were inspired by Nest: A Quarterly of Interiors.

What is your uniqueness in the indie zine world?I’m not sure if we’re unique, but we hope that MacGuffin combines an ‘indie’ focus on strong graphic design, independent content and wit, a ‘bookish’ emphasis on reflection with a ‘glossy’ esthetic in visual essays. In addition MacGuffin tries to offer different and interesting angles from a variety of contributors: designers, craftsmen, short-story writers, historians, photographers, researchers, illustrators, collectors and so on.


Beds is this first theme. Why beds?First of all, it’s a rich base for personal stories, and an object that leads to the most varied contemplations on The Life of Things. But interestingly enough, it’s also an object that designers tend to leave well alone (the ratio of beds to chairs at the average design fair is 1:1000s), and, perfect for a first issue: the beginning and end of everything.

What other themes are capturing your fancy?The rope, the cabinet, the window, the stain and the spoon.

What’s next?Issue 2, The Window, will be published in December 2015. From curtains to window frames to windowsills, and from pastoral views to display typography to Red Light Districts. We are also in contact with some universities and art schools about research preparations (as we did in 2014 for the bed issue with students at Istanbul Bilgi University).


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About Steven Heller

Steven Heller is the co-chair of the SVA MFA Designer /Designer as Author + Entrepreneur program, writes frequently for Wired and Design Observer. He is also the author of over 170 books on design and visual culture. He received the 1999 AIGA Medal and is the 2011 recipient of the Smithsonian National Design Award.View all posts by Steven Heller →