Friday, 20 April 2012

BD redesign still looking good 3 months on

Three months into the redesign, and the BD team continue to produce fresh layouts each week.
You can see how the large format suits bold spreads like the Kings Cross Concourse and Doha Cityscape features, enabling the subbing team led by Lisa Hendriks to pack in the detail without losing the drama.

Fly fishing in a town near you

The May issue of Fly Fishing & Fly Tying leads with The 10 Best Urban Trout Rivers.
Also some fantastic featured fly's with great names like the Twitcher, Deadly Daddy, Norski Lad, and our favourite, the Hackle-less Elk Hair Caddis.

Monday, 2 April 2012

Interview with Paul McNamee, editor of the Big Issue

Update: Paul won the 2013 BSME Editor of the Year (Lifestyle) in November 2013

You can't miss the big type and bright yellow cover. The latest Big Issue features Bauhaus inspired typography and a cut out of George Orwell to sell a feature on the North-South divide. It's so eye catching it stops you in your tracks.

I've been a fan of the magazine for a few years. I'm impressed by the way the team, headed up by editor Paul McNamee and art director Mark Neil, knock out the weekly with covers that are clear, bold and edgy. With a tiny budget the small staff sells stories with a unique voice showing what can be achieved when a magazine has a clear editorial plan and a team that work well together.

In January, the weekly underwent arguably its biggest makeover since its launch. McNamee introduced the idea of 'highbrow populism', aiming to mix the analysis of a news weekly with the Big Issue's wit, irreverence and readability.

McNamee worked with Ingrid Shields to produce the new look.

High profile illustrators like Andre Carrilho and Noma Bar were introduced in a pared down design chassis that uses Knockout as the workhorse typeface.

The new covers dispensed with multi subjects and newsstand gizmos and led with one subject, illustrated in a bold graphic style using bright colours and a single cover line.

The magazine looked great but I wasn't entirely convinced by the sometimes cryptic conceptual covers. The tasters had a 'set-up' but no 'delivery', leaving too much open to interpretation.

Highbrow shouldn't mean difficult; complex subjects can still be communicated in a way that doesn't need decoding.

As the team got to grips with the new design you could see the covers developing and the language getting sharper and less ambiguous, culminating in the highly effective Orwell issue.

I spoke to Paul McNamee to find out more about the thinking behind the relaunched Big Issue.

What brought about the move away from a news stand format to a single subject cover format?

It was increasingly clear that in order to become a voice again on the street, a street that was becoming evermore crowded with different titles, we had to be a poster as much as a magazine front-cover. This was the hardest thing for me. I worked with Ingrid Shields on the redesign and we worked to make the covers distinctive, cleaner, more immediate and with what would become a unique look. I had to stop thinking of old rules and magazine conventions. Once I rationalised this, and also realised that the cover had to reflect the design changes inside, it was pretty liberating. We had to make covers work for the Big Issue, not the way the industry prescribed. It's tough to attract attention on the street. If we can get people looking at the mag cover, and become drawn to it they're likely to approach. We don't have browsers - we have to attract for purchase immediately.

What is the criteria for Big Issue cover subject

That it has something to say. That we are producing active rather than passive covers. That we find people, personalities and subjects that engage with our readers or find a way a new way to ask new things about zeitgeist talker subjects. There must be a wit in the way the thing is executed. The way we say things is as important as the person on it. On a rare occasion, we have celebs, but even these need to work hard - like the McCartney cover. Last week I was, for instance, looking at a way of dealing with what I felt was the social inequality of a governmental plan to cap wages for civil servants at different levels in different parts of the country. It felt like playing rotten politics and stamped on social mobility. It was a Big Issue type of issue, but one I was reluctant to do in the obvious way because it could become dull worthy and cumbersome.

Then, I realised there was a book out that retraced Orwell's Road to Wigan Pier steps. I began to wonder what Orwell would think if he went out now and what he'd make of the coalition. He is a Big Issue type of chap - smart, campaigning, not bean munching liberal but angry at inequality and always looking to prick the pomposity of those in power who feather their nests. He's a name our readers will recognise. The cover began to form and I'm lucky that Mark Neil, our art editor, gets it when I begin to talk in these ways and works out what is needed - whether it's him to create or an illustrator to come up with an image. Of course, sometimes, we get ahead and get a shoot, but I like the freedom to make changes according to what is happening. We're a weekly. We need to feel like a weekly.

Multi subject covers hit different areas of interest, Do you think you miss out on readers who aren't interested in that week's cover subject?

It's a risk, however, it's always a calculated risk. I like the risk taking of Bloomsberg Businessweek. They are coming up, consistently, with the best, smartest without being smartarsed, must-see covers of any weekly just now.
And they are constructed around business stories! What I took from them was that the cover was an end in itself. I wanted to build anticipation in the reader as to what The Big Issue would do the next week. And I think a single issue cover also shows some confidence - if you can start to bring the reader along they'll start to trust that you have made the right choice for the cover.

Could you comment on how important it is to win over the vendors?

We have to carry vendors first and foremost. They buy the magazine, then go out and sell it. They have to have faith that they can shift the product. It's why we change colours radically week to week, for instance. Vendors then know that regular readers will know they won't have that particular mag and they'll stop and get it. It sounds over-simplistic, but it is imperative that we make such changes.

How is the new look going down with readers?

In terms of sales, we're noticing positive growth in London and south Wales, amongst others. The smart distribution teams we have there are helping build in those areas, but then we're starting to see a lot more chatter about the magazine online and across Twitter. We're getting people tweet frequently that they liked such and such a cover, bought the mag and were pleased and surprised by what they found inside. There is prejudice about The Big Issue. People think they know what it is. We're breaking that down and presenting a magazine that I know people will engage with and enjoy when I can get it into their hands. I've talked about a highbrow populist approach. That informs every decision.


The Big Issue was launched in 1991 by John Bird and provides an opportunity to the vulnerably housed and the homeless to make their own money.