We speak to two creative agencies about why it's still important to design their own magazines in-house.
At Digital Arts, we’ve received quite a few magazines (yes, actual tangible copies) designed and produced in-house by creative agencies and branding studios.
The publications serve as a way to showcase recent work, but also to emulate the agencies' overall brand aesthetic, philosophy and values into the physical realm.
Each agency approaches magazine design in very different ways – some are image heavy, others philosophically enriching – but the craftsmanship and execution is always perfected, and definitely doesn’t go undervalued.
Creating a magazine may be seen as futile, even unprofitable for an agency, but in a society where receiving a letter in the mail is a practical novelty, perhaps the experience of flicking through the pages of a magazine is craved even more than ever.
But aside from serving as a personal project and promotional tool, we wanted to know why creative agencies (especially digital ones) still invest precious time and (small) budgets into creating a (real-life, gasp) magazine, and if it’s still necessary in an age where almost all creative work manifests as an interactive digital experience that isn’t easily translated onto static paper.
Moreover, what does an in-house produced publication offer to press, clients, aspiring grads – or anyone interested – that an agency’s website doesn’t already provide? And who exactly is the magazine aimed at?
London-based design agency Human After All and global digital agency AKQA tell us how and why they design and produce beautifully executed (but stylistically differentiating) magazines, and what advice they have for other agencies looking to do the same.
Human After All
Human After All has created four magazines in-house under the title Weapons of Reason, with the intent to make four more. Dubbed as the agency’s “publishing project”, Weapons of Reason “was born out of a desire to understand the world around us”.
Four years ago some of the team watched Al Gore deliver a speech on the impact of climate change. They were inspired by how such a complex concept could be understood once made clearer and easier to grasp.
Weapons of Reason therefore serves as a platform of exploration, exploration of the challenges of modern society and, most importantly, as said in its mantra, “a magazine to turn knowledge into action”. And Human After All hasn’t been afraid to start with the headbanging topics of climate change, ageing, megacities, and most recently the topic of Power, aptly timed with the ambiguity surrounding politics and truthful media.
“Every agency needs a passion project, and this was one of ours – it leverages both our publishing heritage and our love of illustration as an expressive medium,” says Humans After All executive creative director Paul Willoughby.
“We wanted to interrogate what 'power' means and where it really lies in the modern world, charting the political, social, economic and ideological factors that shape our current landscape.”
Paul says in the modern field of design, so much of what is produced is about helping people decide between competing offerings, but the magazine is to help humanity make decisions that will benefit the universe, and not just their individual selves.
Human After All has already reached “like minded” clients with the magazine, including notably Greenpeace, because more of the agency’s core values can be explored than would be feasible on their website, wrapped up in a format that showcases the agencies design – and in the case of Human After All specifically – illustrative talents.
“The magazine is a calling card and beacon for any like minded individuals who share the same values and who’d like to collaborate. The mag has also generated some award wins too, as it’s a place to stretch our creative legs,” says Paul.
He made it no secret that Weapons of Reason is produced with a “modest but totally acceptable” budget, and the stories and illustrations are commissioned out to leading writers and creatives. Human After All editor James Cartwright finds “writers and influencers at the top of their game in any given field”. They are all briefed with a synopsis and suggested angle.
And then, of course, there’s delightful, delightful illustration.
“One of our signature strengths has always been illustration, both producing it and commissioning it. It also gives plenty of opportunities to ‘clarify the complex’ through the creation of clean data visualisations – a mode of visual communication we enjoy rolling out on some of our client projects like the work we’ve done for Girl Effect and the World Economic Forum,” says Paul.
Logistically it’s a wonder how a creative agency can conjure extra time to produce a magazine alongside client work. At Human After All, the agency’s creative team works on the magazine amongst other client work, and a producer looks after time allocations. It’s published on minimalist paper, and in a smaller size than most magazines to save on printing costs, postage and dutifully, impact on the planet.
“For the next issue, it’s all about ruthless simplicity for me. The mag already does a good job of communicating complex subjects in a clean, artful way, but this could be even stronger and more focused,” says Paul.
His advice for creative agencies looking at designing their own magazine?
“Keep it lean in design, focus and structure. Have it stem from a true passion to attract your tribe.”
Taking on a significantly different aesthetic, digital agency AKQA focuses their magazine on large computer graphics and minimalist text. In line with what a client would see on their website, AKQA’s quarterly journal showcases their latest work in a way that “articulates their values” – one of which being that the simple will always displace the complex.
Each Made in AKQA edition follows a theme, with the most recent journal following the concept of Perpetual Motion. It includes projects such as The Snow Fox – a children’s voice-activated story, Lokai Walk With Yeshi – a Facebook Messenger experience that sheds light on the global water-shortage crisis, and Nike Pro Genius – an approach to football training that helps players with the psychological side of the game.
The journal is made available to essentially anyone interested in AKQA’s work (it’s promoted on their social channels), but it’s specifically sent to clients, partners and new employees.
The in-house produced publication “lets the images communicate the craft of each project”, AKQA explains, who goes even further to describe the journals as “tactile tributes to our collaborations with clients”, and “anthologies” of their most significant work.
Made in AKQA is produced by individual project teams. Its own copywriters write the copy, which aims to avoid business jargon and leaves room for the work to speak for itself. AKQA designers decide on the journal’s overall aesthetic, down to the stitching of the spine. They work closely with printing suppliers.
The digital agency’s advice for other creative teams looking to create their own publication: Decide what your values are and how you can convey these through the work that you do. Every detail matters and print projects serve as a manifestation of your brand.