by Shane de Lange (@shanenilfunct) From experimental typography, to social awareness, to philosophical engagement and odes to the past, my 2017 Top 5 list for international niche and independent publications has been selected for their overall cultural impact, with hints of revivalism and reformism while remaining contemporary and relevant.
A point made in last week’s column was that independent print publications are representative of the way that any given society identifies with itself, and so comes to terms with its own cultural identity. As opposed to the low production rate of independent print locally, internationally, such publications seem to be going through a kind of renaissance, with an almost cult following in the major cities of the world. One could go as far as to label it a print movement, a testament to the heightened levels of cultural consciousness and society-wide self-awareness, disseminated through print media. The high number of independent publications being produced internationally is so prolific, one is almost spoilt for choice.
#5. Real Review (UK), #4, September 2017
Designed by studio OK-RM, Real Review is a quarterly magazine that veers away from orthodox digital production methods in editorial design. With a captivating tagline, “What It Means to Live Today”, the magazine critically reviews 21st century architecture and other culturally relevant discourse. Issue #4 focuses on the topic of what it means to love today, with a design approach inspired by the underground tradition of hand-crafted Soviet (Russian) Samizdat publications. These were designed to be read, shoved into the reader’s back pocket, thumbed and passed around, as opposed to the detached and mediated forms of interaction we have today. Samizdat publications were aberrant, resourceful, urgent and critical, and meant to disseminate information under the radar within communities.
Presented pre-folded, Real Review’s format is thin and vertical, emphasising the malleability and ‘realness’ of the publication. It unfolds much like a brochure, with quadruple-page spreads instead of double-page spreads. The cover of each issue thus far has been illustrated by prolific UK-based illustrator, Nishant Choksi, accented with a slight Russian constructivist influence.
#4: Double Dagger (UK), Issue 2, Autumn 2017
It is heartwarming to see that real, analogue processes are still encouraged in an age when digital tools and methods are ubiquitous. Too many designers today depend on software in order to find design solutions, which ultimately dominates the message. The result? Cloned and derivative work. The fact is, nothing can compare to the act of putting pen to paper and making things by hand, using old-fashioned human brain power and creative acumen without resorting to a scroll of the mouse for design inspiration. Machines simply cannot produce the passion, skill and love needed to supply the kind of creativity needed to make meaningful work.
Double Dagger is one such publication nurturing true creativity through the use of traditional methods of production. It is an annual journal, printed using age-old letterpress printing processes, accompanied by wood and lead type — all processes that are near impossible to emulate through digital processes. Much like vinyl records, letterpress has seen a revival in recent times, purely because it stimulates all the senses with qualities that become more of an experience than a simple form of communication or entertainment. Commercial printing simply can’t compare.
#3. Harvard Design Magazine (US), #44, Fall/Winter, 2017
Broadly speaking, the core interrelated parts of art, craft, design and discourse form the bulk of the cultural sphere. An appreciation of each part in relation to the other, in dialogue with a plethora of social, economic, political and historical factors within any given society, arguably makes for a coherent cultural sphere. Harvard Design Magazine (HDM) is a publication that advocates this dialogue, looking further than run-of-the-mill, orthodox happenings within various fields of design and aiming to create discourse that is more layered, in search of new perspectives.
Speaking a language akin to a wholeness-in-design, each issue highlights unexpected avenues from various design fields and connects them, linking seemingly unrelated fields such as art and science. Themed “Seventeen”, for the year 2017, the fall/winter issue of HDM describes the millennium as teenager, divided and temperamental. With many upheavals across the globe, much like a teenager, the world is acting on impulse. Recalling early glitch art from the late ’90s on the cover, the magazine’s contents investigate all the narrative blips and design bleeps that have emerged in the 17-odd years since the beginning of the millenium. Glitch as a positive metaphor, defining our current cultural adolescence.
#2. Roll with the Punches (Palestine), issue #1, 2017
Emblazoned with the Palestinian flag, using a triptych of skateboard decks, Roll with the Punches is a publication about skateboarding backed by a social awareness campaign. Promoting the sport as an agent of change within the derelict communities of Palestine, one of the world’s longest-standing conflict zones, this limited-edition magazine stays true to its name, with wheels rolling to the proverbial Israeli punches. Edited and designed by skater, Tom Bird, Roll with the Punches details his work done with SkatePal in the Occupied West Bank. SkatePal is a non-profit organisation that tries to enhance the lives of young people in Palestine through the sport of skateboarding. All money raised by this publication is donated to SkatePal so that it can work with the communities in oppressed areas in order to affect change. A few copies may still be available if you wish to support this cause. For more info on this project, go to rollwiththepunches.co.
#1: Eye Magazine (UK) #94, volume 24, 2017
Tailored for critically informed visual-culture junkies, The Eye, takes the notion of iteration to the next level on the cover of its 94th issue. Delivering an education in visual communication on a magazine cover, Paul McNeil and Hamish Muir of MuirMcNeil studio created 8 000 distinctive covers. This project was made possible through the creation 10 ‘seed’ files, each containing iterations of letterforms drawn from the name of the magazine, “The Eye”, with fixed increments in three layers, each set in a variation of MuirMcNeil’s TwoPoint or TwoPlus typeface systems. Each layer is displaced laterally and spaced proportionately, deconstructing conventions in letter spacing and typesetting. Printed digitally on an Indigo 10000 press, these covers rely on HP Mosaic software due to its variable data-printing process that resizes, rotates and alters the colour of the artwork, based on the 10 ‘seed’ files. The cropping process makes a large variety of final cover designs to occur. A clever idea, accompanied by equally beautiful result.
Shane de Lange (@shanenilfunct) is a designer, writer, and educator currently based in Cape Town, South Africa, working in the fields of communication design and digital media. He works from Gilgamesh, a small design studio, and is a senior lecturer in graphic design at Vega School in Cape Town. Connect on Pinterest and Instagram.
Cover Stories, formerly MagLove, is a regular slot deconstructing media cover design, both past and present.