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Highlights from magCulture's ModMag NY

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After 5 editions in London, magCulture's Modern Magazine conference headed to New York City for the first time last week. At Parsons School of Design, a mix of speakers from new and established publications took the stage for a full day of talks celebrating the best in magazine creativity.

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We were proud to again sponsor the event's programme, printed as tabloid newspaper. Below, a quick roundup of highlights from the day.

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Apartamento | Omar Sosa

"Can people really live without clutter?" This question, from Witold Rybczynski's book Home: A Short Story of An Idea, is at the heart of Apartamento, one of the longest running publications represented at ModMag. Omar Sosa founded the magazine in Barcelona in 2008, after becoming frustrated by the sterile interiors he encountered while looking for a new apartment.

Using Nest, Casa Vogue and the Vitra catalogue as references, Apartamento looks beyond spotless rooms to explore "the relationships between people and their homes." On the decision to publish in print, Sosa presented this slide:

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Apartamento doesn't put its stories online – as Sosa explained, this makes them "too accessible". Instead, select articles are temporarily available through the Apartamento app, a clever way to catch new readers' attention while preserving the value of the print magazine. This was the first example of what would become a theme throughout the talks: the ways in which print and digital publishing can support each other.

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Gather Journal and Bon Appetit | Michele Outland

After learning the ropes of art direction at publications like Martha Stewart Living, Domino and Nylon, Michele Outland launched Gather Journal, "a food magazine through the lens of art and culture", in 2012. She walked us through the process of putting an issue together – from brainstorming a theme to developing original recipes around that theme to taking stunning photographs of the resulting food. Like this Gingerbread "Milky Way" Tres Leches from the "Origin" issue:

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Like ApartamentoGather supports its print content with an app, where subscribers can access a full archive of recipes. Outland now balances her work at Gather with her new role as Creative Director of Condé Nast title Bon Appetit.

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Eye on Design | Perrin Drumm

Eye on Design began as a blog for AIGA, the oldest membership organization for design in the United States. In February, they launched their first print issue – a 160-page magazine with the theme "Invisible". Eye on Design founder Perrin Drumm opened her talk with examples of the questions they tackle in their writing (above) followed by this handy list of the differences between reading things in print and online:

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Drumm revealed that Eye on Design has received more press in the months since releasing the magazine than in their 4-year history as a digital platform ("No one takes you seriously until you make a thing.") AIGA is using the magazine as a vehicle for new partnerships, and each issue will have a different guest designer – starting with Maziyar Pahlevan for this first one.

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The Herb Lubalin Study Center | Alexander Tochilovsky

Alexander Tochilovsky is the curator of The Herb Lubalin Study Center, a vast archive of 20th century graphic design that's part of the Cooper Union. In his talk, Tochilovsky discussed the influence of 3 short-lived titles designed by Herb Lubalin: Eros, Fact and Avant Garde. Tochilovsky shared rarely seen spreads from the magazines, including the last studio portraits of Marilyn Monroe, which were shot for Eros and marked by the actress herself with orange marker, and drawings by Muhammad Ali in the first issue of Avant Garde:

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We also learned about controversies that doomed the magazines. Editor Ralph Ginzburg was jailed for obscenity after publishing 4 issues of Eros and a 1964 cover of Fact prompted the"Goldwater Rule", which prevents psychiatrists from diagnosing people they have not examined and is still relevant in today's political discourse.

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Macguffin | Kirsten Algera

Amsterdam-based MacGuffin "started as a design magazine, but it's not about design at all." Kirsten Algera, who won Editor of the Year at the Stack Awards in 2017, opened her talk about the magazine with a clip from Hitchcock's Marnie:

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In film terminology, a "MacGuffin" is an object that sets the story in motion (in Marnie, it's a handbag). Similarly, every issue of MacGuffin, subtitled "The Life of Things", uses an ordinary object as a starting point for wide-ranging discussions. Algera belives that "a print magazine can be like a portable exhibition". The first issue was about the Bed – "the end and the beginning of everything" – and themes for the following issues have been Window, Rope, Sink and, most recently, Cabinet. (Look out for the next issue on the theme Ball.)

6 Takeaways from ModMag NY

Rough Trade | Liv Siddall

ModMag host Liv Siddall surprised us with an unscheduled talk about the scrappy process of making a magazine for Rough Trade record shop in London. Siddall ran the magazine alone and had to get resourceful to fill 64 pages every 2 weeks: she got musicians to writes "horoscopes" for free and turned a Rough Trade employee's ongoing Google Doc of his fears into a (hilarious) regular column:

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After publishing 18 issues, the magazine folded at the end of 2017. But Siddall's talk was a heartening reflection on the joys of putting together a publication with "no budget, no time, but lots of great people involved."

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No Man's Land | Emily Oberman

No Man's Land is a new magazine "for women with something to say and nothing to prove" published by women-only work space The Wing. Designer Emily Oberman of Pentagram gave us a brief history of the feminist titles they looked to for inspiration: Spare Rib, Nova, Plexus, Sassy and Ms. to name a few.

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Creating a print magazine was a way to bring the legacy of these titles into the 21st century. From the photographers to the writers to the illustrators, No Man's Land is entirely created by women. Oberman emphasised how collaborative the design process was – she mocked up dozens of covers for the first issue and worked closely with Audrey Gelman, founder of The Wing, and her team to figure out which one set the right tone. (In the end, it was an image of actress Hari Nef.)

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The New York Times Magazine | Gail Bichler

Gail Bichler, design director of The New York Times Magazine, was the last speaker of the day. She walked us through the design process for some of the more memorable covers of the past couple years. We also saw rejected drafts – like a cover featuring microphones made out of friend chicken, which looked great but didn't make a clear enough point.

Bichler credits the punk-inspired cover above – a last minute revision of another design – with getting her promoted to design director. She says it demonstrated her willingness to challenge and improve her own ideas. We also got a peek at special projects from the newly formed NYT Magazine Labs, which is responsible for innovative print supplements like the Kids section and a fold-out, annotated edition of the Constitution.

6 Takeaways from ModMag NY

The slide above sums up our thoughts on the day. Thanks magCulture – see you next year!


Photography by Niko Panousopoulos.

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