As I write, it’s 2021 and it has been a decade since U.K. based graphic design magazine Grafik ceased publishing a print edition. Because of this, it’s with a tinge of meloncholy that I look back on my association with a magazine that meant so much to so many that it was resurrected multiple times due to popular demand before the original driving forces behind the title—editors, Caroline Roberts and Angharad Lewis—decided to call time.
Over the course of 80+ issues and 8+ years (not including their time at Graphics International before hand), Caroline Roberts and Angharad Lewis, were unerrring champions of graphic design and the many designers, image makers, suppliers, educators and critics this industry fostered, in the U.K. and all over the world.
Graphic designers may be an intergral part of the publishing industry but there have only ever been a small, select group of periodicals that catered exclusively to the sector. As a designer in the early 2000s, Grafik quickly rose to prominace as one of the more aspirational titles to have appreared over the years. I began avidly collecting each issue from it’s initial relauch as ‘Grafik’ (post Graphics International), pouring over page after page of profiles, articles and luscious pictorials.
During this time my practise would start to bounce backwards and forewards between London, Melbourne and Amsterdam. Whereever I was based though, if I couldn’t subscribe, I made sure I knew where the nearest newsagents or supplier was so I could get hold of a copy as soon as it was released.
Trolling, pre-trollingAs I shifted around from place or place I also started blogging, often about magazines. My first direct interaction with Grafik was after a bit of—what would probably now be termed—trolling. I wrote a rather unkind review of their redesigned editorial design special issue back in 2006 [︎︎︎you can read the whole shameful thing here]. You often write these things assuming you’re shouting into the void. In this case, at some point, editor Caroline Roberts very geneerously sent me a reply.
I’m not sure how or when perceptions shifted—but I’m very glad they did—as we kept talking after that and much later was asked to contribute to Grafik’s Letterform series [︎︎︎you can read my contribution here]. Later still, I was invited to write a monthly magazine review column for the magazine which, to my quiet delight, became the sign off to each issue of the magazine, just before the colophon.
Writing a regular column for Grafik was an honour and initiated a sea change in how I conducted myself as a designer—embedding writing firmly within my design practice. It also helped bridge an awkward time in my personal life which had initiated a shift from London, back to Melbourne and I was thankful for a continuing connection to the city I’d spent so much time in.
From writing to designingAfter writing regularly for the title over the course of a year, editors Caroline Roberts and Angharad Lewis invited me to take on the role of lead designer for the title. Ready to shift back to London again, I jumped at this chance.
By now it was 2009 and Grafik had weathered many of the storms that sunk a vast array of well-established print titles during the past decade. I arrived in London and set to work on issue 187—the issue that never was. Soon after sending the issue off to print, Grafik had its funding pulled by a key investor and after the many strategies the editors had enacted to keep the magazine afloat failed, they were forced to cease publishing... for a time. Meanwhile my first as designer for the magazine was completed but never printed. The cover for this issue is shown here (there were four colourways planned with a pattern design supplied by Eley Kishimoto). The issue would later be released as a free download for subscribers and a Print-on-Demand version was also produced.
A comeback of sortsBattle weary, but undaunted, the editors soon chose a new publisher, after a raft of suitors came to the rescue. The magazine was to be relaunched as a bi-monthly. The structure of the magazine would be assessed and reassembled into a robust new format with a new editorial organisation in place—the editors forming a separate company, Woodbridge & Rees, to act as producers.
Together, we worked to establish new editorial design and branding standards. We decided there were still recognisable elements we wanted to keep including certain typefaces (although with some customisations) and the unique physcial size of the magazine (originally decided upon by MadeThought back in 2003). Branding, promotional material and on screen design work would also be required.
I would go on to work on the title for a year, over the course of 6 issues (now it was bi-monthly). At the end of their first year together, after rebuilding the original Grafik team rebuilt the title’s core readership from the ground up, the publisher decided to close the title. This appearred to be a desperate attempt to shift Grafik’s hard won readership over to another, less well known graphic design title in their stable—stealing from one magazine to feed the other. A strategy that did little to enhance the other title’s international appeal, which seemed to be the reason for adopting Grafik in the first place.
UndeadNow recognised as well established title, seen to be able to adapt to dire circumstance, Grafik would be courted, once again, by a new set of publishers before shifting over to forecasting company, Protein—who had started producing a well put together print magazine title of their own. A new website for Grafik was released but a promised print title never materialised. The title has now remained in the hands of yet another new publisher who was passed the baton from Protein some years ago, with former editors drawing a line under any further involvement.
I have to admit being a graphic designer, designing a graphic design magazine for other graphic designers was not an easy task to approach—especially having been a reader (and a critic) of the title not so long ago. The core attraction though, was getting to work with a team (including staff writer, Anna Lisa Reynolds and previous designer and contributor, Dan Rolfe Johnson, amongst others) who, not only cared deeply about the industry within which I had found a home, but were also a total joy to spend time with.
The ArchiveOne of the projects I took on, as lead designer—but also as avid fan—was the consolidation of Grafik’s digital archive. At the tail end of a sucession of designers—including Nick Tweedie (who worked on the title as a member of MadeThought, Sea and Malone Design), Danni Calvi and Maltilde Saxon—there was a mass of digital files, in various states, created through putting the magazine together to send to print.
This archive documents almost every issue of the title in easily reproducable formats. Unfortunately, it also tells the story of when deadlines and amends meant certain issues were not archived well or files were lost, so it’s incomplete... for now.
As a side project, which I dedicate time to when I can, I’ve started piecing together those missing parts with the aim of compiling a complete digital archive of the title from issue 107 to 193. This has involved the creation of updated templates for flowing content into. I call these ‘archive editions’, covers and spreads from which you can see here.