All Wired up

Scott Dadich, art director of Wired, recently revealed some of his design secrets at a talk in London. Studio8’s Matt Willey listened in

Scott Dadich, the creative director of the US edition of Wired magazine, was, following talks by Janet Froelich and Jonathan Hoefler last year, the latest heavy­weight from the American design scene to give a lecture for the Editorial Design Organisation. It was a very impressive talk and Wired is a very impressive magazine.

Before Wired, Dadich was art director at Texas Monthly, a magazine whose previous art directors include DJ Stout (now a Pentagram partner) and the legendary Fred Woodward. Dadich was made art director at Texas Monthly when he was only 23 years old.

In 2006 he joined San Francisco-based Wired and, together with a very talented team (14 people, seven of whom are designers), he has been putting together some of the very best magazine work around. His talk was an inspiring and vibrant romp through three years of fantastic work: beautiful and surprising spreads, covers that ranged from big-budget shoots to simple type-only solutions, extraordinary infographics and some brilliant illustration and photography commissioning.

Dadich is a self confessed type-nut, an anal-retentive obsessed with the details, a perfectionist. There is an extraordinarily rigorous and exacting attention to detail that holds Wired together; it serves as a prerequisite for the creative freedom in the magazine. One of the chapter headers for his talk was Details Matter which included an interesting look at the custom type­faces Vitesse and Forza, designed specially for Wired by Hoefler & Frere-Jones, and an explanation of the ‘law of equal volumes’ where the area between any two letters in a word must be of equal measure.

I was struck by how adventurous and varied the spreads he showed were. They seemed to me to be the result of a willingness to try things out and to experiment, to take risks and not be too fearful of failing. Pages that were playful and dynamic and done with a supreme confidence. There were highly complex layouts that were utterly fascinating and there were very restrained photo-essays that were simple and beautiful.

The magazine is as brave and as intelligent in terms of its editorial as it is with its design. That’s a crucial point for me, the design isn’t compen­sating for anything. It’s rare to come across a magazine that does both so completely and with such conviction. Wired is fully aware of and utterly engaged with its reader, in a way that most magazines could never hope to achieve, and yet the range of content and the depth of reporting is vast. It is, at its heart, a nerdy science and technology-based geek-zine but the wonderful strength of that central scientific premise is that, editorially, it allows the magazine to look at almost anything it wants, anything that it finds interesting.

Long before the economic panic really set in, before it took a firm hold, the magazine industry was already going through a fairly severe intro­spection of its own worth and relevance. There was apocalyptic noise about print being dead, the future being an online place where magazines serve no purpose. Wired magazine seems to me to add value to the internet, not the other way around. It offers the kind of experience that the internet still can’t give you. The use of infographics, the many metallic and fluorescent inks, the huge attention to detail – they are all done with the utmost importance placed on the experience of Wired as a magazine.

And it works, it’s successful. It has a circulation well north of 2 million, its subscription base is big and getting bigger. In what is an exceptionally difficult time for magazines, Condé Nast has had the confidence and assertiveness to launch Italian and UK editions of Wired this year.

Looking at the US edition, it’s easy to see where that confidence comes from. Whether the European editions can come close to what Dadich and his team have achieved remains to be seen, it’s a very hard act to follow.

As we left the lecture we were given a copy of the latest issue of Wired, a special ‘Mystery’ edition guest edited by JJ Abrams, creator of the tv series Lost. Dadich and his team have treated it as a one-off redesign. There are clever details and tricks throughout the magazine, some of which I’m only noticing now after several days of looking through it – there are specially commissioned puzzles and mind-benders; there are illustration commissions by, amongst others, Lorenzo Petrantoni, Stephen Doyle, Sigi Eggertsson, Chris Ware, and Paul Pope; there are the ubiqui­tous metallic and fluorescent inks, some wonderful design details.

In just this single issue, Wired demonstrates what a real powerhouse of a magazine it is. It’s also one of the most creative, interesting and exciting titles out there. 

Matt Willey is co-founder, with Zoë Bather, of London-based Studio8 Design

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