Cover by Rob Vargas
Following Richard Turley’s departure in April, Bloomberg Businessweek has promoted two of its design team, Rob Vargas and Tracy Ma, to creative director and deputy creative director roles. We talked to them about the moves and what it means for BBW…
As editor Josh Tyrangiel revealed earlier today, Vargas, who moves from his role as art director to creative director, was part of the design team Turley headed up in 2010 and that conducted a complete overhaul of the magazine’s design; while Ma moves from her role as assistant creative director to deputy creative director having been at BBW since November 2011.
Also announced was that design director Cindy Hoffman is set to become more involved with the Bloomberg Visual Data department, a move that Tyrangiel says will enable the design team to work more closely together.
“[Vargas] is already well known outside this building for his stunning covers,” Tyrangiel wrote in an email to BBW staff. “From the fishnet legs of Ashley Madison to his recent re-creation of a Marvel comic [shown above], Rob’s ability to turn any concept into something worthy of a poster makes him one of the most unique talents in our business.”
Ma, he continued, has been responsible for “the psychedelic tea-sipping Ted Cruz cover and our Lenovo tech-scavenging raccoon” and had also been behind all the branding for BBW’s 2014 Design Conference in San Francisco. “She also holds the distinction of being our first Hong Kong-born, Toronto-raised, mime-studying deputy creative director,” he added.
We spoke to Vargas and Ma about the announcements and what we can expect from BBW and its design team – CR’s Studio of the Year in 2013 – under its new creative direction.
Cover by Tracy Ma
CR: Appointing new CD and Deputy CD roles from within the existing BBW design team would suggest some pretty firm continuity in terms of the look of the magazine – you’ve both been working on the title from between three to four years. A new opportunity also gives you a chance to change things again – is there anything that you think you’ll now do, or approach, differently?
Rob Vargas: Since the initial redesign, it’s been an incremental evolution towards how we look today. If you take a recent issue and compare it to our first one, or even an issue from two years ago, there are dramatic differences, and none of this happened in one shot.
In terms of moving forward, I’d like us to keep that spirit of continual evolution. Things that end up changing will occur because we’ve determined that they’re pushing the boundaries of what you expect in a business magazine, and engaging the reader more effectively with strong visuals and richness of content. These are the principles that guided us from the very beginning.
Spread by Rob Vargas
Cover by Rob Vargas
Tracy Ma: I think appointing the roles to people within the existing team suggests that there is a really solid team in place here. In terms of what we want to do differently, we’re still trying to figure that out together. Businessweek has always been a safe place to experiment and push our voices. Going forward I’d love to figure out a schedule outside of the weekly cycle and a separate, larger studio space where we can experiment on longer-term projects and hone our visual storytelling skills.
CR: The radical redesign that Richard oversaw (with you Rob) was rightly celebrated for a number of reasons, but are you conscious of aspects of this approach as being thought of as ‘the BBW way’ of doing things? How do you keep things interesting, for yourselves as a team and for readers.
RV: Businessweek definitely has a distinctive voice. I think there is something to the way we approach stories that feels uniquely “us.” What’s so appealing about this as a designer is that part of that approach is the elimination of many parameters that can exist at other magazines.
Every story, whether a feature or front- or back-of-book story, is an open opportunity to be expressive, and to experiment. The amazing thing about the staff here is that everyone is eager to continually use their abundant talent. Every challenge is seen as an opportunity. It would be infinitely worse if laying out this magazine required minimal thought.
Spread by Tracy Ma
TM: The rigour of our grid and the ability of Helvetica to basically absorb all personalities being put into it help us put together layouts really quickly. The fast pace at which we make things and send the book to the printer really gives us a distinctive look and has made us learn to trust our instincts.
But overall I never considered the structure of the magazine as having any direct influence on the way to we do things – the bigger phenomenon at work here is that we have a dream team of kids who enjoy hanging out with one another. So many companies spend a bunch of money trying to figure out how people can collaborate better, but we seem to do it seamlessly.
A big part of our job is just trying to make each another laugh. Moving ahead we’ll continue seeking out more like-minded people and have more drunken naked meditation rituals expand our visual vocabulary.
Feature opener by Rob Vargas
CR: Can you tell me a bit about how the design team will work, in light of your new roles? Also, you’ve always had a very close working relationship with Josh in terms of coming up with cover ideas etc – I’m guessing that will still be a key part of how you work?
RV: The team will be structured similarly for the time being. Tracy and I will work mostly on covers and features, and have further input into the rest of the book. Cindy Hoffman, our design director, has taken on an increased role in the graphics department. Cindy, Dorothy Gambrell, Evan Applegate, and the rest of the graphics team continuously contribute to all facets of the magazine.
Jaci Kessler art directs the back-of-book lifestyle section. Chris Nosenzo, Chandra Illick, Shawn Hasto, Lee Wilson, and Braulio Amado work on the front-of-book news section. That being said, there’s tons of cross-pollination, and when things like special issues happen, everyone contributes. Josh will continue to be a key part of the design process – especially covers.
Feature opener by Tracy Ma
TM: Having a combo, double-trouble leadership duo instead of the singular leadership of Richard will change the dynamic of the place. I see a lot more collaboration between the departments in the future, which will work out well for our team because we all have overlapping skills.
We’ve all learned from Richard (sniff cry tears river river) that the best way to tell a story isn’t always the most beautiful or necessarily the most photographically/typographically inventive way.
Working closely with Josh and the other editors is the most important part of how we work. Josh’s vision when he created the magazine was that art directors and editors would have equal weight, and it’s proven to be the key ingredient of our success.
News page by Tracy Ma