Independent and still in print

Elle UK represented mainstream success at D&AD this year, but a host of lauded indie titles suggest experimentation is the key to survival

Excited though I am by the iPad, the editorial initiative remains with print, so having recently chaired the magazine and newspaper jury at the D&AD Awards I thought a quick overview of the entries might reveal some themes.

The headline winners were independent interiors title Apartamento and the UK edition of Elle. It usually takes a new magazine a few issues to settle into its stride, and Apartamento won for its entire issue four. This was its breakthrough issue, the one that positions it at the heart of current magazine thinking. It’s exactly the type of project that D&AD should champion, and it’s been caught at exactly the right time, on its ascendance rather than at its summit.

Taking a radically different approach to mainstream interiors magazines, Apartamento offers an alternative to the glossy consumerism we’ve come to expect. Its subjects remain stylised and aspirational, but come from a different world and offer a very different aesthetic. Typographi­cally it adopts the understated, quietly modern look prevalent at the moment, but it’s the content selection and styling where the character comes through. Here are the young apartment owners/renters of the world, showing their spaces. Watch to see how the mainstream responds. The creative team (Omar Sosa, Marco Velardi and Nacho Alegro) absolutely deserved their Yellow Pencil.

Judging was dominated by independents, not because these were selected above others but because they made up the majority of entries. Independents either nominated for a pencil or selected to be included in the D&AD Annual included Kasino A4, Qompendium, Elephant, A Guide and File. A strong who’s who of independent publishing that reflects the strength of the sector – respectively a Finnish mood piece, a German book-like tome, a British art/design title notable for its typography, another typographic tour de force guide magazine from Vienna, and a newsprint tabloid wrapped in a card cover that deals with film and art. Every one using different papers, formats and designs. Print is dead?

The challenge for mainstream magazines lies in taking the same passion and attention to detail of the independents and adapting it for their more harshly commercial worlds. But there are mainstream titles that regularly manage this, and New York, Wallpaper*, Grazia and The Guardian have all won D&AD honours at some level (the latter a coveted Black Pencil) in recent years.

The UK edition of Elle represented the mainstream this year, winning a Yellow Pencil for its subscriber cover featuring Rankin’s shot of Lily Allen. The entire issue is included in-book too, and again this is a timely record of a magazine in its pomp. Elle has been reinvented recently, positioning itself nearer
the top end of the women’s fashion market than before.

Like the independents, Elle has been experimenting with mixing paper stocks, launching bi-annual spin offs that can be more reflective and less instant, and generally taking a few risks. In all these respects it echoes the creative outlook of the independents. For this to work, it needs a strong art team, which it certainly has under creative director Marissa Bourke, but also the support of a strong editor, which again it has in Lorraine Candy.

This year’s D&AD successes show that magazines can’t afford to just go with the flow. Things might be unstable financially for many titles but too much creative stability can be equally stifling.  Magazines need to experiment with their physical qualities, be ambitious with their creative development and above all work as a team.

Jeremy Leslie runs the magCulture.com blog

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