There is an intangible yet magical quality to the process of making magazines. At their best, they are a combination of interesting subject matter, creative thinking, and sheer grit and determination. If there are two people who know a thing or two about this process, it is Dan Crowe and Matt Willey. The long-time collaborators’ relationship dates back to the early noughties, when Crowe launched literary magazine Zembla and Willey was working at Vince Frost’s Frost Design. Zembla was particularly significant in that it marked the designer’s first entry into magazines – a world which he has been fully immersed in ever since – as well as the beginning of a 15-year friendship with Crowe.
“Matt and I immediately hit it off, we enjoyed talking about literature together and drinking a lot of beer,” Crowe tells CR. “I think we both had quite a healthy dislike of commercial publishing from the beginning. We just found it really boring and we both had a very romantic idea about what magazines used to be like – late 60s Esquire, National Geographic, Twen, all these iconic magazines. So we used to talk about that a lot and get drunk.”
Since then, the duo have collaborated on a range of both small and bigger budget publishing projects, including founding men’s title Port and relaunching the Four Seasons magazine. Willey also spent five years as art director of the New York Times Magazine, before joining Pentagram as a partner in 2019. Over time, as they have gained more experience in the world of magazines, their collective frustration with the generic nature of many mainstream publications has only grown. “I miss the days of buying a magazine because you liked the editor’s opinions. I don’t see that anymore, because it’s just so commercial, and it has to do a good job of appealing to a lot of different people,” says Willey.