“People said ‘what the fuck is that? It looks like a clown’s been sick’.” Not necessarily the response you might hope for when launching a new style magazine, but it didn’t worry Steve Slocombe. As creative director of the fiercely trendy Super Super, Slocombe is used to being, shall we say, “challenged” about his work…
Launched early last year, Super Super’s wilfully distorted typography, day glo colours and total rejection of the holy tenets of magazine design are enough to give more mature art directors a fit of the vapours. It’s MySpace made flesh, with all the clashing cacophony that concept brings to mind.
And yet, according to Slocombe, what underlines it all is “harmony”. “There is nothing in Super Super that is empty or frivolous,” he insists, “everything is there for a reason”.
When it comes to style magazines, Slocombe has form, having previously been editor of Sleazenation. “I took Sleazenation to be one of the top four style magazines, but it was always going to be fourth on that list,” he says, recognising the strength of competitors i-D, Dazed and Confused and, at the time, The Face. “I could see a new generation with a new sensibility coming up so I thought, rather than be fourth, let’s get on this new thing and be first.”
A sign of what was to come came with Slocombe’s last issue at Sleazenation (May 2003). The publishers were away so he took the opportunity to introduce the freeform approach that Super Super has taken to such troubling extremes. He got the sack and went on to open a shop in Brixton with Namalee, former style editor at Sleazenation. The pair launched a magazine, Super Blow, out of which, 18 months ago, came Super Super.
Slocombe cites Scott King, with whom he worked at Sleazenation, as an influence on his design (particularly in “saying what you have to say efficiently”). However, the approach that King took at the magazine was deemed unsuitable for the new title. “At Sleaze, Scott wanted to do it in a book-ish style, but this new generation doesn’t read books so that’s not a relevant reference for them. This is the ADD generation. You have just one chance, one shot. Every time they open the magazine they have to get it.”
It was a period working for photographer Wolfgang Tillmans that most influenced Slocombe’s approach. A Fine Art graduate from St Martins, Slocombe’s role included helping Tillmans install his shows – a process that was, in itself, an artistic exercise. “We’d get a plan of the space and we’d turn up with work in all kinds of different sizes and respond to the space, arranging the work accordingly: it was an organic process about what work would sit best in certain situations,” he explains.
This, then, is the approach that he brings to designing Super Super. There is no predefined grid: Slocombe starts with the images (which may or may not be in focus) and arranges them so as to maximise the space, just as he and Tillmans would on the gallery wall. There are some rules: copy is set in blocks either 90mm or 40mm wide, at 10 point on 12 point leading or eight on 10, using either Helvetica or Times. But word and image rarely line up: “Things feel a lot more human if they are a fraction out,” Slocombe claims, “it’s about a sense of harmony and rhythm”. It’s what sets Super Super apart: “Magazines had become very machine like, very impersonal. Super Super is very human. It speaks to the reader very directly, removes the barriers. The values of the magazine are to be fun, to be positive, to say ‘have a go, you can do this
While other magazines may seek to manipulate pace by contrasting full-bleed images with more detailed spreads, Super Super tries to cram in as much as possible onto every available inch of space. The reason, according to Slocombe, goes back to its readers’ alarmingly short attention spans. Typically aged between 14 and 24, they cannot be guaranteed to look at more than one spread in any particular issue, he claims, so each one has to embody all the values of the magazine. This, he would have us believe, is a generation with a different aesthetic value system. “In the Wallpaper* era, white was seen as expensive, but the young generation now think that if something has lots of colours, it must be more expensive. That,” he says “sums up the shift quite nicely.”
The magazine is not, Slocombe insists, anti-design. “That whole argument that you have to be either a follower of David Carson or of the Swiss School is not the debate we have now – I’ll take the best of both and anything else that’s around. The old way of things was movement followed by anti-movement, now the culture swallows the past and moves on instead of defining itself against what has gone before,” he argues. “I’m not against what has gone before, I just think this is more appropriate for here and now. At the core of the Swiss ideal is efficient communication – well, this is the most appropriate way to communicate to our audience.”
Wouldn’t it be more appropriate to communicate to them online? Or via their omnipresent mobile phones? “We know about print, Slocombe says, “and it’s much easier to make something feel human in print.”
Slocombe seems amused by the extreme reactions his magazine provokes. “I don’t deliberately set out to shock, I want people to say ‘Wow! It’s great’. It’s not meant to be anti-anything. People think it’s thrown together or anti-design, it really isn’t. It could be done entirely in black and white and it would still be recognisable as Super Super.” And what would that be? “Like nothing and everything you have ever seen before.”
See the September issue of CR, out 23 August, for further discussion of Super Super and others in our feature, The New Ugly