German art director Mike Meiré (above) is renowned in magazine circles for designing two of the most innovative magazines of recent times – brand eins and Econy. Both were celebrated for their clean, cool aesthetic appeal. His latest project, however, deliberately sets out to subvert all the notions of “good” design that his previous work nurtured so carefully. His redesign of cultural magazine 032c was described by Magculture.com as “willfully awkward”. Set against the standards of mainstream graphic design, it is, well, ugly. Here, Meiré explains why…
CR: Did you deliberately set out to break rules with the redesign of 032c? Is it a provocation?
Mike Meiré: Why? Just because it looks different? Or because we stopped following the aesthetical path of the former issues, so people feel disappointed because we haven’t fulfilled their expectations? Making a magazine is about taking a decision, either you do it because you believe in your vision or you follow a market.
032c is a very strong independent magazine with highly sophisticated content, but it became visually predictable. Generally, that’s not a big concern, but for a contemporary culture magazine which appears only two times a year it is.
When I met Jörg Koch, the editor-in-chief, it was quite clear from the beginning that he wanted to change the whole thing. He was talking about energy and experimentation, a radical step towards brutality. The meeting took place in my factory in Cologne where I moved my company two years ago – to be independent again, to free myself, to step aside from these everyday commercial expectations. So our profiles were matching immediately!
There are so many magazines out there which pretend to be cool, sophisticated or even culturally relevant. They all look the same, more or less. (…oouh! I know! There are a few good magazines out there! But I am talking about the rest, the 99.9%!) They all play this stylish “classy” Feuilleton-inspired design game. In 1999 I designed the first issue of German economy magazine brand eins (Which is based on the rebirth of beauty. Classic typography combined with white pages and remarkable photography.) which became quietly iconic and got copied a lot. So I know what I am talking about. Since then I am looking for an alternative graphic design wave in Germany … but it hasn’t happened so far. So I used my chance with 032c to come up with something different. But this was only possible because of the incredible quality 032c stands for.
In fact the new issue is exactly worked around the essence of 032c. Remember their first issue; bold, rough, intellectual, black and white, on the cover a huge square in pantone 032c? For the redesign I just went back to their roots, put the square back on the cover with Cecilia (the curvy girl in a black rubber cat suit) inside and the PANTONE 032c Red around it. Very simple, very strong. Feels like a subversive version of Germany’s number one politics magazine Der Spiegel.
Of course the stretched typography makes you look twice. Like an accident in our eye candy lifestyle magazine world. ERROR. I am always interested in the concept of evolution = harmony/break/harmony …
Making a magazine is finding out the right look for its content, its attitude. And 032c has its own ways to combine different stories ranges from war-photography, fashion, art, architecture, politics, etc. To me it’s the only way to create a unique identity, if you don’t want to be “me too”. Maybe you don’t please the common sense anymore – but you become who you are, authentic in your own way.
So coming back to your question. YES, I did deliberately set out to break rules with this and YES, it is a provocation – but in the first place to myself! I remember a quote from the German artist Martin Kippenberger I have published in my own magazine AD2G 1990 “Es gibt nur den Dreck und die Schönheit im Dreck” (There is only dirt and the beauty within) … if every magazine or every building or every brand or everybody tries to look appealing somehow in the same idea of being modern, it becomes interesting to go the opposite. Because life has different kinds of beauty to present.
CR: Were you influenced by anything specific?
MM: I remembered a few things I made before the “APPLE Age”. All done with the great help of a copy machine. Some early artist catalogues and a small art newspaper. But for the 032c everything really started with a very small stretched copy next to a picture. It was somehow strangely beautiful. A bit dark but very refreshing. It needed to be balanced because I didn’t want to go retro.
CR: Is the headline type stretched or did you have a special typeface drawn like that?
MM: This was actually the hardest job to get right. Most of the time my assistant Tim Giesen was stretching types like hell. The idea was getting us into a kind of “darker”. We combined the stretched ones with types from the Helvetica and Futura family and the Times New Roman Condensed. We had to recondition our minds aesthetically wise while we were working on 032c. After some days everything commercial looked so boring… unbelievable! It was a bit like a trip.
I wanted to reveal a darker beauty which embraces mature elegance and coolness. When the layouts were done we sent them to Jörg, based in Berlin, he replied with his one-word-code: “KILLER!”
CR: Is it anti-design?
MM: It is what it is. Isn’t it? If you call it anti-design, that’s fine with me. I think being anti is important these days. Sometimes there is a real need to say NO. There is so much stuff around us …
As I already said I became a bit tired of all these look-a-like magazines. They’re all made very professional – but I was looking for something more charismatic. I wanted to search for an interesting look beyond the mainstream. Maybe something more “brutal” as Jörg used to say. We wanted a truthful intelligent independent magazine with a touch of underground.
I think we did it. And people may feel this and that’s why they are a bit confused because we all are used to this kind of efficient-streamlined-whatever-correctness…
See the September issue of CR, out 22 August, for further discussion of the 032c redesign and others in our feature,
The New Ugly