At work with: Oswin Tickler, designer and educator

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Oswin Tickler is the London-based designer behind smallfury studio and free fold-out zine Chanced Arm, the latest issue of which was created in collaboration with his journalism students at the London College of Communication. He’s currently teaching a term at Portland State University in the US, where he’s developing the next edition of Chanced Arm. We asked him about his coming week.

Tell us about your typical Monday journey to work.
Usually it just involves short walk from one corner of Hackney downs park to the other to get to the studio. Although if I’m teaching as well, I’m usually in the studio around 7/7.30am in order to put in a couple of hours before cycling off to Kings Cross or Elephant and Castle.

Describe the state of your desk and tell us a little about your office.
It’s a mess. There are always piles of books, magazines, proofs and teaching notes everywhere, for some reason I seem to work best like that. I need more space, the studio is pretty small, at a squeeze we can have four people working in there.

What magazine matters to you most this morning?
Well I’ve actually got a small pile; Jacobin, Dissent, Arcades, She Shreds and Shots that I’m looking at for research purposes. Embarrassingly, (but possibly not surprisingly), I picked them up for design reasons, as they all use one or two colours to good effect.

How was your weekend?
Well it was my last weekend in Portland (for now), so I’ve been trying to cram in as much as possible. I went to see the Portland Thorns (football), and went out hiking, just trying to make the most of my last few days here.

What can you tell us about the new Chanced Arm collaboration?
The latest collaboration was with a group of graphic design students at Portland State University (Tyler Alexander, Wendell Barton, Jon Canon, Cole Edmonson and Gavin Van Houten) they came up with the theme ‘perceptions of reality.’ Beyond it needing to link conceptually to previous issues, and be printed in two colours, everything else was up for grabs. It seems to have been well received, and hopefully the students felt I was pushing them to work and think in ways they weren’t used to.

How do you feel the magazine has changed from the first issue to the most recent?
As a publication I think it is more confident than the first issue, and the idea of it being a mag/a-zine i.e. awkwardly sitting somewhere between the two, is making more sense (to me at least) — even if positioning it is trickier. Part of me thinks it needs to change more, issue by issue, particularly on the design side. So far that has been limited by the 24 hour schedule applied to the regular issues. It’s getting the balance between new and unexpected, but also making something that people actually want to pick up and read, rather than a purely conceptual design exercise.

How was it working with the students?
Working with the students is great, especially as each time I’ve tried to tailor it to work according to the specifics of the course rather than have a fixed idea of what it should be. It throws up different challenges and problems, but out of that different opportunities as well.

Working with Magazine Journalism and Publishing at LCC, each student created their own version of Chanced Arm, (we then took elements from each to produce a collective version) — they each took it in different directions, with format, theme, content, colour etc. The more recent Portland State University edition was created by design students with everyone working towards a single publication, to be ready to launch at a specific design event. To hit deadline we ended up working late in the library one Sunday night — I bought them pizza — I’m not a complete monster! Tyler also did a sterling job printing it until around midnight the following day.

But collaboration has always been at the core of what Chanced Arm is meant to be, so working with the students has been great for that, and hearing their priorities and interests emerge throughout the process.

Do you have any plans for the future for Chanced Arm beyond print?
I’m working on a few ideas. I’ve always seen chanced arm as an eclectic collaborative space where established creatives, students, and hobbyists can rub shoulders and make their voice heard, so not necessarily a print mag — it just happened to be where my skills lie, so seemed a natural starting point.

It might be in the form of workshops, or even — dare I say it — some form of open mic night, an evening where a broad spectrum of people who are doing their thing, in front of an audience that will hopefully discover something new in amongst it. It would need to be carefully put together, as the reality of actual open mic nights can be…well you know!

Finding something that works is tricky though. Chanced Arm is deliberately trying to move in the opposite direction of most magazine and publishing wisdom which is about niche subject and audience, breadth and eclecticism is the thing that most interests me. But I’m conscious I need to get another issue out, I’ve been swamped with other work, and focusing on the collaborative issues… but we should have an announcement in the next few weeks.

What are you finding most frustrating about your work this week?
Working across timezones always proves a little tricky, and having to book meetings for my return to London in a couple of weeks, rather than be able to just jump on my bike and go and meet with clients and printers right now.

What’s going to be the highlight of this week for you?
I’m going to my first-ever baseball match on Monday (the Portland Pickles), so that should be fun, although I know nothing about Baseball so I suppose it might be terrible. I’m also getting the train from Portland to Los Angeles later this week, it takes 35 hours so it too may be awful, however it’s meant to be a beautiful journey and something I’ve wanted to do for a few years now.

What will you be doing after this chat?
Going to sleep, it’s the middle of the night here… although a client email has just come in.

smallfury.com

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