At Work With: Alexander Scholz, HOLO
We have a slightly late start to the week as we join Berlin-based Alexander Scholz, creative director of new magazine HOLO, as he heads of to New York for their US launch. The 200-page magazine spans the space between art, design and technology in a manner aimed at non-specialists, and makes great use of design, photography, illustration and production techniques.
Where are you today?
Behind the kitchen table of the small apartment in Berlin Prenzlauer Berg that I’ve sublet for a few weeks. I’ve just returned to Berlin after having lived in Toronto (where HOLO was born) and New York for five years and I am still settling in. My friends tell me decent apartments aren’t as easy to come by as they used to be, and if the nomadism of the past few weeks is any indication – I lived in five different places since I got back in late March – they’re right.
What can you see from the window?
The nightly smokestack-laden rooftops of typical turn-of-the-century Berlin apartment buildings that frame the little courtyard down below. It’s quite nice actually, and reminds me a little bit of my very first apartment in the Ostkreuz neighborhood. Only that was rotten to the core. Then again, it was the mid-90s and much of East Berlin was.
Are you a morning or evening person?
Whatever my schedule requires. Working in two different time zones over the past five years has screwed with what little daily routine I had. Today, I’m as comfortable working long nights as I am getting up at 4AM for a meeting. I will say that I hoped for more regular hours once HOLO was out, but here I am, typing this at 3AM – and a day late.
What’s your favourite magazine this morning?
Can I get away with saying HOLO? Having just started shipping in April, our inaugural issue still feels somewhat ‘hot off the press’ and I find it hard to put it away. After having poured my heart and soul into this for more than three years – as cliché as it might sound: HOLO is the magazine I always wanted to read – I’m still not quite over the fact that it’s out and a reality now. I keep carrying around a copy as if for reassurance, and leaf through it with joy and scrutiny whenever I can – preferably over a good cup of coffee, as I always imagined I would.
To plug a few other favourites: HOLO was inspired by a whole range of fantastic publications, from the usual suspects like Elephant, Colors and apartamento, to quirky zines like O Fluxo and Junk Jet. Interestingly, the one magazine that turned out most influential for developing HOLO was the Vancouver-based Inventory – the space and intimacy Ryan Willms dedicates to each of his featured subjects and their respective work environments left a lasting impression on me. Ditching conventional magazine wisdom he would spend sixteen pages on some craft shoemaker few have ever heard of – wonderful! Lastly, seeing a wave of amazing indie publications emerge as we worked on HOLO – hello Offscreen, Alpine Review, and The Travel Almanac – put extra wind in our sails.
I can’t think of another magazine dealing with the areas HOLO covers – maybe Wired is the nearest? How do you describe the magazines’ subject matter?
Our tagline reads ‘Emerging trajectories in art, science, and technology’ – a claim we begrudgingly settled on just days before the magazine went to print, because despite our clear vision we never felt comfortable putting HOLO into one particular box. It’s neither an arts, science or technology magazine – it’s about the expanding territory in between. Be it artists working with scientific data, using robotics for kinetic sculptures, augmenting the body with light or calling attention to surveillance – there’s enough evidence for a ‘New Normal’ that sparks fresh ideas, critical practices and fantastic stories waiting to be told. While this is indeed a novel concept for a magazine, HOLO is not the only print publication within this field. We share many interests with MIT Press’ Leonardo, the Paris-based MCD or Alessandro Ludovico’s Neural, a pioneering periodical founded in 1993 that is still being published today.
What sets HOLO apart is not only our commitment to the traditional strengths of the medium (photography, illustration, a whole toolbox of editorial formats), but a conscious effort to cut through the academic and specialist lingo in order to speak to a broader audience as well. We do that by putting people front and centre. To borrow a line from our Kickstarter campaign: ‘HOLO is about people interrogating technology. And it focuses on things we’re missing on the web: the faces, personalities and anecdotes behind important work.’ Looking at the magazine now, I think we followed through.
How well did the Kickstarter process work for you?
Anyone who’s ever run a crowd-funding campaign will tell you the same thing: nothing prepares you for the onslaught of administration once you hit the goal. Beyond our own share of missed deadlines, production mishaps, and unforeseen detours we regularly ended up mired in wrapping campaign gifts, crafting updates or verifying a good thousand mailing addresses when we should have been working on the magazine.
Regardless, Kickstarter was the only way for HOLO to come into the world – we spent months pitching HOLO to many of our favourite publishers to no avail. The campaign also put the magazine on the map long before the first issue went to print. That opened doors and helped build an audience beyond our initial backers. But yeah, we won’t miss the Kickstarter days. The hardest part: living – and struggling – in the public eye. As Golan Levin said in a HOLO piece about revealing debug views of his work to an audience: “It felt like my underwear was showing.”
HOLO is a 200-page beast of a magazine; how long did it take to art direct and design?
The magazine went through more than one design phase, partly because our editorial formula kept growing well beyond the initial goals, and partly because of bumps we encountered along the way (for example, one of our initial designers jumped ship for a flashy corporate gig). Eventually, we worked with Jan Spading and Oliver Griep of zmyk, their new-found studio. I knew Jan from my days at GEE, a now defunct but still revered German magazine about video game culture, and he and Oliver ‘got’ HOLO right away. Still in Toronto at the time, I would spend hours chatting with them in Skype, discussing ideas, photo selection and typography.
After we signed off on the overall direction (the design went through three rather different iterations) I joined them for a two week work session at their Hamburg studio to guide finalization and implementation, an intense process that again saw detours but ultimately ended with a big win! All in all, art direction and design took about eight weeks. The subsequent editorial fine-tuning however – painstaking tinkering at the sentence by sentence level – easily stretched twice as long.
The design is clean and modern with a few subtle tech references – underscores for emphasis for instance. Was it difficult to rein in the technology references in the design?
Not really. We never wanted HOLO to be overly technical to begin with – neither editorially or design-wise. While the magazine does offer the footnotes, references and terminology you’d expect from a magazine interested in art, science, and technology, we were rather careful in how we used them, and editorialized where possible. Everything, from long-form features to ‘field notes’ (tangential bits of knowledge, anecdotes and insight) were written and designed with accessibility in mind.
We did however deploy some technological tricks under the hood: for the cover design and partner pages we teamed up with Amsterdam-based conditional design studio Moniker to trace all the letters in the magazine (think X-Ray character vision) and create density maps for any desired set in a Processing application. The fold-out timeline in the back of the magazine features a generative image stream, that was rendered using basil.js, a scripting plug-in for InDesign.
What are you most looking forward to this week?
The HOLO launch party at Eyebeam in New York on Friday! It’ll be great to raise a glass with local Kickstarter backers, featured artists and many smart people in New York’s art and design scene. It’s also a rare opportunity for the whole team to be together. Greg J. Smith (Editor-in-Chief) and Sherry Kennedy (Project Manager) are based in Toronto, Filip Visjnic (Editorial Director and Editor-in-Chief of CreativeApplications.Net, HOLO’s mothership) lives in London and I’m a Berliner again.
While the always-on Skype channel that substitutes for our editorial office now, has us covered for the daily back-and-forth, we can’t wait to be in the same room again and butt heads over HOLO 2. The plan is to lock ourselves into a Brooklyn studio space for a few days and only come out on Friday night.
What are you least looking forward to this week?
Packing for New York and Montréal (where I’ll be the week after). I’m a terrible packer and tend to put it off until it’s essentially too late to really care.
What will you be doing after this chat?