At Work With: Brian Struble, Boston Magazine
We start the week at work with Brian Struble, an art director who was worked in New York and Berlin on editions of Vanity Fair, FHM and Esquire. He moved to Boston at the start of 2013 to become design director of the monthly Boston magazine, and quickly found his skills tested by the Boston Marathon bombing.
Where are you today?
I’m working from home today. We are gut-renovating our offices and have been in and out over the past few months. It's definitely reminded me part of what I love about magazines, the collaborative aspect.
What can you see from the window?
Boston’s South End.
How many emails are waiting in your inbox?
Maybe a few. I am pretty good about at least reading them. Responding to them all is always a battle, though.
What’s your favourite magazine this morning?
Bon Appétit. I love how it is a magazine about the lifestyle of food, and how they treat it almost like a fashion magazine. And obviously the design is just beautiful. For the first time in my career, I have a food section to art-direct, so I have found myself looking forward to it every month.
Describe the publishing scene in Boston – big? Small?
Boston has a few great newspapers, but we are the only real magazine. We are brothers with Philadelphia magazine. Our owner, Herb Lipson, is credited with inventing the modern city magazine with Philadelphia in the early 1960s. I actually worked with the design director of Philly mag when we where together at Esquire, so we talk quite often and have a healthy competition going between us.
The cover you published after the Boston Marathon bombing was one of the most viewed stories on the blog this year. Talk us through how it got made.
We were days away from final ship, so I was just tweaking colors and enjoying the beginning of what was turning out to be a surprisingly slow week. After the bombing, we spent the first few hours making sure our editors who attended were safe and back in the office. My editor then gave this great speech on how we need to be the magazine that the city deserves and needs at this moment. That really stuck with me, and was what I used as a starting point.
I pitched about 12 ideas to my editor first thing Tuesday morning, saving the shoes with the knockout heart for last. We have this running joke between us where at the end of our meetings I go, “and here is the ambitious idea.” He immediately went for it.
Epic is a word I overuse in the art department, but that is what I want all of my productions to be. It’s what I think magazines should be... just larger than life. When I decided on shoes, I knew immediately that I wanted as many as possible.
From there it was all hands on deck to get the shoes. We were all over social media, and editors were on their phones. The interns set up boxes at their local colleges to collect. They trickled in at first and I had a few sleepless nights, but by Thursday morning we ended up with around 120 pairs.
From there I piled them into my sister-in-law’s car and headed down to NYC to have Mitchell Feinberg shoot them.
Mitch was my first choice, and he was sold on the heart idea before we even had a single shoe. When we pitched it to him he could not say yes fast enough–he saw the power in it immediately.
I drove back to Boston the next morning while the city was on lockdown in order to approve the proof and put as little type as I could on the thing. I fought for a bit to have no type on the cover, but in the end I think it helped, just a great cover line. Although that dek is like 7 points.
The city magazine is a particularly US thing. Do you keep an eye on what others – New York, Texas Monthly etc – are doing?
Oh, definitely those two. I consider them national magazines, even. I even had a subscription to New York when I was in Berlin. But we keep an eye on a bunch of the other regionals, too, as a lot of our packages overlap. I always look forward to seeing how others treat the same packages.
I’m in Boston this week. What's the single must-do thing I should see/visit/buy or eat?
Definitely a game and a beer at Fenway. It sounds cheesy, but the place really is magical. It is right in the middle of the city, so it's within walking distance of everywhere. And the whole area just lights up on game nights.
I went to my first game a few weeks back after Fenway allowed us to hire a sign painter to paint the entrance gate for the August cover (above). It was one of those ambitious ideas that I never thought the Red Sox would go for, but they were surprisingly very into being a part of it.
That is actually me on the cover. I hired models for the shoot to walk by the sign, and thought it would be fun if I made a cameo behind them as an extra. But after we were back in the office, I realized the outtake of me looking at the sign was just so much more powerful and unforced. Quiet, in a way. I am still getting a lot of ribbing in the office about that one, though.
What was the last thing your editor said to you?
Sorry for taking this vacation during ship week.
What are you most looking forward to this week?
Getting back in the office with the entire staff.
What are you least looking forward to this week?
Getting back in the office with the entire staff. But only because I am losing my Wiffle-ball home-run derby that I started with my photo editor (above). Since most editors were working remotely and the space was cleared out, the art department had the run of the place. This is pretty much what happens in the art department when editors are away.
What will you be doing after this chat?
We just shipped the issue, so I get to enjoy my coffee and work on a sketch of our Best Restaurants package that will hopefully be part of the redesign in a few months. Really looking forward to it.