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At Work With: Cath Caldwell, CSM
At work with

At Work With: Cath Caldwell, CSM

There’s a great new book about editorial design out this week, by designer/educator Cath Caldwell.
Cath developed her passion for editorial design working in New York, where she worked for Condé Nast. She has also art directed the British edition of Elle and is a founding member of the Editorial Design Organisation. Today she is senior lecturer on the Graphic Communication Design courses at London’s Central Saint Martins, encouraging students to follow editorial design. We look ahead at her week as the book ‘Editorial Design: Print and Digital’ is published.

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Where are you today?

I’m in my little office inside Central Saint Martins about to start teaching. I’m doing a workshop today about how visual language can communicate ideas simply using text and image combined. Though many things have changed, it’s still about the principles of magazine design and not too far from my former professional life as a magazine art director.

At a lunch meeting, I’ll be planning an Enterprise Summit for fine artists here at University of the Arts, (UAL), as part of my other job supporting enterprise and employability. I have two roles at CSM, one teaching and one supporting staff.

At 4:30pm I’ll be going to coding class alongside my first years. I am struggling to keep up with the weekly homework tasks! Coding is pretty similar to Atex typesetting that we used in New York in 1990, just before we went onto Macs fully. Anyone else remember that transition?

What can you see from the window?
The internal view is blocked by enormous typographic signs from Phil Baines’ Central Lettering Library type collection. Real life street signs are everywhere from Victorian gold leaf on glass to 1970’s perspex. Just outside my room the expansive design studios are buzzing with people, coming in for seminars and classes ready to start at 10am. There’s a photo shoot next door and there are barefoot actors on the stair landing practicing dialogue out loud for BA Acting. I came up in the lift with a fashion student in a colourful yeti-sized knitted coat wearing black lipstick and a Homburg. Downstairs in the street we have visitors queuing up for our open days. It sounds like a railway station – no surprise there. The atmosphere is busy and noisy but in my tutorial room it’s calm.

Are you a morning or evening person?
I get my kids out to school at 7:15am and then start work on emails. I often go for a coffee with the ‘girls’ on my way to work. After many years of working late closing magazines, and then working late in the Belknap & Co studio, after the kids went to bed, I have finally given up working in the evenings. Hurrah! Instead I cook and watch The Apprentice with my teenagers.

Like many of you reading this, my life in design is 24/7 mental pursuit. I’ve learned not to overdo it. When I came back from New York with husband John Belknap we started a social design network called MAD (art directors drinking at Blacks) and this was a precursor to the current Editorial Designers Organisation. We were proud to be part of the founding team for EDO, which included Paul Harpin, Simon Esterson, Violetta Boxill and you, Jeremy. Now it’s chaired by Sarah Douglas, and still features talks from eminent designers, though we always need committee members.

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What’s your favourite magazine this morning?

I am swayed by anything new and exciting. This week I will show my students a range of titles from Delayed Gratification to Bloomberg Businessweek and some of the Stack magazine titles. I liked Scott King’s recent Artefact and the raw energy of Chinese/English magazine Cover (on my shelf).

I keep an eye on my ex-students work in Oh Comely, 1 Granary and GQ. I enjoyed watching the ascent of Berg London’s Little Printer idea and proud that Jack Schulze innovated this experiment. I know that other former students are working to push the boundaries of the publishing industry and questioning material and financial sustainability - issues we talk about when teaching design for mobile devices.

Do you secretly wish you were still art directing magazines or are you happy to have moved on to other things?

How did you know? Yes I sometimes wish I was still art director of Elle or Elle Deco. I loved every minute especially directing shoots in NYC and at Elle during the supermodel heyday. Here’s the cover where I painted the letter ‘E’ from the Elle logo on Carla Bruni. We were fed up with the grunge look and the idea was to go naked and use the line Elle – All you need to wear. Carla was totally up for it.

I learned a lot from Harry Evans about visual journalism too at Conde Nast Traveller New York. However, I now I pass all this on through working at CSM. It is very similar to planning a magazine in many ways. I am still discovering new photographers, illustrators, typographers and still supporting creative personalities. I don’t miss the killer deadlines and late nights. No two days at CSM are the same and working with young creatives is a privilege. I had 14 good art director years and 7 years with John at Belknap & Co studio. Been there done that.

Today's publishing industry is really exciting as a design academic and writer. It is supposed to be as ‘easy’ to design and publish your own small publication using the internet. At the ‘big media’ end I respect how the large publishers are investing to try to keep good journalism going against a sea of aggregated content. The London Times, Guardian, New York Times, Hearst and Condé Nast have a really tough job upholding quality and yet not losing money. The results of their (expensive) trials filter down to benefit middleweight publishers, a good example is Scott Dadich’s pioneering early tablet work at Wired US. In my book Jack Schulze talks of the new possibilities in software that are opening up as these ‘big media’ companies wrestle with keeping their assets.

Are your students interested in editorial design or do you have to persuade them of its value?
They are just as fascinated at combining text and image as ever but a lot cleverer now in terms of their choices of output. A good few get the bug for visual journalism and become unstoppable. Even though they all learn coding, they still get a kick from ink on paper and are hungry to learn about using proper typography. Outside Catherine Dixon’s class is just starting on letter-forms.

In my classes we explore What can print do that digital can’t? What can you do in digital that you can’t do in print?

I set up a teaching collaboration with Conde Nast Digital UK so our students could see in action new software they should be using. The CNUK digital team were interested in ideas on editorial user experience and set the students a brief. We revamped our technical support after this collaboration. Then CNUK hired two students, Mina Abdurahman and Qian Yuan (above), to work on ideas for digital development of GQ for mobiles in the summer. Now they are back and using that knowledge in their studies. It’s vital for colleges to avoid nostalgic teaching. I want my graduates to lead the industry not follow the old norm.

As for enthusiasm, yes it is tangible when I team up students from our fashion, journalism and graphics BA courses to design digital and print publications together. It buggers up the timetable but it is worth it as they got so excited and used a lot of video and interactive ideas, and learned that collaborating is not always a smooth road. Welcome to the real world.

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Tell us about your new book ‘Editorial Design: Digital and Print’. Which are your favourite featured projects?

It is all about today’s editorial design with new material on designing for digital. It’s richly illustrated with beautiful groundbreaking examples of design, such as Noma Bar’s series of covers for Wallpaper* (above). There is a lot of practical advice about typography and principles of layout for digital and print too. I rewrote Yolanda’s first edition and marveled at how much has changed since the 2007 edition and the 2010 launch of the iPad. Here we are almost in 2015 and the tablet is part of everyday life. I had to rewrite the synopsis twice as the industry developed around me. Books take ages!

My favourite parts are the interviews with some of my magazine heroes. I liked interviewing Janet Froelich, Scott Dadich and Gail Anderson as I have a soft spot for these American designers who influenced me when I first went to find work in NY at age 24.

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The book is aimed at students (we are all still learning) who want to find out about the editorial design process and how and why we design editorial the way we do. Publishers Laurence King are promoting it as a text book on university reading lists but it is relevant to anyone, with a Hall of Fame section and a chapter on Looking Forward in design. It has briefs ready made for design tutors to use. In the pictures are some examples of work produced from these briefs from the book.

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I am mindful that many people don’t have the privilege of access to a design education and come to editorial design from other routes. I’m on a mission to help the self-taught – I’m no design snob despite being an academic. Of course,you can teach yourself – just borrow the book from the library.

What are you most looking forward to this week?
I’m planning an exhibition centred on the book at CSM, and hosting drinks to say thanks to art directors I interviewed, who helped or gave me material. A budding design team of Brummie students is putting it together ready for opening in January at the Windows Gallery, CSM. This week I’d better invite the people I interviewed: Simon Esterson, Mark Porter, Susanne Sykes, Sarah Douglas, Gemma Stark (Net-a-porter), Jon Hill, John Belknap and you, Jeremy. It is going to be a collision of my professional design friends, my publisher, my academic team, my family - a true alignment of the good things in life.

What are you least looking forward to this week?
My large quince tree has just finished fruiting and I need to sweep up the leaves and do some pruning. I love the garden in spring and summer but in winter it gets very soggy. Can’t seem to persuade the kids to help me.

What will you be doing after this chat?
I better get on with my coding homework. I didn’t hand in last week’s either so I’m going to ask a student to help me. The teacher Sion Fletcher is a digital wizard and an alumnus, so it gives me a real kick that he is now teaching me. He knows more than I do for sure.

Better get to work. Nice chatting to you, Jeremy.

Read more about Cath’s book Editorial Design: Digital and Print at (Discount code for students and magCulture readers is EDITDESIGN for 35% off).

To work with staff at CSM see the; to hire a UAL student and post a job opportunity see

An exhibition based on the book Editorial Design: Digital and Print opens on 6 January at Central Saint Martins 1 Granary Square, King's Cross, London N1C 4AA.

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