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At Work With: John Summerton, Sidetracked
At work with

At Work With: John Summerton, Sidetracked

Following the Easter holiday we look ahead at the four-day week through the eyes of John Summerton, web designer, outdoor enthusiast and founder of adventure travel magazine Sidetracked. Launched in 2011, Sidetracked is a site that captures the experience of adventure travel through personal stories. Following the recent launch of their first print edition, we join John as he starts work on an iPad version.

Where are you today?
Sat at the kitchen table at our home in Worcester having a cup of coffee and going through a few emails before heading out the door. Being freelance I tend to work either at home or at a desk that I rent from a design agency in the centre of Worcester. I used to just work at home but after about five years of doing so I became a complete antisocial hermit so now I really like to get out of the house and be in a creative environment. Sidetracked doesn’t have a base yet as the team are pretty spread out over the UK so I use Basecamp to project manage everything and we have regular catch up calls on Skype to keep things moving. One day I’d like to have a nice log cabin out in the countryside somewhere for the Sidetracked HQ but there’s a long way to go before that!

What can you see from the window?
Our very small garden that needs a bit of attention. The kids have left various toys lying around yet again, the patio needs a good jetwash (something I’ve been saying I’ll do for the last three years) and the weeds are starting to come through. But the sun is shining this morning and it looks like its going to be a great day. We’re pretty lucky to live where we live. We’re just outside of the city in a Victorian townhouse with a brilliant park across the road for the kids, and 10 minutes on a bike in any direction will take you out into the countryside.

Are you a morning or evening person?
Hmm… morning – but definitely not early morning! I’m a snooze button addict and it takes me a fair while to get moving. However, once I’m coffee-fueled and have replied to all of my emails then I tend to get my work head on and focus pretty well during the day. I try not to work into the evenings too often as family life takes over. I’m certainly not a workaholic and definitely of the ‘work to live’ mentality. Plus I’m a terrible procrastinator and, by the evenings I get distracted really easily and productivity goes out of the window.

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What’s your favourite magazine this morning?
Can I have two? The first is Like the Wind. I met the founders in London last Thursday – such great and enthusiastic people so it was a pleasure to meet them and chat about our respective experiences of entering into independent print. The second is the brand new issue of Boat that arrived on Saturday. It has a beautiful new look, new branding and such great content as always.

Any notable adventures during your Easter weekend?
Yes! I had to get up on our roof to do some repairs which scared the life out of me! I did manage get out on a nice long bike ride over the Malvern hills and along the Herefordshire borders too though. I’m training for my first sportive in the Peak District in May and need to build up some stamina for the ominous sounding ascents en route. Other than that it was just great to turn off the laptop and chill out a bit. Things have been pretty busy with Sidetracked this year (plus running a freelance design business) so it was great to take a bit of time out.

Your print magazine is brand new, but the Sidetracked website’s been around a while. What did you set out to achieve with the site?

Yes, Sidetracked has been in existence for three years now. I was pretty frustrated with my freelance work at the time and I was chatting with a friend of mine about how none of the work I was doing was particularly interesting to me. For some time I’d been mulling over an idea of creating a website that was essentially a digital magazine focusing entirely on personal experiences of off the beaten track travels, adventures and even expeditions and exploration. Stories that were told by those undertaking the journeys and all presented online in a simple, beautiful format. I needed change and the chance to push myself a bit.

It was whilst waiting in the queue for a meatball sandwich in the local baguette shop that I decided it was time to stop winging and just make this happen. I got in touch with some adventurers and explorers (great job titles!) explaining my idea and had a great reaction and loads of support. I compiled 10 stories into the first digital edition and released it in June 2011 to an audience of about 300 readers! So much work and effort for such a small audience. But at least it was a start!

For the first year it was very much a spare time project and I was slowly learning some of the ins and outs of getting a (digital) magazine off the ground. But the concept – the idea of well presented long format articles – was pretty rare at the time and the reaction from people who did discover Sidetracked was incredibly positive. So I pushed on, expanded the team with some help from Jamie Bunchuk and Andrew Mazibrada (both of whom are now editors for Sidetracked), and we started to get noticed, learning and evolving the website all the time. The team has now expanded a bit and we now have support from a London based brand and marketing agency who is helping us shape and direct Sidetracked over the next year. We’re also really lucky to have Martin Hartley, a respected poler/adventure photographer as our Director of Photography.

Sidetracked was an escape for me from my work at the time but that’s kind of also the concept behind it: we capture the emotion and experience of adventurous outdoor life to hopefully inspire and educate. Communicating aspirations, ideas and a taste of adventure through telling stories is the heart of Sidetracked and we’re pushing the brand out through various channels one of which is, of course, print.

A remarkable number of digital magazines are adding print editions at the moment. Is this part of a bigger trend or a series of coincidences? What does print bring to Sidetracked?
Ever since I bought the very first The Ride Journal four or five years ago I’ve been thinking about possibilities for print and I started talking about doing a printed journal for Sidetracked back in 2012. I’ve been working on websites for the last 10 years and love the digital side of things – there are some very clever people doing some very clever things at the moment, and the fast paced digital movement is really exciting – but, print is something very different. Having something tangible, something that isn’t going to be forgotten with a click or a swipe is hugely refreshing in our modern lives. And, judging by the amount of new independent print magazines that are cropping up I’m not the only one to think that.

The whole indie publishing scene is new to us and we have so much to learn, but what I’ve found amazing is the friendliness, help and support that the community provides. For example, in November I met up with Jody Daunton from Another Escape. We’d never met before and traded just a couple of emails prior to meeting. We had a coffee and he openly shared his experience of setting up and running Another Escape, advice on stockists, distribution and answered everything I could think of asking. We are all carving our own niche and I think the results are a wonderful new range of unique, crafted publications that are timeless, relevant and a new wave of exquisite coffee table material.

Plus the smell of a freshly printed magazine is amazing!

What are you most looking forward to this week?
Lots of Sidetracked work! Despite the aforementioned love of printed magazines, we absolutely have to consider the digital equivalent. Not everyone is such a big fan of print (or the cost of it) and with our core being in the digital domain we want to offer this alternative. It’ll the be the same exclusive content but with some design adjustments to tailor it to the device.

Incidentally, on a side note, I read the ‘Are Apps Dead’ article by Robert Newman via your site which is extremely interesting and poses lots of questions. My thought is that magazine apps won’t die but will need to evolve to become a good, useful and usable alternative to a print equivalent. Personally I think an app will allow us to get the Sidetracked content out to a far wider audience and that can only be a good thing. I’m also working on content ideas for volume two and we’ve also just made some design updates to the website so I’ll be doing some more work on that. I get seriously excited chatting about Sidetracked and always look forward to working on all parts of it.

I’m also looking forward to an evening bike ride on Thursday as I’m pretty sure they’ll be a fantastic pub at the end of it.

What are you least looking forward to this week?
To be honest, I can’t think of anything at all! Sounds a bit crazy doesn’t it but I’m riding a bit of high following the launch of volume one so things are all pretty good. I suppose one thing would be my accounts desperately need doing. But they can wait until next week I think.

What will you be doing after this chat?
I’ll walk into town, probably grabbing another coffee along the way, sit down at my rented desk, go through the rest of the weekend emails and then turn on Spotify and the day begins.

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