At Work With: Kai Brach, Offscreen
Kai Brach was a web designer until 2012 when he decided to launch Offscreen, a magazine that explores the life and work of people who use the internet and technology to be creative, solve problems, and build successful businesses. Kai edits, designs and publishes the magazine on his own, splitting his time between Melbourne and Berlin. We look ahead at his week as completes the ninth edition of Offscreen. Kai will be speaking in London next month at The Modern Magazine 2014 conference.
Where are you today?
At my little home office here in Melbourne’s north, an area called Brunswick. I’ve just come back from A Minor Place, a café that’s about a ten-minute walk away. When I work from home (usually 3 days per week) I often break up my day by going to a café in the morning and returning home just before lunch. Two days per week, usually Monday and Friday, I head out to a shared office space located in one of the trendiest parts of Melbourne called Fitzroy. It’s great to hang with friends and get my social fix during that time. We usually have a Jelly every Friday, which means most of us pretend to be working, while we wait for someone to called it beer-and-burger-o-clock.
What can you see from the window?
I'm lucky to still have a fairly nice view over the western parts of Brunswick — the sunsets are actually amazing! It's definitely one of the more up-and-coming areas of Melbourne’s metropolitan suburbs. Old warehouses are being demolished and replaced my cheaply and quickly built apartment blocks. We currently have three huge construction sites on our street alone. Yet, it'd be silly to complain, because I live in a fairly new apartment myself. Australia urgently needs more accommodation for its ever-growing urban population — and overseas property investors that have too much money and consider $700,000 for a crappy one-bedroom apartment a bargain.
Are you a morning or evening person?
I definitely prefer the first half of the day. Usually I get up around 7am and brew a cup of coffee to slowly shift into work mode. There is something about the ‘newness’ and ‘unspoiltness’ of the day that I really enjoy. Ergo, I really dislike late afternoons. Especially in summer, when the afternoon sun heats up our apartment my brain grinds to a halt. I can't stand that feeling of a day that's almost finished. Ha! I guess that's the difference between someone enjoying their job and someone loathing it.
What’s your favourite magazine this morning?
Let me see... I've just finished designing the newest issue of Offscreen, and for inspiration I have on my desk: The Outpost, 99U Quarterly, and MADE. Especially MADE is one of those magazines that I refer back to quite often when it comes to editorial design. Thomas Williams is one of the most talented (editorial) designers I have met so far. So today, I think I’d pick MADE as my favourite.
And your favourite website?
Besides all the online tools I use to get work done, I don’t think I currently have a favourite website. I get most of my online content and news through Twitter. Let me see what I wasted time on this morning... I quickly browsed through this great magazine-filled tumblr, added this interview with Monocle’s Andrew Tuck to my reading list, and finished reading a NY Times article on what it's like to be a journalist in today’s day and age.
Actually, I spent most of this morning on YouTube uploading a time-lapse video of me laying out an interview in Indesign. Seeing me do this stuff in fast-forward mode actually makes me look like I know what I'm doing!
As someone without prior experience of print, launching your own magazine has been quite an adventure. Have you been surprised by how things have turned out?
I didn't really know what I was getting myself into, to be honest. But it definitely helped me overcome inertia and just get something out there. The first issue was really just an experiment to see whether I can actually pull it off. Tired of working with clients exclusively on digital stuff, creating ‘something physical’ felt like a nice challenge. Only after issue four, I think, I’ve realised that this could be an ongoing thing — a profession, rather than just a project.
Because of this somewhat accidental way into this industry, I still don’t feel confident telling people that I'm a publisher. It somehow suggests that I have a particular expertise in this field, but, honestly, I don't think I do. I know just enough about editing, writing, designing, internetting, etc. to put together a file and send it to my printer. He does the rest. Therefore, all the things I say about publishing here and on my blog should be taken with a grain of salt. I'm still very much figuring things out. What does this button do?
Which parts of your previous life as a web designer have been relevant to publishing a magazine?
I think I've always been pretty disciplined and resourceful about my work (I’m German after all!). These are definitely traits that come in handy when creating something with as many loose ends as a magazine. But I think what has been most helpful to me is adapting the mindset that exists within the web community.
In its essence, the web is a space where people come together to solve problems and exchange knowledge. People share their work and their solutions, often for free and for everyone else to see. If you think about it, the whole web pretty much runs on open-source software that thousands of people work on simultaneously, without getting paid. It's incredibly inspiring! Anyway, that mindset of 'figuring things out', of trial and error, of teaching yourself through iteration and looking at what other people have done before you, has been incredibly beneficial to me. For instance, before Offscreen I never really used Indesign before. So I jumped on Lynda and taught myself how to use it. It's as simple as that.
I want to encourage more people in the print industry to embrace that sort of transparency and the sharing-culture that exists on the web. One way I'm doing this is through my blog, where I write about all the little failures and successes I've experienced over the years. I also hope that people see that — just like on the web — there are no real rules in publishing. Do whatever works for you, then share what you learned.
What single piece of advice would you offer anyone thinking of starting their own magazine?
Don’t be intimidated by the stuff that’s already out there. It's too easy to think that you’ll never produce anything that's as good as the publications you admire. Don't measure yourself that way.
Forget about any preconceived ideas of what a magazine is or is not. Just get started. No inaugural issue has ever been perfect. The photos in your magazine don’t have to be as polished as those in the latest hipster food magazine. And a few typos are alright too. Just be unique and let your own character shine through. Give your readers a reason to like your publication and the person behind it, including the quirks.
What are you most looking forward to this week?
If all goes well, I can finalise the Indesign files of issue nine in the next few days, export crucial photos/pages, and get proofs printed at a local printer here in Melbourne. I usually find more typos every time I export ‘the final’ version. It’s driving me cuckoo, but at the same time I know that I’m oh-so close to finishing yet another issue. And that makes me happy!
What are you least looking forward to this week?
The meeting with my accountant to prepare my tax statement. He’s already told me on the phone that there is good news and bad news: I’ve earned a little more this year than last, but we were way off with our quarterly tax prepayments, so I’m owing the tax office a chunk of money. Sending thousands of dollars to a government I’m at odds with 99% of the time is about as pleasant as a colonoscopy.
What will you be doing after this chat?
I’ve had enough of Indesign and photo retouching for today. Time to put on my web designer hat and start preparing the website for the launch of the new issue, hopefully due in early/mid September.