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At Work With: Luke Tonge, The Recorder
At work with

At Work With: Luke Tonge, The Recorder

Typeface company Monotype first launched its journal The Recorder in 1902, and it continued to publish type and related technology news until ceasing publication the 1970s. Monotype have recently relaunched it in a bright, magazine-y new format
. We look at the week ahead with its art director Luke Tonge, a Birmingham-based graphic designer previously responsible for Boat magazine.

Where are you today?
In the Jewellery Quarter, Birmingham, sat at my desk, upstairs, in a beautifully restored old building that LIFE Agency currently calls home. Magazines are currently only my part-time obsession rather than full-time employment, so during normal working hours this is where I can usually be found. LIFE is an amazing agency though and really supportive of my extra-curricular print-based activities as they understand the value of a creatively satisfied mind. My daytime role is predominately advertising & branding focussed, and then by night its editorial design & art-direction all the way!

What can you see from the window?

The building next door! Ha, that’s not very inspiring sounding is it? Fortunately the thing I can see most of is sky, as I sit right next to huge windows and our studio is on the first floor. The Jewellery Quarter itself is a really interesting little ecosystem – walking distance to the city centre but far enough away to have its own identity – and there’s still a real sense of craft and industry about the place (nowadays its home to a lot of agencies & studios, alongside the biggest concentration of jewellers anywhere in Europe). I try every day to get some fresh air and explore the area with my camera, type & sign spotting, as anyone who follows me on Instagram will have noticed!

Are you a morning or evening person?
I’m definitely not a morning person! I honestly have about 20 alarms set with five-minute intervals – which is probably necessary due to my nocturnal design activities! When working on a new issue its an intense season of late nights and very busy weekends, but it's definitely worth it. I’ve always found working late into the night very peaceful and low-stress – its such a contrasting atmosphere and environment to working with one eye on the clock during the day as part of a busy studio.

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What’s your favourite magazine this morning?
It changes daily, but today its Issue 4 of Works That Work, truly a magazine that lives up to its descriptor (‘unexpected creativity’). Its a great compact size, and packed full of brilliant articles – I particularly loved the piece about improvised design during the siege of Sarajevo. I’ve also recently enjoyed new issues of Weapons of Reason, Fedriogni’s Pulp and Mohawk’s Maker – and after weeks of desperately trying to track down the Chris Nolan edited US edition of Wired I found it at the weekend – and it looks amazing. On that subject I recently posted some of my favourite magazine covers from 2014 on my blog (including Wired) if you’re interested check out my top 10 here & 10 more honourable mentions.

The new version of The Recorder is very different to the original. Did you look back at the earlier magazines or carefully avoid the archives?
Thats right, a radical change! Like most designers I’m fascinated by the past century of design, so it was very tempting to trawl through the Monotype archives in Salford and learn all I could about the old Recorders. With re-brands I usually prefer to get my head around the history and context of the subject matter in question, but with a magazine re-design like this its a bit different. I opted not to be influenced by the weight of history because the brief was so clear about totally reimagining what the magazine could be, and aside from a few principles there’s not a lot of elements we would’ve brought through (and public awareness of the original is very limited). Pleasing everyone is impossible, but based on all the feedback we’ve had I think we achieved our aim for Issue 1 of broadening the titles appeal and introducing a brave & bold new direction, which we can build on in subsequent issues.

A design magazine can head in one of two visual directions – clean and pure, or bright and cacophonous. Why did you to choose the latter direction?

Great question – although I’d hope the new Recorder isn’t seen as discordant – but bright and eclectic for sure! I think it was a combination of factors; personal aesthetic preference (I really love the colourful confidence of Eye, Baseline, Slanted & Codex etc) a subconscious reaction to the prevalence of aesthetically minimal titles (Kinfolk, Cereal, Oh Comely, Another Escape etc ) and a desire to let the content shape the aesthetics (typography is such a visually rich subject I didn’t want to impose limits on what should continue to evolve into a more experimental publication). I think design magazines particularly are an opportunity to bring to life the subject matter beyond simple text and photography.

As part of that visual feel, The Recorder features an unusually large selection of typefaces. What was your favourite, and why?

The Recorder is a first and foremost a celebration of type, but it also has a secondary function as a brand tool, so it was important (and a no-brainer) to showcase some of the 18,000 fonts available in the Monotype Libraries. Of course I could’ve selected the usual 2 or 3, but that would’ve felt like a disservice to the topic. The 10 utilised are a snapshot of the wider collection, including timeless classics like Century & Neue Haas Grot, along with more innovative display faces and recent releases. It was used sparingly but I love the slightly bonkers stencil ‘Balega’ by Jürgen Weltin. It’s only 10 years old but already feels timeless, its especially beautiful when you crop right into it exposing the construct of individual letterforms (the lower case z is particularly outrageous!) If you’ve picked up a copy of the Recorder you’ll spot Balega in action on page 117/118, the ‘Colophon & Contributors’ spread.

What are you most looking forward to this week?
Christmas crafternoons with Tash my wife! Its been a heck of a year with some unexpected health challenges happening at home alongside the huge honour of working with Emma & James on the Recorder, so we’re really looking forward to simply enjoying Christmas together. Graphic design can be all-consuming so its doubly important to prioritise other things in the holidays (note to self). Work wise Issue 2 of the Recorder will begin early in the new year, so in anticipation I’m looking forward to pouring over some old SPD annuals I’ve started collecting. Lots of little things too: sharing an interview on FormFiftyFive I recently did with Adrian & Tony (who run the brilliant publishers Unit Editions), the annual LIFE lads KFC Christmas trip, Christmas Carols at the weekend, and later today catching up with my pal Marksteen Adamson who is just a joy to be around (& creative genius).

What are you least looking forward to this week?
I’m really not looking forward to working my way through my to-do list! I love inbox zero and I’d love to start a new year with a clean sheet and an empty list – but there’s some whoppers still on there and things seem to be busying up not winding down! Maybe I need to add ‘delegate’ & ‘say no more often’ to my to-do list? I can’t complain though, I’m stoked to be closing the lid on a crazy year and really excited about 2015!

What will you be doing after this chat?
Getting back to work! I’m in the middle of a couple of great brand guidelines projects that deserve my full attention… time to close the browser window. Great chatting J, have a good one!

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