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At Work With: Simon Esterson, Eye magazine
At work with

At Work With: Simon Esterson, Eye magazine

Simon Esterson has had a huge influence on editorial design, not only through his ground-breaking work on projects such as Blueprint, Domus and The Guardian but also via the many young designers who have started their careers in his studio and gone on to establish their own reputations. Since 2008 he has co-owned and designed Eye magazine, and here we look ahead at his week as issue 87 completes production.

Where are you today?

I’m in our second floor shared studio in Hoxton Square with my breakfast: take-away porridge and a latte. Soon people will start arriving. The Esterson Associates team (Roger Browning, Holly Catford, Isabel Duarte, Alex Ecob and Jon Kielty), the Eye team with John Walters and Jay Prynne, and Janet South who looks after the money (and us). A little further down the big bench we sit at is Stephen Coates who works with us on some projects (like Art Quarterly magazine for the Art Fund) but also has his own design practice. At the other end of the studio is Mark Porter and his team including Peter Robertson. We work on things with Mark too (the newspapers NZZ am Sonntag and Publico) although Mark is usually out of the studio giving a guru lecture about the future of newspapers in some Scandinavian city. Matt Willey was here for a while but sadly (he says) the travel from his home was too much.

What can you see from the window?
Past the piles of books, magazines and old proofs precariously stacked around my desk I can just see Hoxton Square itself, the trees, the grass that's turned to mud, the large beer delivery lorries trying to negotiate the small parked-up roadway. Port magazine's new office.

Are you a morning or evening person?
I have a really short bus trip to the square from home. So I try to catch-up with emails early in the morning (like this) and I usually end up designing stuff (as in I actually have a moment to move things around on screen myself) in the evening. Most of the day is spent talking with the team and our clients, looking at work we're doing and of course on email. I might go to a printer to see a job on press or to Dawkins Colour to look at proofs or some retouching. Some days I feel like a plate juggler not a designer.

What’s your favourite magazine this morning?
There are the constants: Vanity Fair, Bloomberg Businessweek, New York, New Yorker (I might be working in the wrong city), but I'm a magaholic. So at the split second i'm typing this my favourite other magazines are Riposte and the Swiss title Reportagen. I can't really read that properly, but I think the format is very strong (design: Moire). Matt Curtis and co are doing an amazing job reviving the Sunday Times Magazine. Anything by Matt Willey. The printer just gave me copy of Hole and Corner… very beautiful photography and art direction.

Eye 87 cover about to go on press at Pureprint in Sussex. Richard Owers (who looks after Eye) with proof and machine plates.

Many people will know your current work on Eye, but you also run a full-time design studio working with clients. Describe the studio and its work.
The studio designs editorial things: newspapers, magazines, books, digital. With some of these projects we just work on the launch (Roger is redesigning a weekly business-to-business magazine which I can’t reveal) but some publications we redesign and then continue to be involved with every issue. So (amongst other things) Alex works with The Architectural Review, Holly designs Museums Journal for the Museums Association and Isabel works with King’s College, London designing their alumni magazines. For these titles we're working with the editors doing layouts, we're commissioning photography and illustration, we're doing print production.

Checking the first sheets off the machine.

What are you most looking forward to this week?
I'm looking forward to one thing being finished. Eye 87 is printed and (as I type this) is binding, so we should be mailing by the end of the week. It's a special issue about food and graphic design. It's one of the biggest, thematically ambitious editions we've ever done and ranges between the graphics of Tunnock’s tea cakes and wine labels to food photography and food magazines. We’re also starting something: we've been asked to make a quarterly magazine for the Italian paper manufacturer Fedrigoni. It’s going to be about their paper and the people who use it. John Walters is editing and Holly will be doing the first layouts this week. Jon is working on a book about the designer Alan Kitching.

As co-owner (with editor John Walters) of Eye you are in effect publisher and designer. Do you find that that enabling or restricting?
It’s both. We make our own decisions (and our own mistakes), but we don’t have a large team or big resources to help us implement them. For me, Eye is a test-bed and a labour of love (but it needs to work as a business) and I hope our readers see it that way too.

You are a strong advocate of magazines and print. How do you see the future of magazines?
For print: Fewer printed magazines but better. Less reliance on the mainstream publisher/advertising revenue/newsstand model. More subscription-based, niche publishing start-ups. Fewer weeklies, more monthlies, quarterlies, annuals. Better production values and varied formats. A better integration with digital products.

What will you be doing after this chat?
Finish porridge, more emails.

Simon will be speaking at Facing Pages, Arnhem, March 28/29

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