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León Muñoz Santini
At work with

León Muñoz Santini

This morning we’re back at work and meeting magazine makers from around the world again. Today we visit Mexico City to catch up with editorial designer León Muñoz Santini, who as well as running his own studio has been art directing culture magazine La Gaceta for the past seven years .

Tell us about your typical Monday journey to work.
Typically I start my working day at home. The usual commute is from bed to the kitchen to prepare coffee and then to the studio room and sit in front of the computer. A five minutesride! That first two, three hours of the day are very precious in terms of being a designer that actually designs something. Trying to get advantage from the only moments of clear mind of the day on being productive by being creative. The next part of the day is more about the duties needed to keep this on track: coordinate with the studio team, meeting people, answering mails, making phone calls…

Describe the state of your desk and what you can see in your office.
Domestic and messy, to make sure I always have at hand interesting and inspiring material. The view from the windows is amazing: from a ninth floor facing to the west, the magnificent, endless horizon of Mexico City (above).

Which magazine do you first remember?
Proceso, Cambio16, Nexos, Time, the political magazines that my parents read. Now that I think about it, my father was an intensive magazine reader and enthusiast of the subject. And the house of my childhood was always full of newspapers, magazines and books.

Which magazine matters to you the most right now?
Matters the most probably is no longer the proper expression. Fascination for endless magazines. Still reading, willing to pay for it, just usual suspects: The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, Frieze, Art Forum…

Can you describe your magazine in three words?

Tell us about your design studio and its work.
A small one, with only four people working permanently. The studio divides their daily activities in two big branches. One as a ‘regular’ design studio, focused basically on editorial and book design. We work with a variety of publishers and cultural institutions. Book collections, art catalogues, coffee table books, annual reports, diverse book covers, mainly.

And the other as a small publishing house named Gato Negro Ediciones, a beautiful side project that grew up big, and nowdays tends to be out of control. A good, inspiring and exciting out of control.

After seven years working on La Gaceta, how do you keep the project exciting for you and the magazine’s readers?
The short answer is the usual: by trying to craft the magazine we’d like to read. And since we continue madly in love with magazines and printed matter in general by trying to make of each number an opportunity for experimentation and fun.

The long answer it’s little more complicated. Some context is needed:

La Gaceta is a 64 year old monthly magazine published by the Fondo de Cultura Económica, a 85 year old State-founded and funded Mexican publishing house. Arguably with the most vast and important catalogue in the Spanish speaking world. It’s now a big publishing holding group releasing hundreds of new titles every year, with subsidiaries in eleven countries and a network of more than forty bookstores. A big animal.

During that long period time La Gaceta has been very different publications, with periods of glory (markedly two: one in the late fifties, and another during the seventies and eighties, when it became one of the most prestigious and interesting cultural publications in México) and others rather gray or frankly decadent.

Being a free magazine, completely dependent on the Fondo, La Gaceta has frequently been the victim of all the perverse stimuli associated with being able to exist outside the market. Thus the quality and visibility of the magazine has depended over the years on the interest, talent and / or enthusiasm that the directives of the Fondo in turn invested in it.

Almost eight years ago, when we were invited to join the project, the people in charge were a team of talented and experienced editors, willing to refresh and reinvent La Gaceta, and put it back on top of its old prestige and tradition. The intention was to promote and review the novelties published by the house and expand the conversation around them. Create a fresh, incisive, intelligent and good humored space. A publication that honors the tradition that precedes it, that transacts a certain sense of authority through supposing the best of the reader and proposing an intelligent and diverse conversation.

In recent years the situation changed, a new board of directors arrived and La Gaceta ceased to be a priority and rather a problem to manage. It stopped being handled by an editor to be administered by a bureaucrat. So La Gaceta’s creation in recent times has been more a struggle to maintain a certain standard of creativity and quality against the context of extremely short delivery times, poorly conceived numbers and zero budget to produce content.

Describe the current state of Mexican magazine design; in additon to you, who else is creating interesting work?
The Mexico scene is diverse, contradictory, in crisis. In general a very regular, mediocre level with a few outstanding exceptions. Maybe like in other parts of the world, many of the new and more interesting projects have skipped the printed part in order to have an exclusively digital life.

Rigoberto de la Rocha, at Grupo Travesias. Some magazines from Grupo Expansión. Independent projects as 192, Terremoto, Animal, P Magazine, Solar

What’s going to be the highlight of the week for you?
Send to the press a huge book that we’ve been working for the entire year. The visit of a dear and respected artist from the States to start working on a long waited and exciting book fo Gato Negro

What will you be doing after this chat?

Discover more about the Mexico graphic design scene at this year’s AGI Open, 28—29 September, Mexico City.

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