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Richard Turley interviewed
Designers

Richard Turley interviewed

‘I’m shocked that I’m still doing magazines, honestly.’

There are perhaps a handful of people working in magazine publishing today who could be described as advancing the very idea of what a magazine can be. British designer Richard Turley is one of those select few.


Richard first came to attention in the noughties with his work on Bloomberg Businessweek, after which he experimented with video and advertising. He turned back to print—‘I was just, “Fuck! I remember this. I can do this. I know completely how to do this job.”’—with the self-published Civilization, was appointed editorial director of Interview, and has continued to experiment with magazines like Heavy Traffic, Nuts and Offal.

Our friends at the Full Bleed Podcast have just interviewed Richard. It’s a great listen, Arjun Basu catches him in a reflective mood that covers his career to date.

We’re excited to share an illustrated transcript below, or you can listen via this link:

 



Arjun Basu: You are a busy guy, and you do two million things. I’m sure your time is precious. Let me ask you this before I get to some of your background, but were you hyperactive as a kid?

Richard Turley: I don’t think so.


Or not hyperactive, but just active. Were you overly active as a kid?
No, I don’t think I was actually. No. I think a lot of this kind of ADHD language came up or has arisen in the last 10 or 15 years and I, on some level, identify with it. I think I’ve probably become a little bit more tweaked if you like, but I don’t recall doing too much.

But I, as my life has gone on, I think I have done more and more things and probably I’ve now created a bit of kind of hyperactivity inside my brain and I would definitely now somewhat identify with being a bit ADHD, but I think it’s a, maybe it’s just phones and modern life has just spun me.


I would just say you’re busy.
I’m definitely busy, a hundred percent busy. And I think the busyness kind of creates a certain sort of hyperactivity around it. And we’re functioning when you are doing tons of things, so yeah, I do. Yeah. I do agree. I concur.


You concur. Thank you. So let’s talk about your education and everything leading up to your first big job, which I guess would be The Guardian. What were you doing? What got you into this?
A love of magazines, really. I’m 47. So I grew up in the nineties and particularly the late nineties. And magazines—music magazines, cultural magazines—were the means of getting information and for finding out about scenes and cultural moments that were happening and bubbling up around you. And that was how you received information.

And I think magazines for me, back then, and maybe still a little bit today, had a flavor of the scenes that they were representing. They inhabited, visually, the styles and characteristics of the media and the culture that they talked about. And so I wrote a lot, and I enjoyed reading a lot, and I love listening to music, and all those things solidified ultimately around graphic design and magazines. And that was my kind of primary interest, really.

And then I went to university and got the opportunity to design a magazine. And that’s when I just totally fell in love with the form really. And the reason for falling in love with it was because it was—sounds so pedestrian, really—it was just about communicating. It was the ability to communicate with people, and to reach an audience, and to see your ideas in front of people, and to see how your ideas upset and interacted with people.

So those are the sort of the motivations, I think, that led me to ultimately get a job at The Guardian, because that magazine that I designed at university, we won a magazine award for, and that gave me an internship and that was where my journey began, really.

And being, again, being very lucky because to be dropped into a media environment that was reasonably well financed back then, and it was stable. And it was at the core of conversations. And newspapers still represent—particularly in the UK, actually—a hefty part of the conversation.

But it was an incredible place to understand, to learn, to be around. The thing about newspapers is you’re surrounded by the smartest people. You cannot help absorb their intellect, and their ideas, and their enthusiasm, and their cynicism. And it was just an incredibly intoxicating environment to be around and to be able to learn through that.

I did other things at the same time. I did a couple of other magazines around the same time. But ultimately The Guardian was where I stayed most of the time. And then I got a job at Bloomberg to do Bloomberg Businessweek. And I came over here.


How did that come about?
At The Guardian I was agitating for a promotion from my boss at the time, and the only way really to get his attention was to get another job. And this is a couple of years prior to Businessweek. So I got a job working—a job I never intended to take by the way, but I just was doing it for leverage. I got a job at Time—the European edition of Time magazine—which was then designed by Arthur Hoxton.

Now, I never interviewed with Arthur, but in order to get that job, I had to send a PDF of my work to him. And Arthur liked that work so much that the PDF didn’t leave his desktop, apparently, for two years. And then a couple of people from Time went to Bloomberg when they bought Businessweek and asked Arthur who they should talk to, in terms of redesigning it.

And Arthur said, ‘There’s this guy.’ And so this PDF, that had been sitting on Arthur’s desktop that I’d sent to him about two years before, was the thing that totally changed my life, and moving over here to do that job.

I never really thought I’d get the job. I was up against Luke Hayman, I think, at the time. I do remember that I think I was up against a couple of other people. And I thought, I don’t think they’re going to give me the redesign, but maybe they might need a creative director to do it. So maybe there’s an opportunity here to just get my foot in the door.

I wasn’t fantastically interested in doing a financial magazine at that point, but I was very interested in moving to New York. That was a huge motivator, the primary motivator. And I got along with Josh [Tyrangiel]. He was the editor who was another ex-Time Inc. person. And we were of a similar age and we just bonded quite quickly. And much to my surprise, they offered me both the job and the redesign, literally, in the car back to the airport.
 
So that was the story. I was probably at The Guardian about two years out of a very big redesign that I’d worked on with a guy called Mark Porter. And so I had a lot of knowledge about redesigns because that process had taken, I think, about two or three years to do that.

And even though I was only sitting in my early thirties, I knew what to do. I knew that process pretty well. So I think that gave me a bit of Yeah, that must’ve given me some chops there that they picked up on. And so in a very short amount of time, I ended up moving to America, to New York with my family. And really my life changed then.

Were you given carte blanche at Bloomberg? Because it went from being, I don’t know, something you may have looked at if the story was good, to something you had to look at if you were at all interested in interesting-looking magazines. And sometimes I just thought, How is he getting away with this?
I think it took about six months for us to actually know what to do with that magazine. We came in, we did a very quick redesign and I think it took us a good few months to understand actually what we’d done and what we were doing.

But no, we weren’t getting carte blanche. But what we were given, and what really was the sort of the secret, behind-the-scenes juice was the fact that Bloomberg didn’t know what they were doing. Bloomberg didn’t have a playbook for how to make a magazine. And that was the secret sauce. Because if that magazine had been bought by Hearst or Condé Nast, something like that, then they would have had a process which they would have imposed on it. And it honestly probably would have been a more successful magazine in many ways.

But because Bloomberg didn’t have any kind of institutional knowledge on how to do this—they just had some kind of the wherewithal to buy it and fund it—we were allowed to experiment in ways—or we were allowed to think about that magazine in ways—that other publishers wouldn’t have even considered.

Another aspect to the behind-the-scenes is also that Josh only reported to one person. He reported directly to Norm Pearlstine. And if Norm liked it, it happened. So they managed to cut out all that kind of bureaucracy.

 



And I very vividly, actually, remember—we redesigned in April and it was a bit hit-or-miss. And the covers were a bit of a struggle. And then I think in October, November, we just hit our stride and there were three or four covers, one of them was this illustration of a Coke bottle. And I felt that there was a little bit of momentum.

But really what happened is that things started to coalesce and kind of fall together towards the end of the year. We did those three or four covers in a row, which were all just a bit different and that gave us something of a roadmap to what we ended up doing for a couple of years, which was just reasonably provocative.
   
We removed all the cover lines from the cover. I made a few moves like that, which just tweaked it or tweaked us into kind of understanding what that magazine and what, particularly, the covers maybe could do. But then once we got that, I think we just had the wind beneath our wings and there was just this sort of energy that pulsed through the team of people we had there.

And we really were still operating in a little bit of an echo chamber—of our own making—in terms of we’d really only think, If we liked it, everyone else liked it.

 



At that time when I was looking at the covers, I was just, Here’s an example of a crazy Brit unleashed in America again. And especially once you hit things like the airline cover—I used to edit an inflight magazine so I was very attuned to stories about airlines—the merger cover. It was so cheeky. That’s when I noticed you guys for the first time. It’s like, “Oh my gosh, look at this.” When you left Bloomberg, the Atlantic did a thing about your best covers, and that is ... there’s not much of that happening—media celebrating other media. I think other media wrote about you because, in a way, they were jealous of the freedom you guys had.
Yeah. I can’t really talk to that beyond it being nice to be on the receiving end of that sort of attention. Again, you have to remember that I was still something of a fish out of water. I think I did about four years at Bloomberg, which probably wasn’t even a full four years. Everything was new to me at that point and—I don’t want to claim complete naivety—but you’re right. I can see that kind of point of view.

So it’s just been an incredibly generous project to me. It did totally change my life, and very unexpectedly as well. I moved over here really to move over here. I was always interested in finance. I much prefer money and finance as a way of understanding the world rather than politics. The Financial Times is my paper of choice. I’ve always actually had an interest in money and how it moves and how it works. But it was never something I thought I would necessarily be designing for.

And I think retrospectively—we weren’t exactly mood-boarding this shit—but we were marinating in “meme culture” a little bit before other people. I think a lot of the covers that we did that we’ve had some success with were quite low-fidelity ideas. They didn’t have the high-gloss finish that a lot of magazines did at the time.


Some of them felt like street art. Like I’m thinking about the hedge fund cover, which is another very cheeky cover. And it’s really simple. Once you get the idea in your head, it doesn’t take long to do it.
Yeah, and I wouldn’t say we’re necessarily looking at street art, but we’re certainly looking at images that were circulating on the internet at that time. There was another one that I did, Bang Your Head Here, which is about frustration about the euro at the time. That was just a literal copy of a meme that was floating around.


I think that was somewhat new at the time. And I had a kind of a frustration with American magazines—not frustration, but I saw what American magazines were doing at the time, and this is like the era of Fred Woodward and Scott Dadich, and in this very high-polished, incredibly Baroque, very complicated, for me overworked, approach.


In 2014, you said, ‘I think most American magazines are pretty terrible.’
I still think they’re pretty terrible. Yeah. Yeah, there you go. Yeah, I had an opinion about it. I just prefer a slightly more direct graphic design approach, if you like. A more direct sort of aesthetic. And I still do. And that’s what Businessweek was. It was just very direct. It was very quick.

We didn’t labor a lot. Once we had the idea we just hit ‘print.’ We didn’t overthink too much. It was first thought/best thought. Sometimes as a consequence of just the timing that it took to do a weekly magazine. Any production process that you have, you essentially spend half the time doing it. That magazine was put together, effectively, in about three days. You didn’t have a ton of time to overthink. It was really just very instinctive thinking.


So then you really changed your career and you went to MTV. And then from MTV you went to Weiden + Kennedy, an ad agency. At MTV you were redoing a lot of things there, so I could imagine it was the challenge, but what did you learn there?
You said the word ‘learn.’ That was the reason I did both of those things was to learn. I was in a very lucky position to be able to be paid to learn a ton of stuff. And so my impulse to go to MTV was the fact that, at that point, video was becoming incredibly important in terms of the types of media that magazines were generating.

And so I thought the best place to learn to do video and how to make things move was a TV company. It was really as simple as that. It was just that I didn’t see a long-term future for myself in magazines at that time. I’m still shocked in some ways I’m still doing magazines, honestly. But back then I was just thinking, This road’s closing. We’re running out of road. So there was an impulse to just to get out while I could, and keep a career going, or to understand that my career had to change at that point.

So I was in this very lucky position in both of those places of having a lot of power, but not really knowing very much. And that principle, which is, for those sort of studious people—Kalmanheads will know—is a direct quote of his, almost, like ‘the state of creative bliss is having power and knowing nothing.’

Both of those situations were very instructive for me, both in terms of the things I learned. And also the things I made, because I didn’t really know what I was doing. You’re not adhering to the rules quite as much because you don’t really know what the rules are. And I think in both of those instances, the work that I did was informed by that sort of quite blunt naïvety.

But to answer your question, it was a learning process, and it was spotting the fact that if I didn’t change my career, then I don’t know if I would have had a career. It wasn’t just a purely creative kind of impulse. It was just a financially driven impulse. It’s just like, If I want to keep on having work then I’m going to have to learn some new skills.
    

Ad agencies are their own worlds and the agency world has its own rules. So how did you find the agency world?

Difficult is the truth. Yeah, the agency I went into, Weiden + Kennedy, is very highly thought of. And they thought very highly of themselves. They really felt that they were doing kind of God’s work somehow, and they had a—

—Most agencies do—

—Yeah. No, I think that’s right. I think Weiden, though, is particularly bad for that. Individually everyone’s very nice, but collectively it’s a beast, that thing. They have a big office, a head office out in Portland and when I got there they wanted me to move to Portland. And I had no intention of moving to Portland.

So I got situated in New York. And there was a lot of, kind of, going out for wings on a Friday night-type thing. And it was a very, like, masculine, very, kind of, “bro,” not particularly creative place. And I just struggled.

The thing that saved me was that I found some commonality in the London office. Obviously, because I’m English, I think they understood where I was coming from and they had this project to redesign Formula One.

So I got pulled over to the London office for the best part of a year to do that redesign of the Formula One project. And that saved me in terms of, like, mentally just giving me something to do. And once I’d done that project, I was just like, “Fuck it. I can just leave. Or I’ll get fired or whatever.” Big picture, it wasn’t really working out at all.


That project is famous. It’s famous. You can read about it. And you had quite a good time, I think, at the end with the F1 logo.

Yeah, it was a really good project. It was just a lot. But you know what, in fairness to that process, and in fairness to everything, and in fairness to myself, it was just an incredible learning opportunity. Because I was senior, I was being flown all over the world. And that was fucking amazing. And I spent a lot of time in Japan, and India, and Brazil, and places. And I got this kind of worldview, which I hadn’t had before. I was also exposed to marketing people and I was exposed to CMOs, so that was something that I’d never seen before.

And so going there was incredibly instructive, informative experience where you just really, you understand how ideas move both through agencies and then how they intersect with marketing, marketing departments. So it was a very useful and interesting kind of experience just to understand how all those pieces of our corporate puzzle work.

And I got exposure to that on every level, from the kids right at the bottom who are initiating the ideas to the people right at the top who are signing off on those bigger ideas. And, so that as a sort of a learning experience was just incredible.
 
So that plus the sort of the Formula One thing was the reason I stayed so long. I think I stayed about four years. But it was equally a learning experience. It was such a, kind of like, weird situation where I was, like, underworked. I just didn’t really have a role or a function. And I was just sort of existing within that company because they could afford to keep me.

So I took on two completely separate jobs. I was essentially moonlighting two jobs at the same time as doing that Weiden + Kennedy job. One of which was starting Civilization. And then working at Interview. So I was actually doing two jobs by the time I got to the end of the Weiden + Kennedy experience, just because I was pretty much not doing anything.



And then you opened your own agency. So we’ll get back to the lessons learned from Weiden + Kennedy, but how did Interview come about? Did Mel Ottenburg give you a call or, how did that happen?
It’s because of Civilization. You talk very fondly about that F1 thing—and I think fondly about it—but it was also very stressful. I was totally out my depth 50 percent of the time because I’ve never actually, I never rebranded anything and I was just like rebranding like the world’s biggest fucking sport. You know what I mean? It was insane how I got into that situation.

And so I was just living by the seat of my pants, really, just making up shit as I went along and just pretending I knew what I was doing. I had no fucking idea how to do it. I was like, totally inventing it. And so I got back to New York and I’d helped out my friend Rod on a newspaper that he did. And I’d really enjoyed that. And it was just like, I can remember the time feeling like it was just like slipping back into a kind of, like, a pair of pajamas.

I was just, ‘Fuck! I remember this. I can do this. I know completely how to do this job.’

And it’d been probably about eight years since I’d really thought about designing anything. I’d probably done a few things in the interim, but not really anything significant. So, again, I landed back and did this newspaper called Civilization, which was a big broadsheet paper that was really interested in text and words. It was very oppositional to social media at the time. And I wanted to do something that was entirely text-based.

And I did that with a friend that I met at MTV, actually, Lucas. And we did that together. And that found its way to Mel. So Mel and the people there had a copy of Civilization and that’s how I got the Interview job.

 



I think one of the interesting things about Civilization is that it’s where you start to really, you obviously always played with type, but you really start to play with type. And the idea of legibility and then Interview is a very pure magazine in many ways. Just words and pictures. And Civilization does the same thing and some of your later work too. And I often wonder if that, before I knew you’d worked at MTV, I wondered where that came from, but then I’m thinking like, that’s actually, maybe that’s MTV.
I think maybe, I think Civilization really was, like I said, it was about, at this time in my life, I start just to become a lot more interested in a lot of things at the same time. So it’s quite hard to explain Civilization in a way there’s not an easy take on it. But the way I explain that project back to myself was that I was really just trying to create the same type of ‘friction addiction’ to using words as the people were finding on Instagram at the time.

 



It’s like people get addicted to Instagram. People get addicted to social media and digital platforms, because they’re never quite sure what’s coming next. And so it makes it very compelling because you’re never quite sure what’s coming next. So you keep scrolling.

And not only are you never sure what’s coming next, but the position of those pieces of content often is very jarring. And it’s actually a very jarring experience to navigate that kind of stuff because there is this necessary friction that happens between the two content types.

 



And so I thought that was interesting. And then I thought, Can you use that methodology for a traditional kind of media form, such as the broadsheet page? So really what I was trying to do is just, sort of attack a page, using this kind of grid system that is in my head and not really ever, expressed in InDesign or whatever, and correct you. And so every piece of content there is situated next to something it shouldn’t really be next to—or at least is designed to be—to increase the friction between the content types.

So that’s how I explained that piece of work to myself: it was about overload and frenzy. It was also about how the language that we’re using on social platforms and how language was changing. It was becoming much more personal and much more poetic in some ways. And so I was interested in all that kind of stuff. And a lot of the projects that I’ve done post-Civilization are just experiments, really.

They’re just their theses: What would happen if you did this? And I think Civilization was the first time I really did it explicitly as a kind of a piece of research of kind of, What would happen if you did this? If you add N to X then what would that look like?


A lot of your projects feel like antidotes to something or reactions. Or even, like, just thoughts come to life.

I think that’s fair.


Like just an idea. Like “What if?”

Yeah, I think. Yeah. And I don’t know if this is the point you’re making, but they’re, usually, they're antidotes to corporate work that I’m doing at the time as well. They’re places to hide it whilst I’m doing something I don’t particularly enjoy doing—that’s unfair, because I enjoy doing most things.

But the frustrations, and the pressures of corporate work where the value system that is attached to a piece of corporate work is very different from from a piece of media, for example. And so I’m able just to play and the experimentation is a good, to use your word, a good antidote to a lot of stuff that’s happening elsewhere in my life.


You once said: ‘Maybe there’s such a thing as too much good taste. New ideas are rarely found by a bunch of people who know what they’re doing. Perhaps the more experience you have, the less you’re able to see.’ And I think a lot of your work reflects that. It’s brand new. And, We’re going to try something and damn the rules.

Yeah I, I forgot that I said that. It’s interesting hearing those words read back to me, but I stand by that. Also, I’m lucky. Like, I’m somebody who just gets approached to do something. I genuinely have opportunities that are not often afforded to everybody, by virtue of reputational stuff, and being easy to Google, and shit, do you know what I mean? I do understand that I’m coming from a quite privileged position saying this, but I do get the opportunity to fuck around.

And I take those opportunities to relearn and to just try and fuck with the process. It’s something I saw at Weiden a lot, actually. It’s incredibly process-driven, and I think there is a formula, there’s a way of working, that spits out a logical kind of conclusion. But I think we’re so cursed at the moment by enterprise tools such as Google Slides, mood boarding. It creates a certain sort of methodology, which dictates not only the creative process, but it really dictates the outcome even before the process has begun, quite frankly.

 



You’ve just described basically how I was going to enter into a discussion about Offal magazine which is a reaction to a lot of things. You’re using Microsoft Word to create the entire magazine.

I should just point out that all of that design was pretty much done by a woman called Julia Schäfer. I think it was probably my idea to do it in Word, but then she actually did it in Word.

That was a really good collaboration with her and I just very much need to say that out loud that I created the conditions for that magazine, like I said. “Let’s just do it in Word. And it’s Word output as a PDF, then reimagine, then re-output, jigsawing a PDF around an InDesign page. That’s kind of the process of that thing.

But again, that it is a good example of kind of cutting off your nose to spite your face or, tie one hand behind your back, because if you can’t use the tools in the way that they need to be used or that they’re requiring to be used, then you’ve at least got a better chance of there being a different outcome at the other end.

And it’s such an obvious point, and I’m sure I’m not the only person who’s thinking about this on a daily basis. I know I’m not the only person to think about it. It’s kind of a preoccupation of mine. In order to get something that feels new and feels different, you have to think about its production differently. And not just fall into established patterns and behaviors. Which is hard because, the processes create efficiencies. And it is easier to do something the way we’ve done it 25 times before. You know what I mean? Of course it is.

But again it’s funny to talk about Tibor [Kalman] again, but Tibor again: ‘The first time you do something, you get it wrong. The second time you do something, you get it right. And the third time you do something, you repeat yourself.’ Now, I think that’s a bit too much of a distillation, but I think there’s a real truth there.

And I think Google and these enterprise tools—Apple and Keynote and things like that—they think they’re doing us a favor creating these efficiencies. And to a certain extent they are, because they bring lay people into the process and they make strategists and designers and writers out of all of us, which is probably a good thing, educationally. And from a knowledge point of view.

But for people who are actually in the creative businesses, in the creative arts, you have to find ways to fuck with them. And you have to find ways of just finding new paths through. Because if you don’t, you get where we are at the moment, where everything looks like Chobani or everything looks like Supreme and it’s it, the machine, it’s a totalizing machine.

It spits out, what it’s what, I dunno.


We all become users as opposed to creators. We’re all using the same things. So a few years ago, you launched an agency of your own, a creative agency, Food. I don’t want to ask why, but I’m going to ask, why did you launch that?

Mostly it was because of this guy called Ian. Ian is the person who brought me into the Formula One job. He worked at Wieden + Kennedy and he left and said, “I think we should just start working together a bit more officially.” And an agency was the most logical way of framing that.

I think another way of framing it was just, it’s three friends messing around together. We’re fortunate enough to be able to be mature enough in our lives to have connections and to be able to generate work. And it’s a place where we can work collaboratively, hang out together, and figure some stuff out. And it’s a good ‘house’ for us all.

We’re not trying to solve some kind of creative agency problem, do you know what I mean? We’re not setting ourselves up for scale much, really. We’re not trying to be the next big agency. We are interested in working together, and it’s a relationship based on friendship as much as anything, as well as speaking very regularly, and talking, and collaborating, and supporting each other’s ideas. It’s a kind of highfalutin’ way of framing it, of thinking about it. But it’s the truth, really.

 

And so after that, I guess the next magazine on the list is Nuts.
That’s a Food project. So that we all have our own interests within Food. Ian builds AI models and he’s a creative technologist. And so the things that he fills within his shed late at night are AI models and just making the computers do—I don’t even know what he does really quite frankly—but he seems to enjoy it.

My thing is magazines, and print, and paper. I still work at Interview obviously. And Nuts was an opportunity just to think about fashion, and clothing, and the things that we wear, somewhat.
 
That was the impulse to do it. We do projects for clothing brands and luxury companies like LVMH, and Dior, and Mulberry, and places. And so we get thrown these kinds of projects. And in addition to that, I’m engaging with fashion and clothing on a pretty much a daily basis, working with Interview.

And so Nuts was informed by that. To go back to this kind of ‘Add N to X’ principle, it's what happens when you collide clothing, and fashion, and the things that we wear with a sort of narrative, and blend those two forms together. And you do it at scale as well. We’re just about to finish the second one, which I think is even longer. The first one was about 400 pages. The next one is going to be 500. And so yeah. Yeah. That’s been a process.

We’ve just done Rolling Stone, by the way. Do you know that we just redesigned Rolling Stone?

 



I had no idea! I knew this was going to happen. I knew you were going to say something that I had no idea about. Tell me about that.
That kind of came from Nuts again, weirdly. This is one of the benefits of doing these kinds of strange projects, these weird, sort of odd-born publishing projects. They attract weirdo publishing people.

One of the women who worked at Rolling Stone came to pick up a copy of Nuts that she bought. And we got to talking, and she was the deputy creative director of Rolling Stone and they were just about to pull the trigger on a redesign, or they were very seriously considering it. And then I was passed on to Gus Wenner, who’s the CEO who runs Rolling Stone.

So it came out of that. It came out of a chance meeting, and a chance conversation, which kind of spiraled into a really great piece of work. We just, we’ve literally just got it back yesterday from the printer. So it’s been about a six month process, on and off.


You’re talking about an iconic title that has been through a lot. Downs, ups, downs. And so what was the brief for that? What did they want?

It was very open. There was never really a statement of work or scope, particularly. It was just, ‘Here. What do you think we should do with it?’ I t felt like my taste was more at the center of the decision making than perhaps other projects.

Interview, which I’m still attached to—and very fond of—that, like my taste dictates the way that looks. And I think I was probably able to spin the way I think about what I want from a magazine—like Interview really was what I wanted the magazine to be. When I looked at that, I just said. ‘We could just get rid of the front of book, get rid of the back of the book. All I really care about is the pictures, so let’s just put the pictures at the center.’

And then when I went to Rolling Stone as a consultant, I was just saying, ‘Look, I think you need to put more words in this thing. You need to bring it back. You’ve got tons of journalism that’s happening on the internet’—I think they produce, like, 50 pieces of content a day. And I didn’t think it was reflected well enough in the magazine that people buy.
 
So that was the mission there, which was almost the exact opposite to what I do at Interview—just to throw more words at it. It’s just “we just need more. You need to go back to those Jann Wenner ideas around content being front and center.” You look back at those Rolling Stone magazines—it was really dense. And so the job there was to find a new version of that type of density.

So that’s what we did, really. We upped the point size, we arranged the whole magazine around the body copy, essentially. Which it sounds obvious because isn’t that what you’re supposed to do all the time? So we just made it, we really made it a reading experience.

And I joked at the time that I want it to feel ‘really smart.’ Because it is smart. It’s a bait-and-switch, that magazine. They put Shakira on the front and then they write about Trump, and Snapchat deaths, and all the evils of the world. It’s a really interesting kind of bait-and-switch, just like The New Yorker puts a nice, pretty illustration on the front and then just hits you with like mountains of words.

It’s definitely not The New Yorker. There’s no kind of commonality there at all, really. But that was the mission for me. It needs to get serious again. It needs to dial down some of—you picked up on it before—there’s a sort of a theme in my stuff, which is a bit more about being reductive, and removing some of the idiosyncrasies, and the detail, and the almost, like, the obsession with graphic design.

That’s something that I think obsesses American media, American magazines. So it’s a much more kind of direct magazine. Sorry, I’m spiraling around here. It’s actually the first time I’ve really talked about it. But the other big move is that we put it on, like, newsprint paper. So it’s a magazine that has this kind of toothy, quite heavyweight newsprint, which is, which just, honestly is—

—Which is where it was at the beginning, too—

—Exactly. Exactly. What we’re trying to do with that thing is just exactly what me and Mel do with Interview. We’re creating a kind of a false history for it. When you pick an Interview now, I think there’s an assumption that it’s always—not ignoring the Fabien Baron years—it’s always looked like that. And actually that’s not true at all. It’s never really looked like how we do it.

And that was a really interesting thought process for me of just creating these, kind of, fictional narratives or these fictional histories. And with Rolling Stone, I think if it’s successful—and it’ll be a while before we know if it’s successful because a redesign is one thing but going forward is a different thing—I think the thing is people looking at it and thinking, God, it’s always looked like this.

 



You say Interview, it’s still Interview. You open it up and, of course, it’s evolved, but it’s Interview.

Yeah. Yeah. This is actually something that I’ve done tons with in my career. It’s just like taking these old products or these old brands and renewing them in some form or other, you know what I mean?

Pretty much every single—apart from the ones I do myself—almost every single project I get is some kind of a renewal kind of brief. And Interview is no different. You’re trying to find the DNA, right? This is all kind of corny and boring, but you’re trying to find the soul of the thing. You’re trying to scrape away the bits that kind of don’t really work anymore and to reveal its essence.

And sometimes that’s an excavation exercise and you really do have to dig hard, but both Interview and Rolling Stone—which is very straightforward—Interview needs to be about the pictures. It needs to be more fun. It needs to be—sorry to use your word again—it needs to be an antidote to traditional media. It needs to be a breath of fresh air. We need to reintroduce the fun.

 



Interview, was definitely going through this weird Zoolander phase where it was all very high fashion, taking itself very seriously. And that was not the Andy Warhol that me and Mel responded to or had any affinity to. So that was very much the essence of what we do with Interview.

And then with Rolling Stone, which is actually a magazine that I have far less of an experience with, quite frankly, because growing up in England, we were always aware of Rolling Stone, but I can’t remember ever seeing a copy of it until really I came over here.


Yeah, England has a very robust music press. And so when you were growing up, because you mentioned this way at the beginning, what were the magazines you were reading?

Oh, Dazed & Confused. The Face. There was a magazine called Trace. The Guardian was really good back then. Lots of music magazines, which weren’t actually particularly well designed but there’s one called Music, Mixmag, Q, which actually was quite well designed. I did like the design of that one. I think what would be described as the “style press” where I really made sure I never missed an issue, it was Dazed and The Face, particularly those two.


Having been in this game for quite a while now, and then, creating or recreating or redesigning sort of iconic magazines, working at them, what is a magazine today?

Good question. I think if you’re going to be really, like, gnarly about it, and really reduce it to elements—which is not the most romantic ideals of what a magazine is—I think a magazine is an advert, the consolidation of the kind of id of your magazine brand, the essence.

It’s a place where you can—how did I describe this the other day—it’s not just a showcase because I think that really undermines the power of these things, still. But it is a sort of this living advert that people find on the... that people can... I don’t know. Honestly, as I’m saying all this, I’m not even sure it’s true.

I wish I knew what a magazine was in 2024. I wish. I do. I make magazines all the fucking time and I’m not even sure what they are. And I’m not even sure why I’m doing it. All I know is I just do it and I love it. And I love the fact that they are physical objects. And I think other people love the fact that they are physical objects too.

I wish I had some kind of pithy take. I’m sure if you’re talking to, like, Scott Dadich or someone, he would just be able to surmise this in a much more fluid way. Or some kind of, like, big editorial thinker. But ultimately, it’s pictures on the page. It’s ideas that kind of live in a way that can’t quite live in digital means. It’s a place where a certain sort of consumer can play, you can perform for.

Without wishing to ‘big up’ this Rolling Stone thing too much, I brought it home yesterday. My wife—who really isn’t a big magazine reader on any sort of level—she picked it up and she read a 5,000-word story. I was not expecting that. And I mention that only because it was quite gratifying that we’ve done something that someone actually read.

Most of the stuff that I do, people just like flick through. But it was also a reminder that there is just a different pace that magazines have, and a different cadence to those who want to entertain it. And it’s not for everybody. And I struggle sometimes to really find the financial value in throwing money in these things, but for whatever reason they’re still going.

Interview, for example, would not be Interview without the magazine, the print magazine. Most of the money Interview makes is by using branded integrations and by putting fancy clothes on big stars and TikTokkers, and exploiting the reach of talent, and celebrity. And that mix of brands, and celebrity, and talent—that is very toxic, very potent.

Nobody would be interested in Interview if it wasn’t for the fact that we do a magazine. And I don’t understand that, like there isn’t a logic to that. We deliberately make Interview quite hard to find. We’re not trying to be in every single Hudson News or whatever.

It’s not for everyone. It’s for you, if you seek it out and you want it here, here it is for you. But for whatever reason, without it being, without those pictures—which we have millions more eyes on on the internet—without the print magazine, people wouldn’t be interested in what we do. Go figure.


Words on a page, whether that page is a rock, or anything else enduring, they last. Okay, we always end with three favorite things, media, or magazines right now. What are your three?

The Financial Times. I read the FT every weekend. So that’s the thing that I love the most, I look forward to the most, in terms of reading. Does it have to be print media?


No, it can be any media.

Richard Turley: Okay. Oh, okay. Okay. So I’ve been designing posters for a place in the Lower East Side called Earth and it’s a space that’s been set up by a couple of Berlin artists for literary performance and spoken word. And I’ve loved some of those things. We saw Tao Lin a couple of weeks back. So I think live, just being in a room jam-packed with tons of people talking, listening to ideas, performance. I love that.

Okay, third thing. I’m just going to say it out loud: Cookery shows. I really enjoy watching cookery shows on TV. I can watch people cooking.


Anyone in particular?

Any I could, I think my, my, my heritage is more English people, English. So there’s this guy called Rick Stein, I enjoy, I like this guy called Nigel Slater. I could just watch people cooking.

I love Nigel Slater. I have his books.
I could watch people cooking all day. I really just, I find that very kind of therapeutic. And this is a sort of a little bit of a build on that, I still watch a lot of Bob Ross. I really do. I know it’s corny, but I think just seeing someone paint like that—it’s just so relaxing and so captivating. And even though he says the same thing over and over again about his ‘happy little clouds’ and ‘we’ve got to make some decisions....’


There’s something poetic about you liking Bob Ross, because on one hand, a lot of your, a lot of your work looks contradictory, but you’ve said yourself that you’re a boring, traditionalist, formless thinker. And Bob Ross kind of ties that all up really well.

Yeah. I love Bob. I love tradition. I like traditional. And craft is to be celebrated—as well as destroyed. Craft principles. But you have to know the rules to break them as they say, don’t you? It’s been a while since I’ve picked up a paintbrush. Maybe—you know what? Maybe I’ll do the Bob Roth method when I retire. Maybe that will be how I spend my time. Yeah, I’ll paint some seascapes and some happy little mountains. I’d be down with that.

INTERVIEW BY ARJUN BASU, THE FULL-BLEED PODCAST
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