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Magazine creative direction - Giulio Mazzarini

Written by Megan St Clair Morgan
Published date 23 July 2020

Magazines are everywhere – embedded into our everyday lives, but what exactly goes into creating a magazine? With the insight of industry expert Giulio Mazzarini, a UAL short courses tutor and London based creative director and photographer – we’re delving into what magazine creative direction is, and how you can get started as a creative director yourself in visual communication design! Looking toward magazine graphic design and how you can implement creative direction concepts to design your own magazine using the widely known 4 F's – formula, function, format and frame utilising Adobe’s creative softwares – Photoshop, Illustrator and Indesign.

With a vast amount of experience in publishing, having worked on the creation of the trend forecasting website WGSN.com, Giulio founded the communication studio GEM. His work has been seen in international magazines such as Vanity Fair, Marie Claire, Elle and Dazed & Confused. He has also contributed to the image development of brands, such as L'Oréal, Reebok, Aston Martin, Citroen and Selfridges.

So, what is Magazine creative direction? 

In basic terms it’s working to create exciting, attention grabbing magazines with and overarching viewpoint bringing all the elements of a magazine (images, layouts etc.) together to create a magazine that engages the specific audience it targets  – it’s what Giulio notes is a “fundamental creative contribution to a project”.

With so many magazines on the market, it’s important to publications that the visual communication design is clearly made for the target audience, Giulio mentions “the idea is that you might find a magazine that might not be appealing to you, is because it's not targeting to you.” Bringing the key point into focus, that as a creative director, we must keep in mind that we cannot please everyone...

It’s a job that pieces together the different layers of a magazine, a little like making a sandwich Giulio notes – “We don't simply design, or simply do communication – but we try to look at the different layers” creating a combination of the elements, that will make sense for the target audience.

Why your audience is important in every visual communication design decision

Your audience must be thought about at every step as a creative director – Giulio gives us an example “say we have classic car magazine and therefore the, language spoken is a language that is exciting for this traditional readership. The big beautiful red Ferrari, and we have a headline for Bergen's with bargains, with beautiful logo here, which remind us of Bentley, of other beautiful classic cars and so on. In this case, the language and tone of voice is in line with what the readers expect.”

3 womens magazine cover images

Key things to remember

  • The magazine market is very large – in the UK alone, around 9,000 magazines are published on a regular basis.
  • Magazines talk to you – there are a wealth of magazines with a huge wide range of specified audiences, from football fans to amateur sailors 60+. There is always a magazine with you as the ideal reader...
  • It’s a very competitive market – hundreds of magazines start every year, with many failing within a year.
  • You don’t have much time to grab your audience's attention – according to Dr. Husni, a magazine has only 2.5 seconds to grab a reader’s attention.
  • Magazines are super exciting! – See the brilliant colours, the gripping cover lines, the clever and beautiful photographs.
  • But, they’re not easy to produce – The inside of a magazine must be coherent, and then continue to satisfy, surprise and speak the reader’s language in every subsequent issue.
  • Cover images must excite your audience – Remember most magazines are sold amongst a huge range of other competitor publications, your cover should excite your reader instantly.

Print vs Digital 

“There is a huge amount of competition, this fierce competition means magazines are fighting over readers, particularly now, where we are transitioning from traditional paper-based magazines to online magazines. So, there is a transition not only from a medium point of view, but particularly from a user experience point of view. We can compare titles and start understanding how these titles work.”

Creative Direction is Content and Design

Giulio notes that Creative Direction is bringing together visual communication design and content. But what is ‘content’ and ‘design’? Editorial content and voice establish a magazine’s style, and design is the way this style is projected and absorbed by the readers.

Giulio adds – “Content is, what is normally is given to you, if you start creative directing something – for example, you could have a cover shot provided by the photographer and you are sent the written content by the writers or the journalist, and what do you do? You put them together.... I always define magazine design as the backbone of a magazine... It’s able to be broken down into elements”

Guidelines for editorial magazine creative direction – the four F’s

Successful editorial creatives have written and easy set of guidelines for magazine publishing, called the four F's – these can be used across visual communication design or graphic communications, “or, I would say any visual project” adds Giulio. The four F’s represent the form and structure of a publication. Creative direction is about looking at the full picture and the four Fs create the look, feel and style of the magazine.

Format – It defines the overall look of the magazine ie. the logo, size of the magazine, coverlines for example.

Formula – it's the magazine’s relationship between the editorial and visual contents for example the photography and illustration.

Frame – is the page margins, set in Adobe InDesign, some magazines use the same margin width throughout the magazine; others vary. The rule for using margins establishes the consistency issue after issue.

Function – when thinking of a magazines function, you can ask these questions: What is the purpose of a magazine? What it is trying to communicate, how and to whom?

Case Study – ID Magazine 

ID Magazine was the first style magazine and was created by Terry Jones, who was an art director working for Vogue. Jones thought about creating his own magazine, and during the 80’s (amidst the punk movement) he created ID, meaning identity an important theme of the times... The development of ID sees a literal interaction between the logo of ID (which rotates 90 degrees and becomes a smile, with a winking eye) and its choice of cover image. This is a great example of how keeping it simple can be effective in creative direction – using the image and logo engagement. Since day one, ID’s covers have been portraits of people – a model, a celebrity or person of interest, winking. “Why? Because winking is flirting, posing while establishing an identity.”– Guilio notes.

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