Ant Miller
Ant Miller
4th December 2013

Tuesday evening up the back of St Pancras is no where near as shady as it used to be – this week I popped along to the new Central St Martins campus in the redeveloped Granary Square area north of Kings Cross and St Pancras to catch the latest lecture organised by the Editorial Design Organisation – Points to Pixels, where Alex Breuer, the Guardian’s new Creative Director, and Jonathan Clayton-Jones of Kaldor were speaking about their transition from print into digital design.

EDO Points to Pixels Poster

Jonathan Clayton-Jones (or JCJ as he admits is easier to say and write) joined Kaldor, the people behind pugpig , as Creative Director in October of this year, and apparently this was his first ever speaking gig. A cherry well popped – in 40 minutes he ran through over 200 slides exploring his print background on titles such as French Elle, and the experimental GAZ7ETTA and proposed “The Face” relaunch. A perennial experimenter unafraid to push the limits of design, typography, and technology (and with a seemingly insatiable appetite for work) his design work seems to have a few characteristics that were perhaps a strange fit for print work, but others that were a natural extension of the form.

At the Grazia digital edition JCJ really pushed the boundaries of what a template based publishing platform could do – the Grazia house style of radically chopping the edges of imagery to integrate editorial into design was achieved by designing a few complex, powerful templates, and also being very clever in the preparation of image assets for inclusion. Quite how these templates and graphics rules were developed is probably part of the JCJ/pugpig magic sauce, but the results are undeniably powerful and effective. Effective enough to get quite a few awards in the last few months.

Now at Kaldor JCJ has been working across a number of different titles, and showed a few highlights – the Cyclist app is one of the key titles that is using really clean distinctive design in an interactive way. It’s structure heavy, technically, but this is just a scaffold for some really beautiful design.

The closing part of JCJ’s presentation was an enthusiastic look at the new EVO app that Clearleft worked on with Dennis and pugpig. “The coolest app” yet is pretty high praise from one of the most innovative designers in the print/digital crossover, but importantly he focussed in on not just the graphic design, but also the new way that EVO turns what is basically a monthly print edition into a daily conversation with its users while holding on to, and even enhancing, the gorgeous editorial photography that defines the way the brand is presented.

Alex Breuer joined the Guardian as Creative Director in January this year, taking over from EDO chair Mark Porter. He opened with a curious admission that he’s not a trained designer, and actually always wanted to be Bob Dylan 2.0. His career began at Haymarket, and took in a range of print magazines including Minx (a personal favourite of mine from the mid 90s – great layout, good features), and Men’s Health, where he worked on integrating bold innovative design and typography with heavyweight features and editorial.

At Esquire the strong reputation of the magazine provided a platform for some very interesting typography work, including the use of very light, stencil weight Gotham in fashion photography pieces to reflect the stitching of fine tailoring, without coming across as tricksy or cute. He then moved onto the FT weekend magazine, where in a bold move his first art direction assignment involved wrapping the editor in clingfilm.

clingfilm wrapped editor of FT weekend
Image from Mark Porter

Alex first engaged with digital only when iPads came along. At that stage he was at The Times, and thanks to a close relationship between Cupertino and Wapping, the Newscorp teams had some very early, very secret iPads to play with. Not that anyone knew what to do with them at first- they sat, under 24 hour guard, in the Rum Warehouse, an outpost housing Newscorp’s digital teams.

One particularly interesting project from Newscorp was the LUXX app – exceptionally high end, it was designed to be a rich and very absorbing experience tying into the quarterly publication of the similarly high end magazine. Intriguingly this skunk works effort used the Unity game engine for the layout, enabling very rich depth and audio integration.

Since joining the Guardian he’s been working across a very wide range of projects, but one that was particularly interesting to se was “Firestorm”, in some ways a response to the New York Times’s “Snowfall” piece. Like Snowfall this work used a hugely varied collection of editorial assets to tell a deeply engrossing narrative. Perhaps more interestingly still, the initial months of work on both the content and systems to publish this work resulted in a system that’s now being used to publish recipes every week at the Guardian.

I can’t be sure but I think we then saw a bit of a work in progress on a possible redesign for the Guardian online – ideas like ‘layout as masthead’, ‘editorial whitespace’, ‘responsive by nature’ spring to mind based on the visuals we saw – it was certainly a lighter and more spacious concept than the current design, though strangely it possibly included more content. Alex and team are clearly tacking some big UX ideas too – addressing head on the question of the role of imagery in representing editorial importance. He’s also determined to move away from ‘more damned lists’, a navigational trope the Guardian does suffer from rather severely.

The presentation included a number of lessons- I won’t list them all, but a few stood out:

  • We are not the only designers (an admission that design is now a collaborative task, with UX, graphic and editorial design all contributing)

  • Responsive design isn’t just a bendy website (though the there was a suggestion of dynamically different content, not just design- a controversial point)

  • We are now developing software (this really chimed for me- a recognition that digital media is now an instruction set for a machine that has to engender the very human values of the publishers brand)

Two great presentations, two great speakers, and an evening of intense education for yours truly. Followed up with some really interesting, but very definitely off the record, conversations in the bar. EDO is certainly a forum to watch as the digital publishing sector transforms over the months and years ahead, and I’d like to hope that we at Clearleft will continue to feature in the discussion.