Going (Nuclear) Green

Going (Nuclear) Green

Hi guys. Well, as some of you know Best Life folded this year and i have been given the new charge of Design Director of Men's Health. I logged on to spd.org to share some new Men's Health work when i noticed i had not yet published this layout breakdown of a Best Life story; a spread which went on to get a medal nomination at this year's gala (woo hoo!)...which we didn't win (boo)...ah well. Still thought this might be of interest. Enjoy!

Best Life just wrapped up its travel issue and one of the more interesting stories was about the current state of Chernobyl, the site of the worst nuclear power plant accident in history. We sent a writer and photographer there to report; they turned in a story titled "Nature's Revenge".

The image above is what I had to work with.
Pretty amazing. Many of the buildings, amusement parks and whatnot were still in a state of serious decay. It was quite incredible how life seemed to be springing up among the rubble. People still living here, plants and trees thriving, etc. This picture seemed to capture that concept pretty literally.

I started working on openers.
We had some explorations of Russian lettering (obvious, I know...) but I wanted to downplay that or make it more subtle. I wanted to mimic what was going on in the picture a bit, or at least acknowledge it. So I started here:
Hey, trees are green, right? Stop bowing, it's embarassing.
So on I went...let's work with some type on this baby.
I was thinking I wanted to mimic the branches and leaves a bit.
This seemed to be the most possible with the dek...
I liked the idea of something organic coming from something cold and hard.
Still feeling like the headline and Russian lettering was a bit of a groaner, I wanted it to be even smaller...or gone. Plus I also wanted to explore the type tree idea a bit more. Perhaps an almost crude, graphic representation of a tree trunk? A simple line?
Interesting. Again, I was liking the organic/crude/hard thing going on...in theory.
Not sure if it was really working. I was also beginning to worry about the green and red.
Although I liked it...suddenly it was kinda looking like Christmas... in an R.E.M. video or something. Ok, let's try it without the green and get the bylines in there:
Ok. Starting to kind of like this...sorta.
I added in some little things here and there, like having the word "man" falling off.
I was liking the Russian-ish letter forms a bit better--it was something you could miss now, so it was more subtle.

After looking at it for a while... was it... nerdy? Was it too self-conscious? I kinda felt like it was. "Yes, Brandon...we all see your pretty type tree." I also was beginning to feel like it was working AGAINST the image.

The image was beautiful. I wanted to ENHANCE what was going on, not pull attention away from it. I put it on my chalkboard to stare at and then looked to my left and saw this:
It's a bunch of dried branches. All creepy and curly and arty and they look cool by my lamp.
Hmmm. Well, maybe I could scan a twig in and do something with that. Could be interesting. Maybe I could blow it way the hell out and make it look "nuclear" or something.
Or maybe like a photocopy.
I asked our photo assistant when she'd be going to lunch.
(I always get embarrassed when I have something weird to scan... I'll let your mind wander on that one.) Anyway, scan number one:
Whoa. Pretty cool. Definitely looks like a nuclear branch. Or even a road. Or an odd photocopy. Ok, let's scan it again but this time as a positive.
I change the settings on the screen and hit scan.
No, not "oh snap"... I heard a snap. From the scanner.
I thought to myself: "This is either going to be very cool, or totally suck."
Double whoa. VERY cool. And... uh... totally planned.
Let's get these babies in a layout... stat.
First nuclear branch:
Ok. NOW we're talkin'. I like the abstract quality of the branch. Definitely looks like it could be a road or something. Looks like something that would make you stop and say "what the hell...?" It definitely says nuclear, decay, organic... all the core elements of the story. And it works in a pretty interesting way with the photo... and it's not nearly as type-nerdy. It's striking and doesn't look like a typographer getting off in spite of the image.
But what about branch TWO?
Weeeeelllllll sh*t. This is pretty damn cool too.
Kinda...cooler? I dunno. I REALLY liked both of these for different reasons. (Good problem to have.) And I'd really be both happy and sad if either ran.
I trotted these around the office--something I rarely do unless I absolutely love all the options I'm giving people to choose from... design by committee is rarely a good thing... I also shot these out to a few of my trusted colleagues (thanks Rem, Rockwell and Florian). Everyone was kind of split.
Solution one seems to be more aggressive, more war-torn.
Solution two was...a bit sadder, but also more elegant...more beautiful in a way.

In the end, I thought about my original goal of enhancing the photo, adding to what the photo was saying, making sure the message and tone of the image and the title page were the same, and making sure the title page wasn't either:

Saying something else, or
Drawing attention away from the primary image.

The winner?

  • Heather Jones

    Great to see that process. I think Chris Sturman did a great job photographing the spooky site...and the stack of film we had to go through was HUGE, so I remember the edit was tough: I felt this image on an opener was pretty quiet, but the type treatment opposite helped give it some weight and punch it up a notch. (And thanks BK for letting me get the Cyrillic out of my system and explore a little bit before getting out your red pen!)

    ps. You forgot to mention we had to show you how to use the scanner;) /// HJ

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