Roger Black on Ready-Media

Roger Black on Ready-Media

The post earlier this week on the SPD site about the new Ready-Media project started by Roger Black, Sam and David Berlow, Robb Rice, and Eduardo Danilo, was the most controversial item we've ever published. It attracted passionate and articulate comments, both pro and con, from a huge cross-section of publication designers and art directors. The arc of the comments seemed to go through the classic five steps of grieving, although they skipped the first one, denial, and went straight to number two, anger, followed by bargaining, depression, and finally acceptance.

The discussion over the implications of Ready-Media's "just add content" strategy were picked up on a lot of publication and design websites, including comments by Steven Heller of Print magazine, Jeremy Leslie at Magculture, Andrew Losowsky at Magtastic Blogsplosion, and an interview with Roger Black at the Society of News Design site.

We contacted Roger Black, and asked him to answer some questions about Ready-Media, as well as addressing some of the criticisms that were raised by SPD members. Here's what he had to say:

Roger Black fix 1.jpg
(Above: A feature spread from Edible Vineyard, produced with Ready-Media templates)

Who is Ready-Media specifically aimed at? What is your target audience?
The first thought was that Ready-Media is a service for small publications and start-ups that don't have the resources to undertake or hire-out a major redesign. As we tested the concept in the real world we found that bigger companies could take advantage of the templates as a leg-up on a redesign, since all the obvious pages are already designed and can be easily tweaked--or an an alternative design to test in the marketplace.

The comments on the SPD focused primarily on magazines, but a good deal of what you're doing is newspaper templating. How will Ready-Media impact newspaper design?
The main benefit for newspapers will be a design improvement in small local papers and weeklies. Eduardo Danilo pioneered the Ready-Media approach with the launch of Reforma, which shared templates with three other dailies. His design for Excelsior was accomplished with more than 1,000 templates which allowed a great design to be exploited by a terrific band of art directors--who focus on the visual content. (Excelsior won a big SND redesign prize last year.)

How do you answer the "what is the future of print" question?
Our team believes in print, or we wouldn't have launched Ready-Media with print templates. The problem that magazines have is not that people don't like print--a magazine is still a wonderfully rich and usable medium. It's the business model. We think Ready-Media can help with the resource constraints, streamlining the design and process--and production.

How do you think Ready-Media will be healthy for the publication design industry?
If nothing else, magazines and newspapers take away the idea of using a great library of templates for 80 percent of their design, they will let the art director focus on the things that readers notice and like--the pictures and picture stories, the information graphics and visual content. And for smaller publishers and startups, Ready-Media could be an effective way to implement a design, which otherwise they could not afford.

Are you envisioning expanding your roster of newspaper and magazine templates? If so, where do you see the potential for expansion?
We have an open call to designers who grasp the methodology and have the temperament to produce hundreds of templates on a revenue-share basis. Stand by for announcements of libraries by famous designers--and by some who should be! We expect to announce new products each quarter.

Was there any thought to partnering with visual or editorial content agencies, like stock photo agencies?
Our partner is, which provided all the images for the magazine samples.

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(Above: A feature follow spread from Edible Vineyard)

You came in for some savaging on the SPD site. Here are just a  few of the comments: "paint by numbers for a magazine design," "you set us all back about 10 years," a "cookie-cutter approach" that "is absolute anti-design," "rock bottom." How do you answer the basic thrust of what is getting these folks so agitated?
Hey, our launch day had a delightfully large number of visitors, thanks to I have a thick skin, but the "cookie-cutter' comments were ridiculous. Custom design will continue to have a market. But there is a difference between cooking from scratch and milling the damned flour. Increasingly we are producing full sets of templates for the one-offs. For example, the new design for Scientific American which Robb Rice produced for my studio starts in October with some 400 InDesign templates. Its "matching" website is entirely run on templates, of course. This concept was noted in the comments, and as many people liked the idea as felt threatened by it.

A lot of the SPD commenters say that a publication needs a seasoned, talented in-house design team to succeed. Do you think that's true?
There has to be a good visual content in any good magazine. As a reader's sea of media and graphic clutter continues to expand, it's more important to have a consistent typographical brand. People notice, perhaps only subconsciously. But what they really pay attention to is the meaning of the pictures. Every great picture tells a story. And a great picture story can sweep a reader into another world. I'm hoping that art directors can spend more time being art directors, and less time pushing around pieces of a layout that nobody will notice.

I thought the best criticism of Ready-Made on the SPD site came from James Kelleher, who pointed out that a lot of editorial designers get their start at small-budget trade and B2B magazines. It's been an important training ground and learning place for young designers. Do you think Ready-Media will diminish the impact of this?
My first efforts at typography were educated by copying whatever I liked. Ready-Media templates can show students and first-time magazine designers how to organize a design, and how to think about alternative layouts. If they get a job at a local publication, the worst that can happen to them is that they are forced to concentrate on the cover images. Then, if they make great covers, they'll move up. And some day make their own templates, and we hope to offer them at Ready-Media.

A great example is the Edible Vineyard (one of the Edible magazines), which used the Gilman library, with the Houston and Bureau Grot font palette. Here a designer new to the field was able to move in and produce a very good-looking magazine. She is Lauren Carelli, and Lauren sent along her own comment: "I came to Edible Vineyard with a thorough understanding of design principles and no experience in working with magazines. So making connections between meaningful editorial and visual content was not new territory for me, just new in this context. Ready-Media templates were, and continue to be, instrumental in teaching me how to work out these larger issues: the art, the design, the intellectual things, all in the context of a magazine."

Metropolis magazine: Design Without Designers?
Steven Heller, Print magazine: The Template Brouhaha Haha
The original SPD post: Just Add Water

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