Three Questions for George McCalman, AD at AFAR

Three Questions for George McCalman, AD at AFAR You recently helped launch AFAR, a magazine about and for world travelers. When the idea of helping launch a new travel magazine during the worst recession of our lifetime was offered to you what was it that made you enthusiastically say, Yes, I'm your man! Are you just plain crazy?
Yes, a little. Ok: Very much so. I'd just come off of an extremely rewarding (but tiring) 2 year stint at ReadyMade, but the idea of

working on another magazine in a recession brought out my inner cynic. But the enthusiasm of the Founder Greg Sullivan, and our then Editor-in-Chief Susan West, was infectious. I was looking forward to broadening the scope of my experience into the travel realm. The magazines I've been associated with in the past have covered a range of topics (finance, lefty politics, celebrity, women's health, fiction, DIY design...even prenatal baby care!) but I'd never been involved with international travel before. The angle was also different. Experiential travel was something that hadn't been done in magazine form. And it seemed in keeping with how people I knew traveled, anyway. It was a magazine idea grounded in a community that hadn't been tapped in, which I learned from my time at ReadyMade was a powerful thing. And in a very primal designer way, it was a chance to look at new fonts, photographers and illustrators that I hadn't considered before. You get to start fresh again. What's wrong with that? We're six issues into our publishing life and it has evolved into a living breathing thing, for people to view, read, and react to. Response has been good so far!

With multiple titles under your belt, Entertainment Weekly, Mother Jones and ReadyMade what would you say is a hazard of the job and what advice would you give aspiring magazine / editorial designers who want to get into the business? Do you still see a future in traditional magazine publishing?
I wouldn't describe my job as having hazards. It requires you to be sharp, precise and to have fun. Of course personalities are at play, so you can't control if you are working with an editor who is a dipshit or a tool. There's always going to be someone who irritates you, and you have to figure out how to get along and get what you need out of them. I think it makes you sharper to have experiences like that. If you can do so while having a good attitude, all the better (for everyone) I've spoken to students many times and I always say the same thing: learn how to collaborate, even while having your standards. I went to a school that didn't give much real world advice. School is the time to do whatever you want, but when you get out of that environment, people are shocked by now little they can get their own way in the field. Collaboration can mean different things to different people, but magazines are intrinsically dynamic places where people are opinionated and (mostly) smart. You have to collaborate just to get in the door. It requires you to be resourceful and savvy. It's important to learn when to fight for what you believe in, and when to suck it up and just move on. Editors have a lot more say in the business of design, compared to when I first started out as a junior designer. I think that's why magazine design has gotten diluted and less expressive over the years (but that's a whole other question that you didn't ask, Jeremy) but it means that designers have to be more thoughtful and accommodating, yet still find ways to surprise themselves in their work. Which makes us better at what we do, in the long run.

Do I see a future in magazine publishing? That's a query that ties more into the next question, so I'll answer it there.

I hear you guys are working on a iPad version of AFAR in house! What can you tell us about that process and how do you take something like that on in house?
It was fascinating! It was a very different side of the brain designing the iPad version of AFAR. We started around the time that the iPad (I still believe that Apple has no women in its upper management, how do you account for that name being cleared?) was just about to launch, so there was a ton of babble online about what it was, wasn't, and maybe going to do once it landed. Condé Nast and Bonnier had done allot of leg work, but we saw ourselves as having a David vs Goliath advantage. We were small and scrappy, and we had an in-house engineering team. So it allowed us to ignore allot of what we had seen and read, and pursue it through more lucid eyes. There was obviously less pressure because people barely knew the magazine. I worked primarily with Nicole Solis, who worked on both our (upcoming) website and the regular magazine, and she already had a big toe in both worlds. I came up with comps that showed navigation and structure of how viewers might look through the app. There were many many conversations about the easiest way to look through a travel magazine online. We often had to remind ourselves that we were NOT designing for a print magazine experience. Funny thing: we did a lot of air mimickry of ourselves working an iPad in order to demonstrate our various ideas to each other. It felt like digital arts and crafts! Which is probably the last metaphor Steve Jobs would want to hear! Our app is set to launch in the fall and having seen the other offerings from the bigger media companies, what ours accomplishes is true to the material and will be very cool.

Working on this changed my perception of the future of publishing. I feel like the magazine format is going through its chrysalis period, and will emerge just fine on the other side. There's been a lot of bloat and fat in the industry for years and there nothing like a good recession to cull the herd. How many women's lifestyle magazines do we need, anyways? Magazines like the New Yorker and the Economist show us that when you have something done well, you don't need much more. Seeing what the apps are capable of, it seems more freeing to design something that someone can craft a unique experience out of. Kind of like video games (hold on...let me make my point), the technology is almost a point where images can be blown up in scale and explored, type can come alive and be animated, and reading content can become a more dynamic experience. All of that immediacy is possible. The business model is the giant question mark, but the apps selling well enough, we'll know shortly how much impact it makes to the bottom line of the industry.

Got more questions for George? Leave a question in the comment field and you just may get an answer!

To see more of George's work check out his website,

Portrait of Mr. McCalman taken by Alex Farnum


Check out past Three Question Interviews

Mathew Bates, Design Director at Backpacker

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