Keith Campbell Sends a Postcard from Germany...

Keith Campbell Sends a Postcard from Germany... One of our favorite art directors, Keith Campbell, recently wrote us an update on his activities in Hamburg, Germany, where's he's been living and working since June 2006. Keith has been immersed in the world of German tabloid magazines, designing a series of titles that are jammed with color, photos, and type--think Us, Star, People, All You, etc. on mega-design steroids, with lots of photos of Heidi Klum. The covers are crazy, noisy, and chaotic, but also brilliant in their execution. We love what he's doing, even if it does hurt our eyes!

Keith Campbell: One of the best emails I ever received went like this: "Meet me in Hamburg, Germany on Tuesday, April 4 at 1pm for lunch!" It read like some kind of cryptic cold war directive from a sexy Russian operative. Alas, it was an invite from Marc Werthmann, editor of the then-recently launched In Touch Germany. He was on the lookout for a new art director and had gotten my name from In Touch USA's creative director Audrey Razgaitis on one of their fact-finding missions to Bauer Publishing's Englewood Cliffs, NJ offices.

Turns out to have been a very good thing, and my life lurched in a big, new direction. I had been the managing art director at In Touch USA for two and a half years, then moved to the art director gig at Inside TV. After Gemstar prematurely closed us down, I went freelance for a few months before getting the nod from IT Germany.

Over here, I immediately went to work redesigning the In Touch covers and re-working interior pages. I realized I needed to take the cover in a new direction after five minutes at a local newsstand, where I noticed the prevailing color combos of our competition--Bunte, Gala, In--were red, black, and white. To distance In Touch from that competition, we decided to take the cover palette in a childrens-candy-display direction: gorgeous violets and purples, cool greens, soft blues, popping yellows, sexy pinks. Photos were rarely used full-bleed, instead incorporating artifical backgrounds to make the title stand out on the newsstand.

In September 2008 I decided to go freelance. The first big gig I got was through my original In Touch editor, Marc Werthmann. He was tasked with launching a celebrity publication on newsprint for WAZ Gruppe, one of the big German houses. The title was Talk To Go (the logo concept was born out of the idea of "coffee to go," a novel term for Germans, who previously had some strange tradition of actually enjoying a leisurely cup of coffee. You now see "to go" everywhere, and not just associated with coffee.) We had three days to develop the design of Talk to Go, and opted for a look of controlled-chaos: busy, big, with every manner of frenetic, scratchy, poppy, and distressed graphic elements.

Talk to Go two.jpgThere were three planned test issues, which hit the stands in June 2009. Priced well below the glossy celeb pubs--In Touch, In, OK! and Life & Style--Talk to Go was designed to move on the newsstand with no subscriptions. Though the themes in Talk to Go were similar to other mags in the category, the publishers really wanted to stress the newspaper "hard news" aspect. Which explains the "Beach News" cover line for our first issue, a story on best and worst beach bodies. Unfortunately, the three test issues didn't meet sales expectations and Talk to Go went.

Endlick Freizeit two.jpgIn the three years I had lived in Germany, I was vaguely aware of a row of magazines at every kiosk, which screamed in bright yellows and reds and featured people I had never heard of. I learned that the name for these publications was "The Yellows," that they were wildly popular--the category sells over five million copies per week--aimed at women a bit older than the In Touch crowd, that they featured largely German stars and European royalty, included recipes for schnitzel and spatzle, and that there were scores of them. A good percentrage of these publications use the word "Freizeit" in the title, which translates to "free time" in German.

My entry to that world came when a friend recommended me to Sven-Christian Guethlein, who had been an editor at Bauer Verlag here in Hamburg. He had left to set up his own shop and has since launched numerous pubs in the Yellow genre, a big chunk of which are food special issues. He's carved out a nice niche in the market with SCG Verlag, selling 150,000 copies on average for each of his publications. He called and offered me a new magazine launch. The deal: brand new magazine in two weeks, designed cover to cover by me. Though that seemed like a lot of work, I was mostly wary of my ability to throw 50 colors and 300 words on a cover!

My first issue of Endlich Freizeit ("Finally Freetime") was rough. I tried to bring a little too much order to the cover. After being told "Es muss krachen!" ("This thing has to explode!") I learned that the way to go was to fill absolutely every millimeter of space with photo or type or color or other graphic. 

Frau und Freizeit combo.jpg
Frau und Freizeit (Woman and Freetime) and Freizeit Kurier (Freetime Courier) were two other titles I art directed. The target audience was the same as for Endlich Freizeit. The look had to match the other Yellows on the newsstand shelf while somehow still "kraching!"

Revue fur die Frau two.jpgWith Revue fur die Frau, the objective was a bit different. While sticking to the Yellow genre, it aimed to skew a bit more elegant than the others. Although we had to keep the multitude of cover lines, I ditched the colored boxes and played more with type styles. Of course you won't find a millimeter of free, uncluttered space on these, but we tried to open it up a bit by using silos and fewer colors.

This spring I was brought on by Boris Haechler to design a new celeb-mag-on-newsprint called Chatter for Hubert Burda Verlag, one of the biggest publication houses in Germany. The directive was to skew very newspaper, but with clear magazine design elements. And there's also a fashion insert. The big sell with Chatter, besides cool stories and eye-grabbing covers, is the price, just 50 Euro cents. The newspaper section design is a very straight, very fast, very easy to understand presentation. The style insert is more free, with somewhat funkier design, lots of silos, and softer, prettier colors. We've now closed five issues and are waiting on newsstand numbers to determine the future of the magazine. Meanwhile, I'm just hoping that the Germans can start using the English phrase "beauty makeover" on the cover, because Schoenheitsverwandlungen is just too long to fit!

Contact Keith Campbell at:

See a Facebook gallery of Keith Campbell's Yellow and celebrity tabloid covers here.

  • Andrea Dunham

    Thank you Bob and Keith (reunion!) for this absolutely mad, brilliant post. I feel like such a... a..Schwächling? for ever imagining my weekly task to make a catchy, must-buy cover was a challenge. If this is the marketplace, you are King of Aisles 1 through 11, Keith.

    Great work. And inspiring move! Please tell me you're also moonlighting in some excellent Kraftwerk cover band too. I'll die if so.

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