LA Story: 8 Questions with Steve Banks

LA Story: 8 Questions with Steve Banks When Bon Appetit and Architectural Digest relocated to New York last year, they left a gaping hole in the Los Angeles publishing scene. Once a thriving magazine town--L.A. Style, Creem, Beach Culture, Raygun, Hollywood Life, and New West were all SPD award regulars--there's now only a handful of big pubs left.

But amid all the change, Steven Banks has been the model of consistency in west coast magazine design. As Design Director of Los Angeles, Banks has been a big part of the magazine's recent winning streak, which includes a 2011 National Magazine Award for General Excellence from ASME. Banks was recently named Designer of the Year by the City & Regional Magazine Association (CRMA) for the second time since he joined LA Mag.

Indeed, LA publication design runs in the Banks' family. Steve's wife, Nancy Duckworth is an award-winning former AD at the LA Times magazine, and is currently freelance art directing several LA-based publications.

Meet Steve and see more work after the jump ...

Give me a Steve Banks career timeline.
I spent four years at School of the Museum of Fine Arts, then four at Parsons School of Design in NYC. My first job was at Pan Am Clipper magazine, and then over to Spin. I moved back to Boston to work at Boston magazine and Sport Boston. In 1990, I moved to Los Angeles for the LA Times Sunday Magazine. I've been here at Los Angeles magazine for the last 5 years.

You were at the LA Times for a while. Was the deterioration of the newspaper business palpable on a day-to-day basis? Was the Sunday magazine ever in trouble?
I was at the LA Times for 12 years. When I started there it was a thriving newspaper chock-full of ads. As the years went by and people had other ways to access news and information, there was the inevitable downsizing, layoffs, and an unfortunate loss of quality in the product. During those times the Sunday magazine always seemed to be on the chopping block in one way or another. Very scary for a magazine designer in a town like LA where magazines and publications are so scarce! They eventually did eliminate the weekly magazine, but that was after I left the paper.

Has the business been as tough out west as it has been here?
We had a rough spell here, too, with layoffs and budgets cuts. It all happened so suddenly. Since then we have steadily rebuilt our staff and continue to keep the quality bar held high with fewer resources. We have some late nights--doing more with less has been a steep learning curve!

Ever been tempted to bail on magazines? What would you do?
Never. I feel magazines are here to stay. They are still the editorial foundation for all the digital apps and iPads. You have to have great editorial content to build on. But if anyone out there wants to buy me a bass boat I might consider turning to a career as a pro bass fisherman!

What are you working on at this very second? 
We are working on a special issue: Race in LA. It's been 20 years since the Rodney King riots. We're doing something special with the cover, photographed by Robert Ascroft, and the feature well is full of great first-person essays and infographics. Several nice illustrations happening too, from people like Christoph Neimann, Brett Ryder and Gary Taxali.

What's for lunch today?
Out in front of our building we have a steady flow of food trucks. My favorite? The Chicken Bowl from Kiyoko's Teriyaki Food Truck. It's awesome!

Who has been your greatest influence in the magazine business? Do you remember the magazine that made you want to pursue this as a career?
I've been devouring magazines since I was a kid. It's really been a steady diet, whether it was Circus magazine in the '70s, GQs in the '80s, Rolling Stone in the '90s and Wired in the '00s, magazines for me have always been places to escape. Art Directors like Fred Woodward, Robert Best, Robert Priest, Scott Dadich are truly inspirational. Their constant reimagining of what type and photos can do together always made it fun to look forward to what the next issue would hold.

What does it feel like to be 'Designer of the Year'?
Being recognized by the CRMA awards twice has been a honor. It definitely motivates you to stay fresh and put forth your best in every layout and cover. Last year Los Angeles magazine won its first ASME for General Excellence. It was my first year as Design Director, but what's most important about that award is it's a true collaboration between edit and art. A real staff win. Very proud of that one too.


  • Patrick Downs

    I was the Photo Editor at the LA Times Magazine for a time, and worked closely with Steve. He's great ... a fantastic colleague and designer.

  • Daniel Pelavin

    Steve never fails to obsess madly about his work. In my book, the mark of a consummate art director.

  • gregg segal

    As a photographer, I always look forward to the magazine layout - and

    the ingenious way in which Steve incorporates text and image.

  • Alex Nabaum

    Great work, especially the typography on the Arnold spread and the Packing Heat spread is just sooo perfect. Congrats on all the awards, well deserved!

    And I love your quote "Magazines are here to stay" heck yeah!

  • Joe Zeff

    Stunning work!

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