Behind the Scenes with In Touch Magazine
We recently checked in with Metaleap Creative about what they have been up to and they filled us in on their recent work with Christian publication, In Touch Magazine. Creative Director, José Reyes, and Associate Creative Director, Eric Capossela, from Metaleap Creative sat down with In Touch Magazine Editor-in-Chief, Cameron Lawrence, and Managing Editor, Jamie Hughes, to discuss what it means to design for a publication with the motto: "Thoughtful Faith. Devoted Living."
SPD sent them some prompts and then listened in on their conversation. Read on for their roundtable discussion about what it took to transform a forty year old religious publication into a contemporary Christian magazine that features some of the best artists in the business.
TOP ROW, L TO R: Photograph by Pierre Webster; Photograph by Josh Meister; Illustration by Ricardo Garcia
BOTTOM ROW, L TO R: Photograph by Ryan Hayslip; Photograph by James Day; Illustration by Eiko Ojala
Cameron Lawrence (In Touch Magazine, Editor-in-Chief): When I first became editor, the magazine was still digest-sized and had a somewhat à la carte approach to both content and design--there was little to unify the publication from section to section.
Jamie Hughes (In Touch Magazine, Managing Editor): The medium wasn't serving the content. The articles were serious and thoughtful, but didn't have the framework around them for people to value the magazine in the way we wanted them to. Everything had to be tight and constrained. I used to tell people, "Just read the words for what they are." But it was never enjoyable.
José Reyes (Metaleap Creative, Principal + Creative Director): When you started thinking about what the magazine could be, visually speaking, what did you imagine ?
Cameron: We didn't want the layouts to feel interruptive, accentuating the distracted state a lot of readers find themselves in these days. So we started thinking about what a lifestyle magazine for our audience could be--how we could curate an experience that would help them slow down and reflect. We were inspired by literary journals and art magazines, and wanted to blend that sensibility with lifestyle magazines without being overtaken by the expectations of the genre.
Photography by Dan Saelinger and Yasu + Junko (Trunk Archive); Illustrations by Mark Weaver, Yuko Shimizu, and Greg Clarke
Cameron: What was going through your mind as you began the redesign, considering this vision we had?
Eric Capossela (Metaleap Creative, Associate Creative Director): I came to Metaleap when the redesign began, so it was really exciting for me. And I wasn't familiar with Christian or faith-based publications. It seemed to me that many of these publications are sort of staid or just not trying to do something different. But if there ever was an audience that could appreciate this kind of storytelling, I think it would be this audience, right? The content that we're working with is the richest and most varied that's out there. And I think the best way to approach any story is to simply try to respect and serve the content--to find the best solution for that particular piece without bringing too much of yourself into it. It's easy to fall into tropes, and to do what everybody expects. But I think there are ways to do something unexpected, and still pay respect to this content, which obviously your readers take seriously--as they should.
Illustrations by Dan Page and Joe Wilson
Illustration by Alvaro Dominguez
Cameron: Yeah, definitely. And with this kind of content, there are a lot of stock concepts that come to mind when we say something about one spiritual idea or another. It can be challenging to think outside of those preconceived notions, which is something you guys are great at doing.
José: I'm glad that you brought that up, because that was a big part of the push for the redesign. We were going to think about every piece of art and we weren't going to use stock art. Occasionally, you have to consider that option, but our goal was to create original art everywhere we could. And the idea behind that was that we would then be serving the content--not just trying to find something that fit 80% of the way.
Eric: You're forced to come up with a way to represent these old ideas and make them feel new. Obviously the story itself and the writer have a lot to do with that. But it's a challenge I find very rewarding.
José: Another cool thing about what you're saying, Eric, is that because the subject matter is, in essence, thousands of years old, we might be tempted to think about it as this old thing--this big book that's dusty, and we're blowing it off. We're just blowing Bible dust in your face. But really, it's this rich teaching that's filled with poetry and narrative and dreamlike imagery. We're synthesizing it for this very modern, technologically-driven audience.
Qs commissioned for a column called "One Question, Four Answers"
TOP ROW, L to R: Kevin Cantrell; Olga Vasik; Ricardo Garcia
MIDDLE ROW, L to R: Muti;, Jill DeHaan;, Craig Ward
BOTTOM ROW, L to R: Maricor/Maricar, Martina Flor, Gemma O'Brien
Cameron: What do you find is important to keep in mind as you're designing In Touch?
José: No crosses, no crosses. [laughing]
Eric: No crosses, no churches, no Bibles. Though we've done all of those things. Because in a way, every piece of art has two phases. There's the concept, and there's the execution. So if there are moments where we have to be more literal and actually use imagery that's centuries old, then the execution needs to be new. It's easy to fall into the trap of tried-and-true metaphors, and I have to fight that impulse literally every single time I read a story. I've worked on national magazines, city magazines, and now In Touch. And I want to bring the same approach to this as I would another title. I want it to feel the way I like a magazine to feel.
Cameron: I agree. Why shouldn't this magazine be as beautiful, or more beautiful, than any title on a rack in Barnes & Noble? I don't understand the idea that, because this is something produced by a faith-based organization, we shouldn't be using the best illustrators and photographers out there.
"The front-of-book section 'Margin Notes' leans more academic and analytical. We attempted conceptual art in the first few issues with varying degrees of success before settling on a more literal approach. I now pull words and phrases directly from the text and send them to Adam Cruft (and then I wait while he works his magic). Not a lot of heavy-lifting! We feel that these simpler moments provide a nice break from the conceptual work that makes up the majority of the magazine." --EC
José: Well, it's refreshing, too, when you reach out to illustrators and photographers about the magazine. For the most part, they're really interested and want to do it. They realize that this is a challenge, an artistic challenge. So we're also getting to work with incredible talent. It's nice to be able to do that, and to find out people are really open and want to work on the magazine.
Eric: Yeah, I think for most of our artists, we're taking them out of their comfort zone. And the really good ones want that--they don't want to be doing the same thing over and over. And so you see that reflected in the final piece of art. There's almost an energy, or a tension, because it's not what they normally do. I think the work I've commissioned for In Touch is the best I've done for any magazine.
Type by Craig Ward
Photograph by Matt Kalinowski
Cameron: What are you guys learning as art directors and designers through working on In Touch?
Eric: For me it's that, no matter what the content is, there's always a solution. At the end of the day, you want to create something beautiful but you have to prioritize problem-solving. And then you hope that the byproduct of solving that problem is just an amazing piece of work. I think all designers and art directors may indulge themselves every once in a while, saying for example, "I've been wanting to work with James Day for five years," and so we try to maybe wedge something or someone in. But for the most part, I just try to solve the problem--to drill down as much as possible and figure it out.
José: In many ways I'm learning that, as my role changes and shifts, I need to trust Eric more- which is not hard to do. There's a level of faith that's involved in that as the person in my role. There's something about that that beautifully connects to this magazine--that we have to live by faith in some way, shape, or form. I've had to learn more about myself--about what I'm willing give up, which is kind of interesting, because that's what the magazine is constantly asking you to do. It's given me that gift.
Illustration by Keith Negley
Photograph by Franck Bohbot
Cameron: One of the things I like about our process together is that we're constantly tending to the magazine. Not just in terms of the design or writing execution, but also the purpose--ensuring that the writing and design are always in service of something bigger and deeper. We're not just trying to make the most amazingly-designed magazine ever. We want to do that, sure, but never at the expense of the ultimate goal. What do you guys like most about working on this title?
Eric: I just love being a part of the storytelling. To be selfish for a moment, I've gotten a lot out of this magazine just by reading it. But I think I've gotten as much out of designing it as well, learning how to tell these stories that are so important to people. It's really just a magazine about life, I would say. I don't think you have to look at it as a Christian publication. I'm hoping that, from this conversation being on the SPD site, maybe somebody will try to find In Touch and read it.
José: At the end of the day, I'm not thinking about design as the primary way in which I live my life. I want it to reflect sort of a mission. One thing that's important for me as a business owner is to ask some hard questions: If we have a limited amount of time on earth, is this what we want to be doing? Are we thrilled with what we're doing? Are we getting to be creative? Are we getting to serve? Are we getting to solve really hard problems? Are we surprising and delighting our audience? Are we getting to work with great talent from all over the world? Are people trusting us and our vision? Are we getting to do all those things? And I think that working on a magazine like In Touch is a huge "yes."
Illustration by Victo Ngai
Illustrations by Muti
Cameron: Is there anything that you guys have wanted to say about designing the magazine that you haven't?
Eric: This was José's redesign--the bones, the framework--and I haven't tired of it at all. I think the design strikes that perfect balance of feeling familiar but fresh. It seems to almost renew itself every issue. Maybe because it uses typefaces that have been around for a while but shines a new light on them. Even though you've seen Windsor, or you've seen Brandon--in this context, they take on a whole new dimension. I think that's something I've learned as a designer--that you don't have to limit yourself to new typefaces. It's OK if they've been around. You just have to figure out how to make them work in this new light. To be able to do that is powerful, because it opens up doors. You don't have to shy away from something that's been done. You just have to make it new again.
Illustration by Noma Bar
Photographs by Atul Loke
Principal, Creative Director: José Reyes
Principal, Managing Director: Nikolle Reyes
Associate Creative Director: Eric Capossela
Studio Manager: Marie-Claire DeJarnett
Designer: Tiffany Forrester
Designer: Ashley Shugart
Account Manager: Dimitri Iliadis
Publication Designer: Harold Velarde
Account Manager: Jill Walker
IN TOUCH MAGAZINE
Editor-in-Chief: Cameron Lawrence
Managing Editor: Jamie Hughes
Director, Creative Services: Tom Sabonis-Chafee
Illustrations by Jonathan Bartlett
Photo-illustration by Dan Saelinger
Illustrations by Rami Niemi