Ask the Pros: How important is it to like the topic of the mag you work for?

Ask the Pros: How important is it to like the topic of the mag you work for? Our Ask the Pros series is here to answer your most pressing questions about interviewing, job-hunting and working in the world of publication art and photo departments.Got a question you want answered? Email it to us at and we'll put it to our experts. A varying panel of professionals will give you their take, and then it's up to you to put their advice to work. 

Today our experts talk topics ... as in magazine topics ...

How important is it to have an interest in the subject matter of the magazine you work for? For example, if you're in love with the design of a fishing magazine, but have no interest in fishing/outdoors ... does it make you as happy as you would be if you were at a magazine that covered a topic you enjoyed?

PRO: Gail Bichler - Art Director, The New York Times Magazine
Liking the look of the publication you work for is great, but it's very important to also be engaged with the subject matter. Art directors read a steady stream of content generated for their magazines. We are often asked to propose art solutions for stories that don't have obvious visuals. In order to do this effectively, you need to read and thoroughly understand the text. Even when I'm designing a story and not making decisions about the direction for the art, I always read the text because I find the best design solutions come from an understanding of the subtleties of the piece. Given that art directors spend such a large amount of time reading and thinking about the subject matter of their magazines, I'd highly recommend working with content that you're interested in whenever possible. 
    That said, as a new graduate you may not always have that luxury. It can also be a worthy challenge to work on subject matter that you wouldn't necessarily choose yourself, particularly if you're working for someone whose design sensibility you respect. 

PRO: Justin Patrick Long - Assistant Art Director, Men's Health Magazine 
The more experience you have and the strength of your portfolio is ultimately going to allow you to go after that dream job. But, when you're just starting out, take what you can get. All magazines function the same way, for the most part. It's important in your first few years as a professional to learn the job itself. That said, if you have interest in the material that you're designing, it's only going to strengthen your design. If you have passion for the content, that passion will show in your work. 

PRO: Emily Furlani - Art Director, Parents
I think on principle, you would not want to take a job at a magazine that goes against your ethics. That said, you would be surprised to learn that a great creative working environment has almost nothing to do with how well you think you relate to the subject matter. Some fantastic creative teams are behind titles that may not have subjects that directly relate to you, and you might have a wonderful learning experience. So I'd say be open to new areas of interest, and let your choices be dictated more by the work culture, and the overall design, rather than topic. 

PRO: Matthew Axe - Design Director, Martha Stewart Living
I think to be a great designer you should have the ability to get into the mind of any
customer/reader you are asked to design for. That said, an interest in the subject
matter is an advantage and makes a job more enjoyable.

PRO: Chai Lim - Studio Manager, Pacific+ (Australian based client publishing)
It's nice, but by no means essential. Have an understanding or appreciation of the market, so you can respect the reader. Oftentimes if you are too embedded in the subject matter, it can restrict your ability to look outside the box with your design approach. Great design can bring in new readers by helping them appreciate the nuances of a subject matter they otherwise don't care for (eg.: Bloomberg Businessweek and Garden & Gun are great examples of magazines that broaden the appeal of the subject).

Thanks to our terrific panel of pros for all their great advice! 
Check out our previous Ask the Pros questions below. And email us if you've got a question.
- What's the most valuable thing you've learned? Part 2
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