Grafik (formerly Hot Graphics International, then Graphics International) has been a stalwart of the UK design scene since the 1980s. A more irreverent read than many other such magazines, it sadly closed last year… only to return this month with a brand new design, new structure and new business plan, as a bimonthly covering the global graphic design scene.
The Blogsplosion asked co-editor Angharad Lewis about what happened, what’s happening now, and what will happen next in the Grafik story.
Why did Grafik stop?
To cut a long story short, our previous owner pulled the plug. He had a lot of other businesses and fingers in pies – he decided that he no longer wanted to carry on funding Grafik so he closed Adventures in Publishing (the company he had created to own the magazine).
As anyone who is passionate about publishing knows, you’re never going to make a million bucks unless you sell your soul and we were never prepared to do that. For us it’s always just been about trying to make a great magazine. So… when Adventures in Publishing was liquidated Caroline and I had the chance to bid on the assets and got the Grafik name with corresponding lock, stock and barrels.
After all the years of work we’ve put into Grafik, there was no way we could stand the idea of walking into a shop and seeing Grafik on the shelf made and published by someone else. Where there’s a will there’s a way.
We set up a partnership called Woodbridge & Rees to buy and own Grafik and we’re working with publisher Design Flux, which is part of a larger French publishing company. Design Flux has been set up in the UK to publish Grafik.
While Woodbridge & Rees owns Grafik and produces the design and editorial, Design Flux handles the magazine’s printing and distribution. We wanted to be able to concentrate on the bit we’re good at rather than have to deal with number crunching.
Our editorial office is based on Back Hill in Clerkenwell, where we also have a small gallery space. As well as producing Grafik, Woodbridge & Rees is hosting design-related exhibitions and events and creating editorial content for other clients.
Why “Woodbridge & Rees”?
We wanted quite a straightforward, traditional title for the company (no faddish design studio-esque titles!) and to use our names in some way. Our surnames Roberts and Lewis sounded a bit blokey though, like a firm of plumbers! So we chose maiden names from our respective families (Woodbridge is Caroline’s Grandmother’s maiden name and Rees is my Mum’s maiden name).
Weren’t you and Caroline co-owners of Grafik before?
We had been part-owners between 2005 and 2009. We had set up Grafik Ltd with another partner in 2005 after a management buy-out from previous publishers Archant. Grafik Ltd then sold the title to Adventures in Publishing in 2009 because we were struggling through the recession. AIP owned the title until it liquidated in June 2010.
This time around it’s different because Caroline and I (as Woodbridge & Rees) are sole owners for the first time. Of course we still have to work with a publishing partner, but we are reshaping the model of how we publish.
The aim is to cut down on wastage and sell to people more directly. We used to spend a lot of money and waste a lot of copies being stocked in WH Smith. They take a massive percentage of the cover price and pulp about half of all copies they stock. So we’re aiming to replace WH Smith and newsagent sales with direct online sales. You can buy a single issue online and have it delivered the next day.
We’re also distributing via Central Books, which targets art gallery and specialist book shops, where we know we’ll reach our core audience.
You can still subscribe, of course, and we’re now publishing 6 times a year instead of 10-12. The magazine is nearly 30% bigger and designed and structured to hold much more content.
We will also be doing a lot more online, with a lot of content published on our website feed.
What happened to existing subscribers of Grafik? Will they receive the new edition?
We’re very conscious of the fact that people who had live subscriptions when AIP liquidated will have lost out on copies remaining on their subs. Sadly it’s just impossible for us to pay off our former employer’s debts by honouring all these copies. But we are making a gesture to all former subscribers by giving them a code to redeem a free copy of the first issue.
How is the new Grafik different from the old one?
Firstly, there’s more of it: 128 pages. We have also had a redesign, courtesy of Michael Bojkowski. Part of his brief was to emphasise and maximise content. In our previous incarnation we always felt that our content sometimes played second fiddle to the layout, so this time around it’s all about foregrounding our text and images, while still having a design with personality. We hope we’ve got it about right, but it’s a very tricky balance for any magazine, let alone when you’re designing a magazine about design. We’re very open to feedback and will keep evolving.
There’s also a completely new editorial structure to the magazine. For example, we no longer have a ‘Showcase’ section at the front of the magazine – by the nature of their frequency, magazines can’t compete with the immediacy of blogs, so we didn’t want to try. Instead we’ll be showcasing new work online.
The magazine is a space for longer, more in-depth and visually rich articles. We have made the structure more fluid too, so we’re able to respond to our content rather than fit it to defined article lengths and themes. At the same time, we’ve kept firm favourites like Letterform and Logofrom (which have now been joined by Pictoform and Cover Shot), Talent, Six Books and Profile. We’ve also added new regular features like Graphic Design Heroes, Industry People, Live Brief, Future Classics and a regular illustration Profile.
The front section is now called Kaleidoscope, which is packed with new exhibitions, events, products, publications and dates for your diary. A continually shifting pattern…
We hope the magazine feels more lively, journalistic, visually rich, informative and generally packed with more stuff.
Will you be interacting with readers online more than before?
Absolutely – as well as what’s mentioned above, there will be regular competitions and much more audio, video and interactive online content than before. We will always be in love with print but we’re also excited by how we can interact with people online. It’s a brilliant medium for creating a sense of community, and our biggest audience is our Facebook community, where we now have over 135,000 fans.
What makes Grafik different from other design magazines?
This is a difficult question because it’s a bit like asking what makes one individual different from another.
Any magazine is a reflection of the people who work on it, so Grafik is a product of the editorial team, the designer and the extended family of contributors who make each issue. Perhaps we’re the slightly renegade younger sibling of the UK graphic design publishing family. I think maybe we have an independent spirit that comes across in the pages.
What are your hopes for the future of Grafik?
It feels like very early days for us at the moment, in our new incarnation, but we want to re-establish our audience, sell lots of copies, expand our family of contributors and readers, reach more people around the world and keep our pages (both print and digital) exciting.
Can you give us any sneak previews of forthcoming content in future issues?
The second new issue will have a special feature about publishing. [Disclosure: I've contributed to that. -- Ed] Profiles on Mind Design and Magnus Voll Mathiassen, features on non-Format, Yohji Yamamoto, Tony Forster, James Goggin, Gaite Lyrique and lots more! It’s published 24 March.
Anything else you’d like to say about new Grafik?
Mainly a big thank you to every one who has supported us along the way, by buying and contributing to the magazine. And – our new one-word mantra – onwards!