Editors and designers are both creative types. Yet hammering out a constructive conversation about how to carry forward a design that gets to the core of an article’s central theme can be a lesson in frustration. Other factors play a role;deadlines, workflow, misunderstanding or underestimating capabilities;but there are ways to keep the lines of communication open and preventing an unintended church-state line.

"Most of the headbutting happens with the cover," says Brad Tolinski, music group editorial director for Brisbane, California-based enthusiast publisher Future Network USA. "It has to be the most blatant commercial sales-oriented place in the magazine. They can be beautiful, but they also need to say something."

Visit a Newsstand
Tolinski’s solution to a communication breakdown? Go shopping. "I’ll stop everything and take the art director to a newsstand and literally go through stuff. Pretty soon you’ll have things to point to. Often it’s an abstraction. ‘I want it to look stronger, I want it to look clean.’ Well what exactly are you saying? It’s helpful to point out other examples. That starts a constructive conversation," he says.

"The cover is always a back-and-forth, fluid process," says Bill Bridgeforth, art director for Dallas-based sports enthusiast and collectibles publisher Beckett Media. "I think the key is understanding that the editor’s desire to sell his stories inside and the designer’s passion for visual appeal are not mutually exclusive. We both want to sell magazines, and some tension is healthy."

If you don’t keep the lines open, says Tolinski, there may be no turning back. "The art director thinks the editor is going to be an idiot and the editor thinks the art director just wants to place art over commerce. Once you get into that mind-frame all communication breaks down."

Bridgeforth suggests that editors keep their suggestions more general to give designers room to create. Editors should try to avoid encroaching on a designer’s technical expertise. "I appreciate our editors saying, ‘Here’s what’s most important’ not ‘Make this 15 percent bigger and make it yellow.’ That communicates respect and trust and frees me to design something good."

Keep the Process Moving
Pepper Hastings, Beckett’s editorial director, notes that a creative workgroup set-up that keeps an eye on getting the product out the door keeps things moving along. "Editorial and design are set up in workgroups according to titles, so the team concept is emphasized. The egos are kept to a minimum and the goal is to get the product out, and get on to the next one. One of the dangers every publisher faces is a staff that continually over-polishes the apple, spending inordinate amounts of time and effort on things the readers don’t care about. We don’t have layers and layers of editors and designers at Beckett. The goal is efficiency and quality."

According to Bridgeforth, workgroups arranged by title are important to both cooperation and workflow. "Our editors, designers and price guide staff sit together by title. This causes us to talk through issues and learn from each other. Years ago, we sat separately by department and the process had a more linear feel. I hate putting a cover on someone’s desk and watching it go through layers of red tape, only to return with 12 different suggestions on it. Our current system is more fluid. We all brainstorm ideas together, sketch out covers, and when I need a quick opinion I’ve got four people who can hop over and look at my monitor."