Posted tagged ‘John Grimwade’

Q&A with John Grimwade, graphics director of Condé Nast Traveler & Portfolio magazines

November 13, 2008

John Grimwade is the information graphics director of both Condé Nast Traveler and Condé Nast Portfolio magazines. With a career spanning over thirty years (which includes contributions to 30 other major magazines, and 8 years as graphics consultant to Popular Science), he is inarguably one of the most influential information graphic designers of the past three decades.

He very kindly took the time to answer a few questions for us. You can see samples of his work at his site, and of course in the pages of Condé Nast Traveler and Portfolio.

Please briefly describe your role and responsibilities as Condé Nast Traveler Graphics Director.
JG: I read stories, go to meetings, and generally look for places where visual explanation could help. Information graphics are (thankfully) considered to be an important part of the editorial process. Once we have an idea, I work on it with editors and designers to come up with a clear plan. Only then do we go on to the artwork stage.

You seem to use a variety of designers to create the information graphics in Condé Nast Traveler, what are the criteria with which you select the right person for a particular job? Are they a mixture of in-house and contract designers?
JG: All the design, and most of our information graphics are done in-house, but we go outside for specialist illustration. We try and match projects to the strengths of the people we have. The advantage of the in-house project is that we can control it very carefully.

How do you determine which information should be displayed graphically?
JG: There is no exact formula. It’s a combination of experience and intuition. I have a pretty good sense of what will work better if we present it visually. But it’s not magic, I learnt it from some superb practitioners.

How do you potentially see your role changing as digital solutions (such as the iPod, Amazon’s Kindle, the Sony Reader … which may not be there yet, but look like they’re trying hard to close the gap) become accepted everyday tools for downloading and viewing magazines, newspapers and other material that is traditionally print?
JG: I’m optimistic on this subject. Digital media will take over at some point (surely we all know that), and I think it will definitely offer more opportunities to display material clearly. The possibilities to layer information, and provide users with tools to control and unfold a graphic, are exciting.

Expanding on the previous question, do you see the information-graphic designer being required to become more of a writer/editor/designer than ever before in order to accommodate changes in technology and the speed with which content can be produced and distributed?
JG: I think so, and that can be a good thing, we’ll have headlines and captions that really compliment the visuals. However, I don’t want graphics to become text-driven. I do believe in the “Show Don‘t Tell” principle.

What other publications, formats and/or designers would you point to as currently being ahead of the game, or pioneering the way information-graphics are used and created?
JG: In magazines, Wired is often brilliant. In data visualization, Ben Fry is a genius.

If you could give a recent graduate who wants to pursue a career similar to yours one piece of advice, what would it be?
JG: Make a commitment to infographics. You can’t be anything less than 100% interested in explaining through visuals. It can be hard work, but it’s worth it.

Family Guy or The Simpsons?
JG: The Simpsons. Even after all these years.

Archive of information-graphic designer interviews

October 27, 2008

I just came across Karl Gude’s collection of on-camera interviews with various outstanding information-graphic designers such as John Grimwade, Nigel Holmes, George Rorick and Karl Gude himself. There were a couple of common themes I noticed in the interviews – emphasis on the importance of sketching and planning with A PENCIL, and the repeated mention of how important it is that you are not the only set of eyes who is involved in the creation of the graphic. (I also noticed that there appears to be several original journals from Demetrius of Phaleron’s library in Alexandria in the cupboard above Karl Gude’s desk. I’ll call Indiana Jones. I have 6 week old fruit in my office, so I can’t really talk). Here are links to a few, but take a look through the archive on the right of the screen…
Karl Gude
John Grimwade
Nigel Holmes

Portfolio magazine makes me hungry, temporarily forget how fat I am

February 29, 2008

The cover of February’s Portfolio magazine has an enormous, disgusting and incredibly tasty looking burger covering almost the entire cover. The cover story (‘How Fat Won’) is a really interesting piece on american fast food and the attitude of the fast food manufacturers toward the consumer. I love that the cover story used more shots of the burger, the burger ingredients and fries and grease stains as a drop cap! And I’m worried at how much I want to taste that burger.
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Moving back to the front of the book, there are 4 contents pages. There’s nice use of white space, compelling photography, clear labeling and easy to read fonts. The first three pages are used for features, columns and some other sections labelled ‘Culture Inc.’ and ‘In Play’. The fourth is a website contents page, whose layout is significantly different from the first three, which makes me wonder what is the benefit of making this page look so different from the print content pages? Is it so the reader doesn’t immediately assume that they are reading a fourth page of print content? Or is it because they don’t promote as much of the site’s content because it’s going to update and change so much throughout the print mag’s month-long shelf-life?
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Also, the contributor’s section is placed between two left and right hand half-page vertical ads… and are given a very generous amount of space considering how little actual information there is there. But definitely a unique idea for this type of page.

There are a lot of infographics in here (yes, I’d include the Britney Spears double-spread as an infographic – it’s just text-driven and relies on photography instead of vector-graphics), and they don’t seem to have one particular style they’ve settled on, unlike other Condé Naste publications such as Traveler. But that doesn’t take away from the look of the magazine in the slightest, in fact it seems to add a fun, lighter feeling as you flick through, and makes you stop more than once to find out what you’re looking at. Unfortunately there are a couple of occassions where an advertisement on the opposite page to a graphically driven layout or infographic is very similar in use of white space or floating elements and completely detracts from what would otherwise have been a very interesting page (see the ‘Calendar’ page below as an example, or the ‘Back Story’ page). I face similar problems with every issue of our magazine as we don’t place the ads here in-house and frequently don’t know what the ads look like until we see bluelines. We’re working on changing this slowly, but the big fight isn’t going to be changing our process, it’s going to be convincing the advertisers to change the way their ads look.
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Condé Nast Traveler goes 1920’s (and still looks better than most other magazines)

February 25, 2008

Condé Nast Traveler looks very 20’s noirish on the cover… love the pale yellow logo on the blue sky, and the crop of the photo, with just enough of the sea and umbrellas showing. I can totally picture Jack Nicholson circa Chinatown standing on that balcony in his suit sweating his ass off. The layout doesn’t even have to try, it’s straightforward, simple to scan and doesn’t try to overwhelm you with how clever it thinks it is (see Wired’s latest cover for an example of trying too hard).

There’s also some great looking front of book stuff in here. The contributors pages look very elegant, nice consistency with the contents pages and other up front content. There’s a lot here to read, and little attempt made to dumb anything down, but plenty to scan and take in if you don’t have time to get into it. I love how you’re going through page after page of pretty dense copy and info, then suddenly you’re hit with a full-page of swimsuits and another of handbags like they’re saying “Wait! It’s not as serious as it looks!”
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The feature well contains really rich, beautiful looking photography, and carries on that 20’s-ish theme from the cover. I wish I knew how to color correct like that. I also think it’s really cool how they create a completely custom layout for each feature story, so you jump from the cover story and its noir theme to a piece on San Francisco with its own completely separate look and type treatment.
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And finally, I thought this illustrative infographic was really well put together. It really stands out from the fantastic vector-based graphics Condé Nast and John Grimwade in particular are famous for.