The Thought Process
Behind Designing
A Magazine

A couple of beers and a chance meeting with an editor friend led to our creation of one of the hottest young mags on the Romanian scene. Here's the step-by-step process of how we took an old newspaper brand and designed an identity that stands up for something.

She told me she just took over as editor and project manager and wasn't content with the publication, that she envisioned a new kind of path for it, starting with converting it from the old format, a bi-annual social / cultural broadsheet newspaper, into something more appropiate for the publishing frequency – a magazine.

I always wanted to make a magazine.

I told her as much and, probably in part due to the alcohol, she accepted my proposal to work on it as creative director.

We decided to keep the name—Carevasăzică, the Romanian idiom equivalent to "which is to say" with the double entendre of "somebody says"—as it had a unique kind of sound and stuttered flow which helped it stand out, and the meaning made sense

for a publication focused on essays and opinion articles. 

The original brand had a playful, joie-de-vivre attitude, that tried to highlight the work and opinions of students while not taking itself too seriously, which was evidenced from everything from its colloquial tone of voice to the typography used in the logotype. The style of design was a tongue-in-cheek adaptation to the newspaper medium: the capital C personified sported a handsome moustache and wore a top hat and monocle, drawing back to the bohemian golden years of late 19th / early 20th century Romanian society, back when newspapers had a strong voice influencing public opinion.

However, this wasn't translatable to a magazine format.  

Looking around at competing publications for the youth demographic there was a very noticeable design decision that they had all made, namely to communicate their intended target as obviously and up-front as possible. That meant constantly referencing the cliches of student life – leaving home, parties, drinking, studying, internships, stress over exams, being broke, discontentment with the institution, etc – which tried to establish a safe space where everybody from every tribe could fit in.

Beyond the naïveté, the consequence of this strategy is that once a reader leaves university life behind, they also stop reading

the magazine, which means the opinion pieces are essentially published in an echo chamber. 

Everyone has a voice, even the young, and they have a right to have their opinion seen as valid as the rest of us. Knocking down the walls of the echo chamber, we aimed to build a brand that gives students a space where their writing can be taken seriously. That meant dropping the safe space and opening them up to criticism, a sacrifice we deemed not only worthy but absolutely necessary.

There we found our concept - students have a right to stand up for their opinion.


Old vs New logo.

We had a strong name and all our previous readers knew us through it by more than anything else except the broadsheet, yellow paper we used to be printed on. From there came an easy decision: the name should play a central figure.

The brand concept needed to be distilled:
Students have a right to stand up for their opinion.
Stand up for their opinion.
Stand up.
Stand tall.

Summed up in one word - verticality - double entendre and all.

Starting off as a logotype, there came a couple hundred of handwritten calligraphy attempts at writing it, none of which were ultimately deemed good enough.

After that came the typeface exploration - building upon the vertical concept, I looked for something with tall, thin letterforms. Narrowing those down to geometric, rectangular shapes, the perfect fit eventually found itself in ATC Krueger, produced by the Avondale Type Company. The bold variant, with some slight changes and a thicker stroke to help legibility at small sizes, partly required due to the tight tracking.

The block of letters could thus suggest the concept both in a horizontal position, through the letterforms, and in a vertical one, as it becomes a solid rectangle.

Adding a stroke around the block to even further reinforce the idea, and adding a triangle to the stroke to form a speech bubble – something I went back and forth on forever – and bang, we're done.


The first step was to look for inspiration. In this case, the internet was no longer enough; seeing how everything worked on paper and how it shaped the physical object was extremely important. I ordered a dozen indie magazines from Coffee Table Mags, beautiful things all of them: Thisispaper, Trouve, Lagom, Smith Magazine, Another Escape, and others. I read them and looked at them in every way I could, trying to see both how everything fits into the whole and the importance of their details.

Drinking it all in, I tried eventually settling on one aesthetic - which proved nearly impossible. Each prototype was scrapped within a day or two, and as I found more and more styles and mags from across the world, anything I made seemed terrible in comparison. I was stuck.

This lasted for two months. I was stressing myself over the inadequacy of my results way too much, and knew I had to break out. All the small elements I had picked up that fit the standard had eventually lost any kind of consistency with each other.

Grabbing a couple hundred sheets of paper and a pencil, I started sketching out all the ideas I had just so I could see and experience them live. Slowly, the long list was narrowing down; some proved to be unworkable, some irrelevant, some were just plain ugly.

Distilling the concept further and further over the course of the day, I kept staring at one of the simpler sketches when it suddenly hit me:

Standing tall.
What's the most basic expression of something vertical?
Something tall - a tower.
Simplest way to suggest a tower?

The rectangle.

Taking a concept to its most simple interpretation, there was the discovery of the pure geometric shapes. It was flexible, modular, open to interpretation, easy to experiment with, while at the same time a breeze to keep consistent across a variety of subjects. 


One of the final versions of the flatplan.

Settling on an slightly shorter A4 format with a 6-column grid from which I could play around with plenty of white space and pages made of up to three columns of text, budget constraints reduced it to a slightly larger A5 with the same grid, less white space, but only a maximum of 2 columns.

As the typefaces came next, I needed something that had an extended Latin characters for the Romanian diacritics, a regular and a bold font, a true italic, and true small caps. Beyond that, small things such as oldstyle numerals and a series of special characters and dingbats were just icing on the cake.

On the suggestion of a fellow designer, I found Pablo Marchant's Jauria. It was functional, met all the requirements, and what made me love it was its punk-rock feel, with the jagged shapes and angles that reminded me of old-school photocopy zines. Its manifesto was also something beautiful: "it doesn’t expect to find truths, because it’s expecting to write them and participate in the riot built by everyone." Awesome.

However, having a body copy with a subtle-but-present counterculture message risked having the content be labeled and ending up in the same dreaded echo chamber as before. It needed a headline typeface that would act as a counterweight and balance it.

The required stability through opposition meant looking for a sans-serif, and instead of something new I wanted something already established. From a shortlist of five, Gill Sans came out the winner. Its natural simplicity and historic use made it perfect for my needs.

On colour schemes, due to the uncertainty I had with the overall quality and consistency of work from photographers and illustrators (caused by both the short timeframe of production and my own temporary inability to properly brief and coordinate them), I decided to follow the design's idea of simplifying everything and picked a simple, black and white palette. The added advantage here was reducing the attention given to the imagery (none of the articles had a focus on the visual) and putting the spotlight on what mattered - the writing.

Colour was instead used as a signal. There are four photos printed in colour, of which two each occupy an entire spread, who's sole role is to say "hey, check this out—this is important."

Conceptually, the tower appeared in various forms throughout the magazine - the focus subjects in imagery being placed in an upright, central fashion; the single columns pages marking the most important parts of an article; the way articles cover pages are set up; and ultimately the 4-page fold-out.

Once the editor had decided on the editorial concept—the various perspectives in the experiences of those coming of age—I started playing around with various interpretations of it. 

Drawing inspiration from a book on Le Corbusier by Enle Li, I wanted to abuse the physicality of the magazine itself and give life to the cover model as though you really were viewing her in a physical space. 

Looking at the front cover, you'd see one side of her face, but turning the magazine around, the back cover showed her other side, with all the noticeable details that denote this: the different torso angle, the hair covering her face instead of being tucked behind her ear, even the small tuft of hair cheekily rising from near her forehead being more blurred than the front (right) side.

To reinforce this concept, all bits of text (including the logo) on the front cover were mirrored and slightly blurred on the back cover so as to show the lack of focus, as if you're viewing something that you weren't meant to, a voyeuristic peek into the forbidden.

All information on the cover, visual or textual, points skyward. The logo, the issue number and the article titles are laid out in a tower block on the right side, and the issue title, Perspective(s), is laid out in a straight line from the model's eyesight, ending in 3 dashes to form a clear vertical line and an almost triangular composition (head, title, dashes) to lead the eye in a single direction - the final installment of the design concept.

There we go. All done.

One of the most stressful but ultimately rewarding design works I've done, I honestly recommend that every designer should at one point try their hand at building a magazine. It offers insights into the process, the challenges and the unique specifics of the medium that will enrich any future work you do, and will give you a much more solid respect for the print business and those within it.