Getting through the unpretty

An issue of UPPERCASE begins as a nebulous entity in my mind.

In this ideation phase, distraction is my friend. Making connections between disparate topics, leaving room for serendipity and chance—that’s what makes UPPERCASE good. Early on, an issue is a rough assembly of ideas, imagery and thoughts. It’s a hazy thing in the distance that requires concentration on my part to make it happen. 

Each decision—from who writes what article, to whom I decide to profile—takes me closer to it, bringing it slightly into focus with each step forward. By the time an issue of UPPERCASE is at the design phase, I have been thinking about its content for six months or more. At this point, I have concrete items to work with—thousands of words, gigabytes of images and 116 blank pages—but I often feel like this is the most unfocused stage of the entire process.

This is the “unpretty” phase of design when all the words and pictures are splattered onto their designated spreads so that I can take inventory of what I have to work with. It can be overwhelming to sort through everything; and there are moments when my ideas for the overarching theme seem lost in visual clutter. This is the stage that I liken to sculpture: the design is in there somewhere, but I have to hack away all the unnecessary material to reveal what it is supposed to be. I start to live inside the design, getting to know how this particular issue is going to work: the structure, the connecting colours and sympathetic visual motifs.

Designing becomes a series of decisions made to resolve different perspectives:

me / you
What am I trying to accomplish as a designer?
What do my readers want to experience? 
What are my intentions?
Will there be an element of surprise?
Do I love it?
Will you love it?


sharp / blurred
Are the themes evident to the reader?
Do the ideas and design leave room for play and discovery?
Does the issue feel cohesive?
Will it inspire new ideas and connections for the reader?


micro / macro
Is the kerning on this word ok?
Should I hyphenate this paragraph?
Should I have one or two columns of text?
Should the article be four pages or six?
Does the headline on this page look good?
Does this article fit well at this point in the magazine?
Does the issue fit with what readers expect of UPPERCASE? 


As I switch between these perspectives, an issue of UPPERCASE begins to emerge. After I’ve answered all of these questions (and many more!), it’s ready to print.

 

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