Editor, Creative Director, Event Curator and Magazine expect Jeremy Leslie wears many hats and has spent the last couple of decades channelling his passion for the printed page into a multifaceted empire called magCulture. Originally set up as a blog commenting on editorial design, magCulture has manifested into a physical store, conference, podcast and events program as well as remaining a key voice on the evolution of editorial design.
How did you get into design?
I grew up in London, and my academic failures were matched by the enthusiasm and support I had from the art department at school. I had a really good art teacher, Mr Lobbly, who apart from being into Morris dancing, as your art teacher would be, was also really encouraging and opened me up to creative work. He identified my talent and advised me on which university to go to as I was into typography.
NME was the first magazine I got into, and there was no going back. I suddenly realised that my interest in music and my necessity to have the latest copy of NME in my hands every Thursday was linked to design. I realised someone designed this magazine, and it unfolded from there.
After graduating, I managed to get a three-week job at City Limits Magazine, which was something I was reading at the time and I loved it. There was a real buzz working on a weekly magazine. I enjoyed the pace, and although my part in it was tiny, I loved that something I laid out and designed was alive in print.
From there, I joined Blitz as a Designer who was a competitor of I.D. I spent three years there trying things out and just getting into it. It was a great time meeting people, connecting with writers and other creatives. I also met my wife during that time. I then moved onto Time Out as Art Director and then Creative Director at content marketing agency John Brown Media.
How did you land on editorial design?
It was the idea of working with content that excited me, more than the actual design itself. This idea of taking content and expressing it felt cool. What I love about magazines is that they are instantly responding to the culture. They weren’t like big campaigns where you would have to wait for six months or a year for your work to come out, the turnaround is fast, and you could have it in your hands next week or next month.
After years of working for other studios, you made the leap to start your own?
I started my own studio in 2009, and we work on all aspects of editorial design from hands-on design for clients on redesigns, logos and identities for both print and digital. We did the identity for Aeon and designed their online site.
Currently, I’m working with Maison Moderne, a Luxembourg based magazine publisher. I’m their creative director, so I look after their studio, mentor their staff and look over the magazines they work on, all redesigns and support them in growing in other parts of Europe.
The work runs parallel to everything we do at MagCulture, and I think it’s essential for me to be still working in design and not just talking about it.
How did the MagCulture empire start?
I worked on a couple of books for Laurence King and Patrick Burgoyne (Former Editor of Creative Review), which was a pathway for me to make a book about magazines. I ended up creating two, Issues and MagCulture. The MagCulture blog came from the book. It was a space to continue the conversation as new magazines launched, and the industry continued to develop. I started collecting a lot of magazines and was interested in how they reflected society. It was an online space for people to see what was happening in the editorial industry and the audience grew very quickly. I had established myself as a keen observer of the industry, and so I began to get invited to speak at events and conferences.
I also worked on a new book called Modern Magazine. The book explored visual journalism in the digital age and looked back on the previous ten years of magazine publishing. It was a period of rapid innovation, and the book aims to provide a record of the era’s diverse visual trends focusing mainly on how magazines have adapted to respond to digital media.
The first iteration of conference ModMag was a launch day for the book and brought together a panel of speakers from the industry to share their work, creative process and motivations. It felt current and completely flew in the face of this on-going narrative that print was dead. We now run two conferences every year, one in London and one in New York.
With the shop, I knew where to sniff out amazing magazines in Europe, but London didn’t have one destination, which was actively celebrating magazines beyond the mainstream. So in 2015, the store opened. The podcast, co-hosted by Liv Siddall, is the latest iteration.
That variety of these different roles and creative projects must be both challenging and exciting?
It is. It can be both daunting and fantastic. The ethos of my book, Modern Magazine was that the editor and art director have become the same thing. It’s not to say you need one person, but it’s a much more common discipline that people share. I think of it as a visual journalist, and I transfer this energy into running the shop and the conference, as there is a curatorship and presentation role to both of those endeavours.
What makes for the best editorial design?
What I love about it is the synthesis of great visual content and brilliant writing into something new. Good editorial design transforms great content into something a reader really wants to engage with.
What role does the printed page play in an increasingly digital age?
I think it’s a really special time for magazines at the moment and it has been for the last twenty years. There’s a paradox in that. Just as everyone was talking about print beginning to fail and questioning its future, at that exact moment the technology became more accessible, making it much easier to create a magazine. It’s now cheaper than ever for an outsider to come in and start playing with things. Print is essentially using the same tools as digital media; the outcome is just tactile.
The financial landscape has changed for sure, but as people know they aren’t going to make a quick buck making magazines, they can be much braver with their creativity. I’m seeing much more expressive and experimental publications now. I think we will look back on this era and it will be regarded as a great time for print, despite the business model struggles that we have.
Tickets to ModMagNYC conference programmed by magCulture on 29th May 2019 are available here.