At our 2018 festival, The Word On The Street hosted seven great panels of magazines professionals on our Careers in Canadian Magazines stage. Over the next few weeks we will sit down with some of our esteemed panelists to get an in-depth view on their role in Canada’s magazine industry.
WOTS: Welcome to the WOTS Blog, John! To start, could you walk us through a typical day at Reader’s Digest Canada? What does a workday in the role of Art Director look like?
John Montgomery: My workdays are usually filled with a lot of reading, research, and thinking about the design direction of the magazine. I’m currently working on adapting a redesign from the US edition of the magazine.
When we start working on an issue, that’s the point when I start brainstorming with the associate art director about what we’d like to do with the stories and what approaches we might take. Once we have a plan in place, then we start mocking up the layouts and look for photographers or illustrators to bring the designs to life.
WOTS: At WOTS 2018 you sat on a panel titled “Editorial Vision and Design”. Is there an aspect of magazine design that would surprise the average reader?
JM: How much waiting is involved. You’re pretty much always waiting for stories to come in, waiting for them to be edited, waiting for display to be written, waiting for the art to arrive. It’s a process.
The other thing is how far in advance we work. I’m usually trying to work several issues ahead, especially when it comes to the covers. I like having time to think about approaches and how we can accomplish what we’re trying to do.
WOTS: Your portfolio contains a number of award winning magazine covers – what do you consider a hallmark of good design?
JM: I tend to love design that has a clear idea behind it and has something to say. This is something I think is important for design overall, but especially for editorial design. Covers are incredibly important, not just as a way to tell a potential reader what is in the issue, but also to act as an advertisement for the brand. You say quite a bit about your magazine by the way you approach the cover.
WOTS: As someone who has worked with magazine operations of various sizes, and also as their own free agent, are there any unexpected differences between working with a big vs. small publication?
JM: Generally, the difference is at smaller publications where you have to have a strong understanding of everything that needs to be done (including on the edit side). Your position can encompass multiple roles which will require you to have a strong understanding of all the processes needed to put the magazine together.
WOTS: What is your number one piece of advice for those who are pursuing a career in the magazine industry?
JM: This is a much more difficult industry to break into now than ten years ago. If you really want to work in magazines, I would suggest working at a studio who specializes in editorial design. There are a number of businesses and institutions out there who are interested in this approach—or want to produce their own magazines. Also, if you’re a student starting out, please have a portfolio that showcases editorial work. And pay attention to your typography!
WOTS: Thank you for these insights, John!
You can see some of John Montgomery’s work at johnmontgomery.ca