‘Sorry! F*ck passion! Fight more!’ A Dutch mag with attitude


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YEARS OF TRAVELING the world for my consulting work, photography and teaching have taught me to view graphic design inspiration in new ways. For one thing, I’ve learned not to be frustrated by not understanding the language of a place – I find that being forced to process a visual element in and of itself, without the help of headlines or decks, heightens my sensitivity to and appreciation for local graphic solutions.

Such was the case while living in Amsterdam in summer 2009, where I found the Dutch publication Intermediair, whose covers are simple, lively, surprising, graphic, and impactful. Love them or hate them, I bet they catch your eye. Most appear to be done on a shoestring or even nonexistent budget (a huge point of interest for every one of my clients or classrooms these days). I tracked down Intermediair art director Jaap Biemans to ask how it all comes together.

Intermediair is a weekly publication that circulates 250,000 copies to Dutch university graduates, Jaap says, “from age 20 until 42, then you get kicked out. The main focus is ‘work, work, work.’ The back of the magazine is full (these days a little less) with job advertisements for academic people who are looking for a job, the front of the magazine is filled with articles about work, economy, science, gadgets, sometimes politics and well-known people. In the good days it was the most profitable magazine in the Netherlands, these days it’s a lot harder. It’s pretty well known but because it’s free it doesn’t get the same recognition as newsstand titles.”

Though more or less a general interest magazine, it doesn’t hesitate to provoke or take a stand. Jaap and company are not afraid to put the prime minister in historic dress, graphically show animals and humans getting busy, or produce a cover that would cause one reader to “tear it up and return with a note saying ‘keep your filth!’ “

Lately I’ve been researching the print industry’s willingness, and ability, to provoke, shock and engage via cover design. These concepts come into play when I speak for AAN or SND, or judge one of their design contests. Intermediair is a great case study, and makes me wonder why we don’t see more of this in the States. Its subject matter (work life) is of special interest to me as well, as I’ve done a lot of consulting with business weeklies. Since I’m a type addict too, its “type attack” covers instantly pull me in.

Following are some of my favorite Intermediair covers with some background explanation from Jaap. (To judge a cover’s success in really connecting with readers and accurately reflecting its cover theme, you really do have to know what the story is about.) Links to more of Jaap’s work follow at the end of this blog post.

TORN COVER. Says Jaap: “It’s a story about divorcing your husband or wife.” (This cover is nominated for Best Design of 2009 (winners announced in March).

Sorry! Cover from Intermediaire

SORRY. Great example of a “type attack.” Says Jaap: “About the people who created the economic crisis, everybody was waiting for some excuse.”

F*CK PASSION. Another “type attack.” Says Jaap: “Don’t take all the management bulls*** about following your heart and passion… instead take a good look at what the market needs. Kind of tongue-in-cheek approach.”

HOREN, ZIEN & BELLEN (I remarked, “what an illustration!”). Says Jaap: “I agree, one of my first covers, illustration by Claudie de Cleen, an amazing artist! The headline means: ‘Hear, See & Call.’ A bit difficult to explain. It’s about a new phenomenon from a few years ago: telephone lines where people can report/reveal/squeal/betray other people who are cheating, messing up, etc.”

FINGER GIVING. Says Jaap: ” ‘We’re all assh*les,’ we’re a country with people that are explosive and rude, what can we do about it? (Related to changes in our political environment in the last couple of years.)”

BLOODY NOSE: Says Jaap: ” ‘Fight more! 7 tips to get what you want on the work floor.’ Again, a tongue in cheek approach.”

ANYBODY HERE? “How to manage an empty office (because everyone is working from home).” Another simple but effective illustration by Claudie de Cleen.

WAAAAAA! “How a bad child can endanger your career.”

Wrapup thoughts (from Ron Reason): In my view, the most dynamic and successful publications tailor a cover design strategy to fit their mission, audience, and market. In every relaunch or startup, I ask clients to put in writing a short, shared definition of what makes a great cover. In assessing or developing your own design strategy, you may wish to consider some of the questions I ask my clients to consider:

  1. To what extent do we want or need our graphic solution to be local? Colorful? Simple? Shocking? Daring? Humorous? Beautiful? Diverse? (In terms of demographic representation or visual style from week-to-week.) Are these things among our shared values? Are there others? Graphically speaking, how do we define a winner?
  2. Can we use “type attacks” (impactful type-only visual solutions)? If so, on what kinds of stories?
  3. Do faces or environmental portraits work in our market? How often should we play them up?
  4. How does our logo jump out when viewed at the point-of-pickup? Does it need to, or can it take a back seat if people already aware of our brand?
  5. Can or should we involve our circulation and marketing execs in our art direction, story selection, and decision-making process? (I know a few art directors or editors who may have just had a heart attack at reading this last one, sorry about that.) How much do we know about what sells? For readers, or advertisers?
  6. What is our planning  protocol for cover generation – when is the story committed to, and when are visual ideas, roughs, final comps due, and who sees them through the pipeline? Do we have a deadline scheme in place that works from week to week?

These are some general questions that I ask clients and students to consider when refining their cover approach. If you have other criteria, I’d  love to hear them. Also, if you have an Intermediair cover that you love (or hate), chime in below in the comments section and tell us why. As always, thanks for following the blog. Happy publishing!

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  1. derSloot0081

     /  February 28, 2010

    ok I don’t think the one with the finger works so well, seems like a cliche or something, I don’t know … but some of the others i liked.

  2. rick

     /  March 19, 2010

    WOW! i love this stuff, there’ll catchy, keep up the good work!

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