The latest Bloomberg Businessweek cover -- illustrating the unsexy topic of aviation mergers in perhaps the most sexy way possible -- earned what's becoming familiar praise on Twitter and beyond for the magazine's design staff. We delayed our lunch break to chat with creative director Richard Turley about everything from the cover he called simply "Plane Sex" to that bruised-up illustration of Mitt Romney that never made it to print to how to make an old title -- for lack of a less cliché word -- hip. We've edited the interview slightly for readability.
Let's be honest. Bloomberg Businessweek's gotten suprisingly edgy lately. What's up with that?
It's funny because I don't think we are. Everyone takes covers, interprets covers in a slightly different way. When you're privy to the process, it demystifies it a bit. When you're part of the process it loses the surprise value. So, I don't see this one as particularly surprising. I think it's fun. But, yah, it's nice that everyone thinks that.
Tell us more about that process.
Generally speaking it's just me and Josh Tyrangiel, the editor. We're generally very informal. I don't know if you know the geography of the office but we sit literally opposite each other and that enables us to talk and not to have meetings. The cover conversations happen quite quickly. Sometimes that's a product of our proximity. Sometimes we just email a bit and say something and come up with an idea. Josh comes up with a lot of the cover ideas. It was Josh who said, "How about planes having sex for the cover?" And I was like "YES." Sometimes I get a bit too much of the credit. We have a good relationship. We have a good partnership. We disagree occasionally. But we know when we have a good idea and don't try to get in the way of it.
How much was Josh involved in the redesign process a couple of years ago?
He was there from day one. Norm Pearlstine recruited Josh and me. I think Josh started two or three weeks before me. It was from Josh's original sketch. Josh wrote quite the detailed essay to get the job here when he was applying -- what the magazine was, what we should be doing, and what the magazine should be. I took on the magazine's redesign very much on the back of that. From the orignal brief it evolved and changed. He was completely instrumental. He was there all the time. It would've been this time of year two years ago that I came to Bloomberg in New York for the first time.
The redesign was underway two years ago. I think the redesigned magazine came out in April. We redesigned really quickly; it was a two to three month process. From then, it took a good six months to understand what the magazine was. That's always been the case when I've been involved in redesigns. It takes a lot of time for people at the magazine to understand what you can do with the magazine, what can be achieved. It was almost a new magazine and it took a lot. There were a few moments that were important for me -- moments when we thought, "We're good at this. We can do this now." We really started to become a good magazine at the end of the 2010.
How big is the team?
Seven designers and three people in the graphics department. So ten.
We're not magazine designers (we're bloggers) but that seems pretty big.
It's pretty big. I don't think it's huge but it's definitely generous.
Did you hire everyone yourself?
Yes, we decided to start fresh, and so I hired every single person which I think was difficult for the people who unfortunately were no longer with us. But it did mean that everyone was focused on the same goals anad prepared to do something different.
And everyone works out of the Bloomberg nerve center at 59th Street?
Right, everyone's in the office. I came from The Guardian which has a similar sort of geography in the office. All the people I work with are within spitting distance, but when you work very closely, the ideas get exchanged quickly. As a designer you can be working on a layout or cover very intensely and decide a day or two down the line, "That's not working." But with the geography of the office the way it is, Josh can tell me instantly what's not working which means the process is quicker. It's easier to coalesce everyone in the same direction. It also means that everyone's good friends. Because we're all so close to each other, it's also kind of sociable.
So what's your local pub then?
I've got a young family, so I don't make it to the pub so often, but mine's WXOU on Hudson in the West Village. But I don't really go there that often because I have young kids.
Well you must go out in Midtown sometimes, right? What's your work drinks spot?
They're so bad around here. There's this place called the Carriage House. Sometimes we go down to Pig and Whistle. They're very very unglamorous.
Irish pubs are their own sort of glamorous. But at least you're close to Times Square!
Actually when we first came over here, Bloomberg put us up above the M&Ms Store in Times Square. It was kind of fun. We actually lived in the countryside in England, we moved from a quaint seaside village to Times Square.
Must've been loud.
If I ever hear panpipes again. There was this panpipe-playing busker outside, and for some reason the panpipe sound carried. So on the weekends it was 24 hours of panpipes.
I've gotten us totally off-track. We were talking about magazine covers. Which are your favorites?
At Businessweek we did this legs cover, this pair of legs in the air about the infidelity economy. We did a popularity issue, I liked that cover. That was this year, this August. I'm trying think off the top of my head, looking around for inspiration … Let me check our Flickr account.
The Occupy Wall Street one I quite liked. I like the Qaddafi one. In an odd way I liked "How to Pay No Taxes" which was just how to pay no taxes in big letters. If you talk about the moments that we raised the game a little bit, that was one of those. I generally like about one out of every four. You kind of go through times when you think, "God, I'd really like that good cover." and then it makes everybody feel good. Sometimes you have a nice little stretch with two or three in a row. It's been a long time since we've actually put out a cover that I didn't like.
What about other magazines?
Generally as a magazine reader, I always like New York magazine. I don't really think about covers. I just like magazines. For someone that's supposed to be so into covers, I don't really like them. I don't think you need to have a really impactful cover to make magazines really good. I could pretend to be an intellectual and read The New Yorker. But honestly I don't.
I have to ask about that spiked Mitt Romney cover. What happened there?
It didn't ever really get spiked. We often come up with two or three ideas, and go for the one that's right for the story. It was never spiked. It was just not the cover that we wanted to do that week. It was never a political decision not to run it that week. Doing a weekly magazine, you're not really certain what's going to be on the cover until a day before, so often you have to come up with two or three different versions. That week I think it was Iraq or Romney so we decided to go with Iraq.
One of the reasons we didn't run it was that it wasn't right for the story at the time, because he'd just won the primary and the Bain stuff we'd just had. The story was really about Bain. The cover just wasn't right for the story. Unfortunately, when I put it on our Flickr account and it went viral it was seven or 10 days after we did the cover, it may have made sense or would've been more culturally significant then. But when we did the cover, it was before he'd really gotten beaten up.
People kind of look at the cover, and it becomes an advert for the magazine. I'm not suggesting it's a radical thought. I guess what we're trying to do with the cover process is to open the curtain a bit and see the decisions we've made and why. Not necessarily to demystify the process but just kind of explain it.
And as a reader you must've seen New York's bruised up Mitt Romney cover…
The New York cover was great. It was kind of neat they kind of lept out at you. I only [posted it], because I thought, "Oh, that's interesting they thought the same thing that we were thinking." It wasn't that anything was surpresssed -- it was just that we were both kind of thinking along the same lines.
As magazines are going throughout this transition from print to digital, a cover has to serve multiple purposes. It has to sell on the newsstands, but newsstands isn't that significant a part of the business model anymore, so you have to leverage what you can. Wherever that content lands you have to drive people to it. One part of the cover is that it's on the printed magazine, but a more significant part is that it drives people to the website. It's just kind of a promotional tool, to generate publicity and interest.