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Ellies 2007: So What Do You Do, Joyce Rutter Kaye, Editor, Print?

Print's editor discusses her magazine's third General Excellence nomination in four years and losing designers to Brooklyn

By Alissa Walker - April 30, 2007
ellies_hardware.jpgLeading up to the May 1, 2007 National Magazine Awards, is publishing a special package of our popular interview series, "So What Do You Do?," with daily interviews of selected nominees, ranging from well-known to obscure. Today, we chat with Print editor-in-chief Joyce Rutter Kaye.

See our other interviews with Ellie 2007 nominees: David Granger, Editor, Esquire?; Moisés Naím, Editor, Foreign Policy; Jay Stowe, Editor, Cincinnati; Ted Genoways, Editor, Virginia Quarterly Review; Mark Strauss, Editor, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists
Name: Joyce Rutter Kaye
Position: Editor, Print
Education, school: B.S., Magazine Journalism, S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, Syracuse University
Hometown: Pittsburgh
First job: Lifeguard, Cloverleaf YMCA
Last 3: Managing editor, Print; Managing eitor, U&lc; Reporter, Advertising Age/Creativity
Birthdate: November 22, 1963 [the date John F. Kennedy was shot]
Marital status: Married, with two boys (12 and 7)
Favorite TV show: The Office
Last book read: The Country Life, by Rachel Cusk
Most interesting media story right now: How newspapers are grappling with the Internet
Guilty pleasure: The Real World -- "all 18 seasons!"
2007 Nominations: One (General Excellence)

There are two things about Print that I think most people don't know: One, that the magazine is 67 years old (wow!), and two, that it's not just about, well, print. What's the magazine's history and how do you describe its focus?
The magazine began in 1940 as a quarterly trade journal for art directors working in publishing and advertising. The content was eclectic -- there were instructive pieces on printing techniques and type legibility, but it also covered the woeful state of college yearbook design ("School Annual—Annual Problem!") and the role of camp newspapers in boosting Army morale. The magazine used an amazing amount of tips-ins and inserts to illustrate pieces -- there were wallpaper samples, etchings, even a menu from a 1941 beer tasting at the Waldorf.

Today, the magazine's content is similarly diverse and quirky, but the field of graphic design is vastly broader, of course, and covers a wide range of media. Print's mission is to gather up all elements of visual culture -- from political campaign graphics and video games to graffiti and YouTube -- and examine what they say about all of us. Design reflects society, for better and for worse.

It seems like every business magazine and plenty of general-interest publications have these design and innovation sections now. How do you feel about the way design is covered in the mainstream media? Does it change your strategy as a design magazine?
The expanding media coverage gives us helpful insights into outside perceptions of the field, but doesn't affect the way we cover design that much. More than anything, it helps lead people to look for more in-depth coverage of visual culture -- fresh looks at established design and a peek into some fascinatingly obscure corners -- and that's what we provide.

Of course, we have to talk about the rise of design blogs. How do you see them fitting into the conversation? Are they competition? Have they greatly changed the strategy of the magazine?
They spread the word about design (and increasingly about Print content), too, so we're happy about that. Blogs don't especially affect our editorial strategy, since blogs are such a different beast than print -- they're great for quick reads and getting the dialogue going, whereas in a magazine like ours we can really plumb the depths and make a beautiful package that provides that unique pleasure you get from holding paper in your hands. We certainly pay attention to online interests when deciding which live features to add to our site, but mostly, we're guided by our sense of what people want from Print, not what others are doing.

"It's very gratifying to know that for now, and for generations to come, the experience people have in viewing and interacting with this memorial will be vastly improved because of the reporting we did."

What stories or issues have you been most proud of during your time at Print?
The "Sex" issue (July 2004) -- I think it was gutsy, thoughtful, and imaginative. The "Sustainability" issue (July 2005), because it delivered a lot of essential information to designers who are getting increasingly hungry for it. The "Vivid Word" (July 2006) for its ambitious coverage of the past, present and future of the print medium, and for its gorgeous cover by Marian Bantjes.

One of the stories I'm proudest of assigning was "Making the Cut" (January 2005), by Tom Vanderbilt, which explored why graphic designers don't play a larger role in the designs of monuments and memorials. Although the look of the text is so fundamental to those structures, often the architect's ego keeps him or her from involving those who really understand type. Vanderbilt cited the then-in-progress New Jersey State September 11 memorial as one example of a design plan that was defaulting to the standard Times New Roman. After the article ran, the architect, Frederic Schwartz, reconsidered his choice and consulted with Alexander Isley about alternatives. Alex recommended Bodoni, specifically ITC Bodoni 12 Book, a much more beautiful and appropriate choice, and they are now incorporating that into the design. It's very gratifying to know that for now, and for generations to come, the experience people have in viewing and interacting with this memorial will be vastly improved because of the reporting we did.

Print's signature issue, the Regional Design Annual, really gives this nice picture of what U.S. graphic design looks like in these nice localized snapshots. But you've just released your 2007 New Visual Artists -- 20 of the hottest new creatives under 30 -- and I was surprised to see how truly international the list is. How is Print able to cover what's coming out of tiny American communities and have this incredible global reach?
The Regional competition is well established after 27 years, so it's definitely on designers' radar. The New Visual Artists issue is an invitational -- young artists are nominated by a group comprising design leaders and past NVA winners. Because we reach out to a high profile, international group from the get-go, we can ensure a great mix of talent. Inevitably, though, they all end up moving to Brooklyn!

The magazine underwent a huge redesign in 2005. What were the challenges of redesigning a design magazine? Any advice for magazines about to take the redesign plunge?
The redesign demanded that we radically update the magazine while keeping its authority and integrity intact. Abbott Miller was the perfect choice for the project because he's as much a writer as a designer, and could clarify the book and project with the energy and vitality we were seeking. The redesign wasn't done for cosmetic reasons alone, though -- we had a number of editorial needs we wanted to address, such as building in places to cover emerging areas of design (graphic novels, comics, sustainability, and so on), and more places for design history, technology, book reviews, and design resources. I can't stress enough the importance of fine-tuning editorial needs before starting a redesign.

Incidentally, the process of beginning the redesign took place exactly while I was beginning a major house renovation. I would meet with our contractor one day and move things around in our drawings, and then meet with Abbott the next and move things around in the book. Everything was in flux and up for grabs. It was strange and unsettling but liberating -- like spring-cleaning your life.

What about your Web site redesign, which was more recently?
The Web redesign was really a launch, because our previous site wasn't much more than a placeholder where people could subscribe and read really outdated information. The design of the site was the result of a semester-long studio collaboration between Parsons MFA design and technology students (led by instructor Andrea Dezsö), our then-art director Stephanie Skirvin, and me, and resulted in a really clean prototype that followed our print redesign well. Over the next year, it was developed and refined in-house and finally launched. Like most smaller magazines that lack a Web staff, we're learning as we go and trying to make the most of our limited resources. The biggest challenge is trying to update content constantly while knowing that ultimately the seven of us still have to put out 900 editorial pages a year on the alpha product. We're really excited about the site's potential as a magnet for the design community on the web, though, and we've had very positive feedback about it and our print redesign as well.

You've worked at three different publications that focus on visual culture. How did you stumble into covering this corner of the world?
I always wanted to be a writer, but also had a fascination with product marketing and package design -- in college I would sit in the library and read about new product launches in Ad Age. After college, I moved to Manhattan and was amused to see that Rolling Rock, the local cheap swill of Western Pennsylvania, had acquired this import status in East Village bars. I wrote a short piece about that for Pittsburgh magazine, and on the basis of that clip (and another on Tofutti) landed a job at Ad Age. For me, it was the perfect blending of my interests in journalism and advertising. I stayed with the field because exploring and understanding the creative process is endlessly fascinating to me, and covering design as we do at Print allows me to be engaged with a huge range of topics, from politics to technology to street art. It's a great place for a journalist to be.

What's a typical day like for a Print editor-in-chief?
It could involve any of the following: line editing features and departments, planning future themes and articles, reviewing cover and layout directions, meeting with contributors, planning competition judgings, and having status meetings with the staff. Dealing with business-side issues related to circulation, advertising, marketing, Web traffic and budgets. Fielding story pitches, reading news sites, blogs and magazines, and reviewing portfolios in person and online. Maybe attending exhibition openings or talks. Then, going home to my other job as a mom.

For the third time in four years, Print's been nominated for an Ellie in the General Excellence category for circulation under 100,000 (and you won in 2005). You're up against two other design magazines though -- one of which you share an office with -- which seems so unfair! How do you think you're going to do?
I know it's a cliché, but we are completely ecstatic just to be nominated, and I'm truly thrilled for the folks down the hall. The best part is that design journalism is getting this level of recognition. There's clearly an increased overall level of engagement with design in the media and in the public, and a greater understanding of the role it plays in all of our lives. No matter what happens, design has scored big, and that makes me happy. But having said that, I'll admit it'd be awesome to lug that statue offstage.

I would think as the editor of a design magazine that the pressure is on you to show up to the Ellies in something predictably glamorous. Any idea what you'll be wearing?
Ha! Last time we were nominated, I went all-out and bought a rather expensive blouse trimmed in black tulle. I thought it was all sophisticated and French-looking, but my son took one look at me and said, "Mom, you look like a waitress." Rather than make another fashion faux pas, I'm going the black-suit route. In our circ category, the wardrobe allowance has yet to make an appearance.

[Alissa Walker is editor of's design blog, UnBeige]

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