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10 Years: Hey, How'd You Reach The Design World's Pinnacle, Luke Hayman?

From redesigning New York to becoming a Pentagram partner, this designer's done it all

By Greg Lindsay - October 2, 2007
To celebrate's 10th anniversary, we spoke with our Golden Boa honorees about their achievements in media. Check back throughout the week for Hey How'd You Do That features showcasing these media pros.
Luke Hayman was once dubbed the "best designer you haven't heard of," by a magazine covering the design trade, bestowing upon him a dubious honor along the lines of "best athlete to never win a championship." Ten years ago, Hayman was the design director of I.D., a prestigious-but-tiny title known to few outside the design industry. He didn't help his visibility by jumping to Brill's Content and Media Central -- a grab bag of meta-media trade titles that Hayman invested with more visual acuity than they probably deserved. He escaped to become creative director of Travel + Leisure, and finally shed his dubious distinction once and for all when New York editor-in-chief Adam Moss tapped him to refresh and reinvent the magazine with the help of a dream team of editors. The same magazine that once considered him a secret later offhandedly described as one of the two most influential magazine designers working today (the other being living-legend Fred Woodward at GQ). But Hayman topped himself when he joined the bluest-of-blue chip design firms, Pentagram, as partner a year ago and was immediately set to work retooling Time. We spoke to Hayman about his transformaton from magazine design's most obscure superstar to saving a print icon at the precise moment the magazine seems doomed.

What were you doing 10 years ago this month, and where did you see yourself in terms of your career arc?
I was probably just getting to I.D. for the second time. I had been there once before as an associate art director for two years. There were two reasons I went back. One, I was having a child, and so I needed more income, but more importantly, it really was the chance to be the ultimate decision-maker, and to see if I could do it.

But before long, you had jumped from running a magazine to becoming a sort of consultant for Ogilvy, and then you jumped back into the industry to Brill's, and would leave magazines again for Pentagram. Why do you seem to alternate between working for magazines and trying to escape them?
When I talk to students I make a silly joke: "I've spent my whole career trying to get out of magazines, and I just keep getting sucked back in." I came to New York for a couple of reasons, and one was wanting to work on corporate identities, which I never done on a serious scale. My fantasy was designing an airline -- I wanted to see my logo on an airplane tail, which is a common fantasy for a graphic designer just out of college. So I came here and freelanced for one of the bigger branding agencies for nine months, and it's very frustrating for someone used to churning out stuff every few weeks to spend months and months covering a wall with logos. Then the senior people would narrow it down to five, and you'd refine them, present them to the client, and they'd choose one and you'd go on from there. And this would take a year!

But the trouble with magazines from a designer's point of view is that while I love the first year -- because you're really figuring it out -- and the second year is kind of good because you've figured it out and can do it to the best of your ability, by the time you get to the third year it's really starting to get repetitive. There are some art directors I've seen who have been at the same magazine for 12 years, and I can see it keep getting better and better and better, but in small increments. I get much more satisfaction out of the big before-and-after, to have this sort of "Look how crappy it looked before, and look how brilliant it looks now!" That is so much more fun for my ADD personality.

So you returned to corporate branding at Ogilvy, where you were asked to redesign Brill's Content. What made you want to leave the agency and join Brill's full-time?
The job to redesign came up, and I was the only person there with magazine experience. So I did it and I was successful, and Brill is a very smart guy. He wanted continued creative direction for the magazine and he also wanted creative direction for Contentville, his e-commerce venture, and he also wanted creative direction for Media Central, his deal with Primedia to take over all their media-related titles and conferences.

"I'm not someone with the balls to call up an editor and say, 'Hey, let's have lunch.' But, I can call him up and say, 'Hey I heard you are looking for an art director or design director.'"

You brought a level of sophistication to those trade titles -- such as Folio and Cableworld -- that is so rare. Why do most trade magazines look so terrible when there is so much talent working for them?
Good design doesn't cost much money. It just needs someone in charge who understands what good design is, and very often the people who are in charge don't care, or aren't aware, or are not educated enough to see that. If you look carefully, you can find some trade magazines that are as beautiful as any consumer title, and it's because they have someone who cares and is allowed to do that.

That sounds like someone describing Adam Moss. How did you land your job at New York? I'm sure everyone in town was messengering him their portfolios the moment he was on the job.
He'd heard of me. He apparently asked around, "Who should I meet?" But he hadn't called me and I was thinking, "I've heard of this guy Adam Moss, and everyone says he's the man -- this is probably my only legitimate chance to meet him." I'm not someone with the balls to call up an editor and say, "Hey, let's have lunch." I would never do that. But, I can call him up and say, "Hey I heard you are looking for an art director or design director. I'd like to put my name forward." So I thought I could meet this guy, and while I sincerely thought I wouldn't get the job, I wanted to meet him so he knew who I was next time. I called a mutual friend, an editor I'd worked with, and asked, "Would you mind suggesting my name?" and he said, "Of course," and so he sent an email to Adam and Adam sent an email right back saying, "He's already on the list."

What did you learn from working with Moss? You pretty much had a dream situation in the form of a strong editor, a great team, and an owner with bottomless pockets.
Adam is very knowledgeable about design. He also had a pretty clear idea of what he wanted to do, conceptually, and I think he may have had a clear idea of how he wanted it to look. The best magazines are the ones where there is one person at the top who has a very clear idea of what they want (and who makes an awful lot of sense) that I can tap into and riff off.

At that point, did you feel you had already reached the top of your field?
This is going to sound obnoxious, but it really doesn't get better than that. But when the call came to do Time, I was thinking, "Wait a minute this is the whole damn country. It's not just New York and little bit of L.A. and a little bit of the smart people around the country. You're talking about 4 million people here." So that satisfied my massive ego in another way, but with that came another set of problems.

How long had you been talking with Pentagram, and how does one start talking to Pentagram in the first place?
Joining Pentagram is a lengthy process. I'm in touch with a guy in London who has been talking to them for 11 years. For me, it was more like a year. You have to fly to each office and meet everyone, and have dinner with them. They've seen the work, they like the work, and they want to see how you present yourself, the work, and your philosophy, and basically see if they like having dinner with you.

It sounds like you were joining a secret society.
[Laughs] It really does, especially with the name 'Pentagram.' It's the Wicca Society.

How did you simultaneously land the Pentagram job and the Time job; was your hiring contingent on it?
The final vote for my acceptance at Pentagram was due at a meeting in November [2006], but at the end of September, [Pentagram partner] Paula Scher got the call from Time. They were having a bake-off -- they called four different groups, and you had a month to come up with a prototype for what you thought Time should evolve to become. Paula said, "Confidentially, we are talking to Luke Hayman; we think he is very likely to be join us, and I will do this project if I can do it with Luke." They said yes, so while I was at New York putting out a weekly magazine, worked weekends and between the hours of 5 a.m. and 10 a.m. with Paula and one of her senior designers to put together the prototype. They liked ours a lot, and I was asked to join Pentagram. The very next day, I moved into an office at Time.

Now that you've reached what is arguably the pinnacle of your profession, is there any advice you would have given yourself 10 years ago to speed up the process or correct any mistakes?
I feel really really lucky. I don't think I made a false move, although a lot of people think I did by going to Brill's. I saw a big role there doing a lot of design, and I did so much work there that I was really proud of, actually, although I never show it. Having said that, I've shown it twice in the last month, and it has gotten me jobs. Consumer Reports asked me to submit a proposal [for a redesign], which I did, and I spent a lot of time on it because I really thought it'd be a great job for me and my team. They called me back and said, "We love your proposal and love your work, but we don't think you are for us." And I thought, "What? You won't even meet me?" I started talking to Kim Kleman, the editor, and she said, "I really do love your work, but I think you are too cool for us." She had a really great analogy: "We think that New York is like a cool cousin, who will talk to you, but is only talking to you because you're hanging around. We want Consumer Reports to be your older brother, who knows you, cares about you, and is a really, really smart guy who you know does his research before he buys a TV." I said, "I can do that too. I can show you other work." We tend to show our more flashy stuff, our award-winning stuff. So she said, "All right, prove me wrong." We met, and we had the best meeting for an hour and a half, and I showed her all the stuff I had done for Steve [Brill]. She loved it. It just goes to show you.

Five Pieces of Advice From Luke Hayman...
...but first, a piece of advice from someone else. "A mentor of mine," Hayman says, "had three golden rules of editorial design: 1) Read the copy; 2) Read the copy; 3) Read the copy." Hayman's own advice is:
1) Find a mentor.
Find someone good and then all of your work will be good. I have taken drops in salary more than once to work for great people.
2) Look beyond magazine design.
And look back as far as you can -- it has all been done before.
3) In my book, you get extra points for originality.
It's not that difficult to copy Fred Woodward/John Korpics/Robert Priest. And yes, they do notice.
4) Work harder than everyone else.
This should be self-explanatory.
5) Put yourself in the position of the editor, publisher and reader.
Play well with all of them.

Greg Lindsay is a frequent contributor to and other publications. He's working on his first book.

[This interview has been edited for length and clarity.]

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