The ‘new’ issue of VISI jumps off the shelves today. It’s the first edition since New Media made the decision to buy the magazine and publish it themselves.
At the time, managing director Bridget McCarney said the transfer of ownership was “motivated by New Media’s recognition that, while VISI was facing commercial challenges, with some fresh thinking it could experience really good commercial growth. McCarney said, “It is a flagship title for us that we see great value in, and we are committed to making it work.”
Two months later, the result of that vision is made real. In the interim, editor Sumien Brink hooked up with Garth Walker, a graphic designer from Durban who was commissioned to help direct the re-establishment of the title as the best in its category through the creation of a dynamic new design language. Some ‘fresh thinking’, if you will. Walker was well-place to help drive Brink’s vision, as the man w ho founded two of South Africa’s top graphic design studios – Orange Juice and, more recently, Mister.
The reason VISI looks as if it will jump off the shelves is in no small part due to a fantastic new masthead. It is LARGE, taking almost a third of the cover, and has the look of a graphic novel.
“I also LOVE this cover,” says Brink. “When we decided to change the masthead I decided to go for all change. I wanted a hand drawn, script-type masthead that reflects the blue sky thinking of VISI – open and free. I have always been a great admirer of Garth Walker and I do feel he has captured exactly what I wanted to say with this masthead. It was a process, but in retrospect a very easy process. The picture was a luck and comes from one of the houses we feature in the issue. It makes me smile and reminds me not to be too serious about décor.”
The cover, like much of the magazine, features a rather quirky picture of a rather long dachshund. Brink says the reason there are so many dogs in this issue is due in no small part due to the input of deputy editor, Annemariie Meintjies.
“It started with the cover image and quite a few of the houses that we feature had dogs in them and it just developed from there,” Brink explains. “Annemarie Meintjes loves dogs almost more than anything else, came up with the idea of the décor story about stylish living for your dog. I don’t have a dog myself but have always lived with people who have dogs. At the moment I’m sharing my house with a dog my son Wilke rescued on the road to Stellenbosch. We called him ‘Kleintjie but after six months of relative luxury he is not so ‘klein’ anymore.”
Brink says she wanted the new design of the magazine to be more “bookish”. And they decided on some practical design elements to allow the magazine to breathe. “We tried to get captions off the pictures where possible because that helps with legibility. I was inspired by the way Gentle Woman, Fantastic Man and Apartemento look. No nonsense and not over designed,” she says.
One of the new sections, at the front of the book, is Voices, a forum for some of South Africa’s most interesting writers to explore a theme. This month, it’s the meaning of ‘home’. And ‘voices’ as diverse as Michiel Heyns and Andrew Brown to Cynthis Jele and Malibongwe Tyilo, talk to what ‘home’ means to them. It’s a fascinating study in the way South Africans see their world.
“This is definitely a section that will stay. It is something that you see when you open the magazine and then want to go back to when you have the time. I have my favourite authors and the team suggested their favourites. Also it was the time of the Sunday Times Literary Awards so it was easy to approach some of the finalists. All the authors were so accommodating and really keen and we will feature six different voices in each issue,” Brink says.
She has also introduced a useful section called ’33 reasons’ (the number might change from issue to issue) that unpacks ideas, trends and products, but in a seriously sexy way. “The whole team contributed. The focus and number of reasons will change seasonally but essentially the ‘reasons’ will always be part of the new formula. It gives us a platform to tell readers that we are informed and there to help them.”
Another interesting facet of VISI is that it has two different types of paper stock used in the magazine. A matt look and one that has more of a subtle gleam. “The reasoning behind the different paper stocks is to give readers a tactile experience while reading the magazine,” says Brink. “It was a bit of a logistical nightmare but we kept the slightly glossy paper that VISI was printed on before, for the sections where the ads are and matt paper for the house section. We had great support from our printers, Paarl Media, and will continue to look at new paper options in the future.”
There’s no doubt the magazine brims with design, fabric, furniture, ideas. But what does Brink do in her own home? Is she subject to the trends she portrays so beautifully in her magazine?
“I’m at a stage in my life where I’ve tried almost everything. Living in just black and white, a very colourful Mexican period with a lot of pink and deep blue that my kids still haven’t recovered from and now I’m back to basic white. It lifts my spirits and makes me calm. But I still get tempted by clever design and will always make a plan to make it part of my life,” she says.
Advertisers, so key to the success of a magazine, have responded well to the new-look VISI. Brink says the response from advertisers so far has been “hugely positive”. “Obviously we are trying to attract some new accounts but it is a bit early to say but we’ll keep you posted,” she says.
It’s been interesting working with Walker, “a breeze”, says Brink. “He designed the template for the new VISI and Anton Pietersen our art director interpreted it. It probably would have been easier if we were in the same city, but that also gave some time not to over react about any decision or suggestion. Garth has got great experience and is not precious.”
So, now that the magazine is out there and ready for readers to enjoy, has Brink achieved what she set out to do? “I think we made it friendlier, less scary…most people are intimidated by serious design and can’t contemplate living with it. We tried to give it to them in bite size pieces with some humour . I inherited some of the houses from Jacquie Myburgh, the previous editor, so didn’t have to shoot everything from scratch. I had a very focused, hardworking and very small team that really went the extra mile on this issue and a more than average dose of luck.”