Horst Moser on visual Trends
Interview: Berit Liedtke (Berit.Liedtke@form.de)
Horst Moser is one of the greatest collectors of and experts on magazines. As he tells it, he has more than 1,000 covers in his head. And his archive fills a 500 square meters hall. The 56-year-old is the owner of the Munich-based design office Independent Medien-Design and Art Director of customer magazines such as „Leica World" and of several German publishing houses. We wanted to find out from him how he selects pictures and what makes a good magazine cover. Moser's entire trend study is to be found at www.independent-medien-design.
Mr. Moser, what are your criteria for selecting pictures for magazines?
Whenever possible I attempt to create new images. And often my large archive proves to be an asset. Last week I had to illustrate a story concerning the changed image of doctors. The subject: responsible patients and the doctor's loss of authority. Then I remembered a picture of those so-called "demi-gods in white" that I was familiar with from illustrated novels in the glossies of the 1950s such as "Quick", "Stern" and "Neue Revue". So I wanted to open the story on an antagonistic note with this cliché. And luckily I found the appropriate examples. Once again, my archive came up trumps.
What does a photo contribute to a good cover motif?
What you have to do is to be able to stand out from the other attention seekers in the media. And here, the same rules apply to everyone. Unless you come up with something eye-catching, nobody is going to notice you. If you content yourself with platitudes you cannot expect enthusiasm. My book on the subject of editorial design is called "Surprise me". And that is the key. How can one surprise people? Of course, by breaking taboos, by being insolent and brash, with pornography and aggression. And most advertisers fall into this trap. But the effect has to serve the cause. A picture that succeeds in conveying a meaning in the twinkling of an eye gets itself noticed. And if you work with shocking portrayals you must be able to evince a positive reaction. Everything else is art for art's sake.
You say that you have more than a thousand covers in your head, covers that you have committed to memory. What kind of covers, for example?
You need to make a distinction between covers like those of most lifestyle magazines, that have a purely decorative/striking function and - something disproportionately more difficult - covers that illustrate a specific subject. In this category, time and time again, that old lone wolf Holger Windfuhr of the "Wirtschaftswoche" manages to prove that he has more imagination than the cover teams of "Stern" and "Spiegel". I particularly well remember those covers where he has included the logo in the title idea. I am personally and professionally familiar with the discussions regarding how unassailable logos are and I envy him because I have never succeeded in pushing through this sacrilege.
How have the title pictures of the magazines changed in recent years?
The magazine boom of recent years has vastly expanded the scope for experimentation in cover design for the independents, i. e., the magazines not put out by major publishing houses. And not only in terms of photographic style - although here too, the repertoire has grown immensely, from trashy trivia to utter professionalism - but also aesthetically. We are seeing completely new motifs, bold divisions of space and computer-assisted portrayals that are a long way from the kindergarten level of the 1990s. The many experimental magazines have had a strong influence on aesthetics, something the titles put out by major publishing houses would never have been in a position to do. All the design rules for title pages have been broken. There has not been such a strong wave of change since the magazine experiments of the Dadaists and Constructivists.
Which magazines do you mean?
The following ones immediately spring to mind: "Quart", the Austrian magazine, "WAD" (we're different) from France, "Dummy", "Blaadje", "Eyemazing", the Dutch train magazine "Rails" and "Zembla", now sadly defunct. In 2006 the independent scene met up for the first time at the Colophon conference in Luxembourg. And as this demonstrated, the scene is so vital and stands in sharp contrast to the jaded tiredness of most of the established publishing houses and their pot boilers whose only concern is to fill the space between the adverts in terms of product placement in such a way that their advertising clients will be satisfied.
You devise customer magazines for companies such as Allianz, Caritas, Leica and Siemens. What is the difference between designing a magazine for the public and a corporate magazine?
There isn't really one. Or, not in the ideal case. An outstanding corporate magazine has the same objectives and follows the same rules as a newsstand title. The best designers work for these kinds of magazine and the outstanding corporate magazines are the equals of the best newsstand titles, sometimes even their superiors. In order to attract attention you need as a matter of principle to do many things differently. A few months ago I put exactly this scenario into practice. The brief was to redesign a magazine called "Forum" for MLP. I copied out all the prize-winners from the cus-tomer magazine yearbook and analyzed what they had in common - not a difficult task at all. There are shamefully few types of design. I assembled these character-istics and, as an experiment, I did exactly the opposite of what is usual. A good cover picture is one that breaks the rules. So, if the logo was at the top, I moved it into the middle or to the bottom. If the logo had a square background I made it round. I made small headlines into large ones, uniform font sizes into different ones. If there was an agreement to use color photography on the cover I had it done in black and white. If all the de-signers used photos, I commissioned typography. And what do you know, the result was fascinating. We would never have achieved that if it had been what we had set out to do. We are all too entangled in the tacit rules of the age we live in. But the best thing was what the CEO said at the presentation: as I always say in speeches, we do things quite differently from our competitors.