People

Interview – Brendan McKnight of Desktop Magazine

by Lucy Feagins, Editor
Friday 2nd September 2011

Brendan McKnight likes snowdomes

Desktop Magazine covers from the past few years – top images from the 1990’s, bottom left 2000’s, and the current 25th Birthday issue is bottom right!

MAN WEEK sadly draws to a close today, but we’re leaving on a high note!  I am SUPER excited to share this interview with one of Melbourne’s most inspiring creative young men – Brendan McKnight, editor of Desktop Magazine.   You’ve heard about Brendan briefly here. He probably really doesn’t want me harping on about it, but I just can’t avoid mentioning that Mr McKnight is one hell of an over achiever – having landed the role as editor of Desktop at just 26 years of age (I’m pretty sure he must be 27 by now, however).

Whilst his appointment might perhaps have initially been met with a few raised eyebrows, Brendan has absolutely proven himself, heading up a massive magazine re-vamp earlier this year that has seen news stand sales increase by 260%, and subscriptions by 300%!  I’d call that a pretty epic return on investment.  Or ROI, for the grownups out there :) What is most awesome about Brendan though, aside from his wunderkind creative credentials, is that above all, he is such a genuinely lovely and extremely modest guy.  Truly.  And he returns emails REALLY quickly.  I am thinking actually that this might be his secret weapon.

Desktop magazine showcases the best in Australian advertising, graphic design and print media, and is celebrating it’s 25TH BIRTHDAY this week! The anniversary issue, which went on sale yesterday, marks this auspicious occasion with a special Guest Editor – much respected local creative Andrew Ashton of Studio Pip & Co. It’s a fab issue, in which Brendan and Andrew have been keen to look forward as much as back – creating a kind of ‘time capsule’ which documents the current Australian design landscape for future design enthusiasts!  (There is no montage of 25 years worth of magazine covers to be seen, they promise!)

Brendan would love to send out 5 copies of Desktop’s current birthday issue to 5 TDF readers! To be in the running, please leave your comment on this post before 10.00pm this evening! 5 winners will be drawn and random and contacted by email tomorrow.

Desktop Magazine 25th anniversary edition – guest edited by Andrew Ashton of Studio Pip & Co

Tell us a little about your background – what did you originally study, and what path led you to your current role as editor of Desktop Magazine?

I grew up in Melbourne’s Western Suburbs and had a pretty strong interest in media and design all through high school. I went on to study Media Arts at RMIT, I graduated from that, then escaped for four years. I lived in Tanzania, East Africa for six months teaching at a school and helping develop an arts curriculum, before heading north to do the Europe thing. I was in London for about three and a half years, firstly working for a huge design studio called FITCH, and later at Nokia Design in Soho, where they do most of the research, development and design for Nokia phones (both product design and user interface). I started writing freelance for a few magazines and design/trend blogs – most of it was unpaid, but I loved it. I headed back to Melbourne early last year, nabbed the role as online editor for desktop, and pretty quickly scored the promotion to editor.

The new-look Desktop launched earlier this year and has been brilliantly received – you must be thrilled with the response. What were your goals for the magazine re-vamp, and what challenges did you face realising this vision?

Yeah, we’ve been absolutely thrilled with the response. The feedback and support from the industry has been terrific. I’m into the seventh issue since the relaunch, and having them all sit next to each other on my desk makes me pretty proud. It was a challenging task at times, as I was thrown head first into the deep end, but I loved every minute of it. The goals for the relaunch were to refocus the magazine, sharpen the content and editorial direction, and physically give the magazine a complete overhaul. It’s a magazine about design so it should look good itself!  From masthead to typefaces to size to paperstock – everything changed. We’ve gone from a glossy mag (the “Women’s Day of design magazines” as someone called it in a focus group), to a beautiful tactile publication that is lovely to touch and hold.

Some fabulous covers from Desktop Magazine this year.  I heart Darcel.

You’re just launched the 25th anniversary issue of desktop – guest edited by Andrew Ashton of Studio Pip & Co! Why was Andrew the perfect choice for this very special collaboration, and what can we expect to see in this issue?

Andrew was an obvious choice to be the guest editor for this very special issue. He is so passionate about the Australian design landscape and culture, and he has a lot to say about it. He is much loved, highly respected, and is a thinker, a character, and personally just a lovely guy to work with.

For this issue we didn’t want to do the obvious thing and have a montage of previous front covers and a big ’25’ in the middle. Instead, our cover shot features Andrew in his front yard, digging a hole to bury the ‘time capsule’ – our 25th year issue. We haven’t so much looked back as forward - the issue is very much about ‘the now’ and is designed to be a snapshot of the current Australian contemporary design landscape, for people to read, bury, and then dig up again in 25+ years, to see where we were at in 2011.

Coinciding with the release of Desktop’s 25th anniversary edition is ‘Diamonds in the Rough’ – an exhibition of printed ephemera lovingly (and incidentally) collected and treasured by Andrew Ashton over the past 20 years.  A fantastic retrospective of Australian commercial design on paper!  The show opened last night at Lamington Drive and runs until September 17th.

Can you give us a little insight into the inner workings of desktop magazine –  how big is the team, how many regular contributors do you draw upon? Which significant tasks do you outsource to keep everything running smoothly?

OK imagine the huge teams of people you see in The Devil Wears Prada, and then reduce it by about 90%. Full-time, we have a staff of three (me, an online editor/editorial assistant and a sales manager). We also have an art director, production team and publisher, who each look after a few different publications. The publishers I work for, Niche media, publish about seven different titles, so there’s around 50 of us all up.

We were super inspired by Behance’s Scott Belsky who recently spoke in Melbourne – in particular his interest in studying how the most productive creative people make their ideas happen. What systems or techniques do you employ to keep track of your ideas and ensure they are realised?

In some instances I am super organised, but in others, I ain’t. Time management is essential, especially when working on a monthly magazine. I am always working on about four different issues at the one time (for example, I’m starting to work on Dec/Jan next week). I rely on my production calendar, which is an A4 monthly calendar. I find looking and scribbling on a printed calendar works for me better than one on my screen. I try to keep the only emails in my inbox as ones that I need to action, but I currently have 2142 in there, so I think I might need to look at a new system there. Ideas come haphazardly, and I try to write them down quick, because I distract easy.

Which Australian designers, artists or creative people are you currently inspired by?

Pretty much anyone featured in desktop is handpicked by me, and these are the people that inspire me, and the people that I believe will inspire our readers. I especially love the stories of new studios and young designers who are building up great names and reputations for themselves.

Love this series of creative ‘desktops’ by James Braund for Desktop Magazine!  I may be slightly biased though… as they sweetly featured my desktop earlier this year!

Can you list for us your current top 5 go-to resources for creative inspiration?

My go-to resources are often quite irregular and unplanned. I always find reading or immersing yourself in a different creative (or not creative) field to what you normally work with can often provide the most inspiration. Flip a coin, go on an adventure and see where it takes you and what you learn from it.

But, for the designers out there, here are some must sees:

For type geeks: http://fontsinuse.com/
For design thinking: http://www.designassembly.org/
For design porn: http://designspiration.net/
For Australian content: http://www.australianinfront.com.au/
For Australian design from the past: http://www.recollection.com.au/
For the cheeky plug: http://www.desktopmag.com.au/

What does a typical day at work involve for you?

Answering a thousand emails, deleting a thousand irrelevant press releases, meetings with design team, publishers, creatives, sales team. Talking with and chasing up contributors and illustrators, organising photo shoots, planning future editions, writing, editing, proofing, tweeting, and then an hour or so at home answering another thousand emails, and deleting another thousand irrelevant press releases, arrgh!

What’s the best thing about your job?

Meeting all the wonderful people that I meet. Producing a physical object that I know is going to be read, and collected by thousands of people is pretty rewarding and exciting too.

What would be your dream creative project?

As I discussed with you the other day, Lucy, I think doona covers are severely lacking in the design department. Perhaps a range of Desktop/The Design Files commissioned doona covers could be a future project?

(*Brendan – Sure thing!  In the meantime, my bedlinen tips are Spacecraft or Third Drawer Down for quirky contemporary, Aura and Abode for more classic designs and quality…. and Frank & Mint for understated yet outrageously expensive Portugese linen – the coal grey is especially perfect for a bloke’s boudoir!  None of this stuff looks any good on the internet I must admit.  It’s a tactile thing. – Lucy)

What are you looking forward to?

I’m looking forward to going on a holiday. I took my first day of annual leave last week in almost 20 months. I went to Newcastle. Yeah. I need a real holiday soon.

Melbourne Questions

Your favourite Melbourne neighbourhood and why?

There’s probably no surprises in guessing that I am a North-of-the-river boy. I enjoy the West though, and have a particular nostalgic soft spot for Footscray and the inner west.

Your favourite bookshop in Melbourne for great reference, art and design books (and magazines of course!)

I’m fortunate enough to be sent many of the new release design books and design magazines by publishers, so that aspect is covered for me. I love going to op-shops and second-hand book shops and stumbling upon, say, a terrific design book from the 70s.

What and where was the last great meal you ate in Melbourne?

I had a great meal at Von Haus (off Bourke St) the other week, but it was probably the charming and intimate atmosphere that had me hooked more than anything. I must admit I am partial to some fried chicken and house beer at Gami Chicken and Beer. And the corn cheese. I would die for that corn cheese.

Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?

I work long hours, so I do enjoy a lazy sleep-in on a Saturday morning. My friend just started working at Mitte café in Fitzroy North, so I’ve had a Saturday morning brunch there for the past few weeks.

Melbourne’s best kept secret?

I’d have to say discovering something about the city’s history that you didn’t know is a bit like uncovering a hidden secret. I saw the play Cafe Scheherazade on the weekend (based on Arnold Zable’s book about the St Kilda Café), and it is beautiful that fables and stories like this one are being documented. I’m also really looking forward to reading Stephen Banham’s upcoming book, Characters, which uncovers the stories and secrets revealed through typography in Melbourne, and the signs which have helped to shape its character and history. I love that kind of stuff.


by Lucy Feagins, Editor
Friday 2nd September 2011

77 comments

  • Majka Kaiser 3 years ago

    What a fantastic magazine! Thanks for drawing my attention to it. I’m definitely going to hunt this one down if I don’t win:) Thanks Lucy!

  • Mel 3 years ago

    I’ve never seen a copy and would love the chance to flip through one.

  • AMANDA 3 years ago

    Have loved Men’s week, great collection of writing.

  • kelly barber 3 years ago

    Happy Birthday!!

  • Helen C 3 years ago

    Always happy to read a beautifully produced mag! I’m sure it’s well written too. Keep up the great work.

  • Bec 3 years ago

    Love the revamp and redesign of Desktop! I have a few old copies sitting in my bookshelf. And yes the design of doona covers is lacking! I can never find anything I like, the prints aren’t interesting enough or they aren’t in the colours I want.

  • Catherine 3 years ago

    Happy Birthday Desktop magazine. Do love a good publication with beautiful typography and paperstock.

  • Lauren 3 years ago

    The new desktop is great ! Always amazing to hear about young inspiring creatives!

  • lucy 3 years ago

    So good to see a youngin’ making it in the real world! Well done Brendan!

  • Jo 3 years ago

    Great inspiration, would love a copy!

  • Margie 3 years ago

    wow, I can’t believe that mag is still going… it’s a stayer. Haven’t looked at it for YEARS!

  • Kate 3 years ago

    Love love love! Yes please!

  • Stephanie Darling 3 years ago

    Wow, I can’t believe I’ve never heard about this mag before (I have been living in the dark, in a cave somewhere … well the UK is a bit like that) It looks fabulous. I can’t wait to get my hands on a copy to have a closer squiz

  • Sinead 3 years ago

    The revamp of desktop is awesome. I’m back being a fan!

  • Bev 3 years ago

    I know my daughter would love a look at this mag which would be new to her, Looks great

  • Mel 3 years ago

    if I dont win this magazine here (which I am very confident of given I am sure you will have a bucketload of comments before the day is out) I am definitely going to check it out myself.

  • Kylie 3 years ago

    Thanks for the reference to Stephen Banham’s book…I’m a Perth girl and probably wouldn’t have heard about it otherwise…it’s going to be the perfect pressie for my husband’s birthday (and I’ve been wracking my brain thinking about what to give him!)

  • siska 3 years ago

    great looking magazine. and love your desktop Lucy!

  • emma 3 years ago

    I LOVE desktop magazine :)

  • charlie 3 years ago

    I’m thinking Brendan and Desktop might inspire my husband who needs a lift every now and then

  • {tinniegirl} 3 years ago

    I’m new to TDF and Desktop but really excited to discover both.

  • tom 3 years ago

    Killer design mag!! keep it up.

  • Janette 3 years ago

    I’ve been reading Desktop for **** years. Just love it. Happy Birthday Desktop

  • Jackie 3 years ago

    Happy 25th Desktop!

  • Esz 3 years ago

    Yay more prizes – Desktop is a great mag :-))))

  • uberjoi 3 years ago

    yay desktop! started reading as a student and have not looked back :) x

  • Prez 3 years ago

    Congrats Desktop on 25 years! So happy I subscribed this year. The magazine has really improved out of sight this year. Looking forward to getting my copy in the post next week.

    Salute!

  • Lyndal 3 years ago

    happy birthday Desktop!

  • Paul Foster 3 years ago

    Stephen Banham was on Triple R this morning and his book sounds cool!

    He had a great story about a controversial old savings bank neon sign near Collingwood. The Herald newspaper said the girl looked like a witch and people complained that the coin she was flipping had two heads. And apparently the internet is killing journalism!

    And another about the Oakleigh Motel which was supposed to be completed before the 1956 Olympics (because the marathon runners would turn there and the building would get global media coverage) but was eventually completed a year late! Apparently it won’t be there much longer.

  • Adam 3 years ago

    Desktop is older than me – But only just [by a few months]. Winning this would be a great gift !! :-P

  • Louis Green 3 years ago

    Desktop mag is where I look for awesome design and people, my inspiration mag.

  • Gisela Beer 3 years ago

    I simply love Desktop mag! No better place to look for awesome Australian design and inspiration of any kind!

  • Jan 3 years ago

    Happy Birthday – Love your mag! :D

  • rachael 3 years ago

    man week rules!! i think maybe you could start man day and have regular manly goodness on the design files.

  • Paul 3 years ago

    Great looking issue, as always!

  • Candy Ng 3 years ago

    Good to see there are changes of logotype over the years, loving the current type! Looking forward to read what this issue is about! Happy 25th!

  • Mary Baldwin 3 years ago

    It’s a Great Mag… Happy Birthday (^_≈)

  • jessica 3 years ago

    Happy Birthday Guys x

  • Roxy Coppen 3 years ago

    Desktop has certainly come a long way. I hope to one day come to Melbourne and do some work experience for you guys.

    Congratulations!

  • Mark 3 years ago

    Man up!

  • Su Chin 3 years ago

    Would love to get one for me hubs! he’s a design freak… from RMIT too!!

  • Nick Woolford 3 years ago

    Great article, and great to read (although very jealous) about such a great role so young!

  • Jacinta 3 years ago

    Hello just love the reference to Stephen Banham and have always enjoyed a copy of Desktop.

  • John Englezos 3 years ago

    Hippo birdy to you. And here’s to another 25 years. =^)

  • Mark 3 years ago

    Awesome work – hope you keep cranking out the goods.

  • Melinda Gaughwin 3 years ago

    Congrats for your anniversary and cheers for such an awesome
    mag. As a soon to be graduating student, the August issue
    has proved invaluable.

  • Maree 3 years ago

    Congratulations on the BIG 25!!

  • marion 3 years ago

    we certainly love the new look, renews my love of hard copy magazines

  • Glen Barry 3 years ago

    Congratulations Desktop on 25years. Brilliant conceptual work once again by Andrew Ashton. Look forward to grabbing a copy.

  • Kim 3 years ago

    How you doin?

  • laura 3 years ago

    would make an awesome gift for my GD hubby. great interview thanks

  • Camille Santiago 3 years ago

    Congratulations Desktop on 25 fantastic years! I hope to nab a copy soon, though I’m having a hard time finding places that stock them now that Borders has closed down…

  • Mala 3 years ago

    Wow, what a total babe. I’ll totally take you on a holiday Brendan.

  • Ania 3 years ago

    That’s a cool watch Brendan McKnight!

  • Meg 3 years ago

    Many happy returns of the day Desktop!
    It is always nice to read about the faces behind creative publications.

  • Anna 3 years ago

    Snowdomes rock!

  • Sarah B 3 years ago

    Can I embarass myself and admit I have never seen this magazine? Whooops. I’d love a chance at a gander :)

  • Jenny 3 years ago

    Well done for 25 years! Goes to show how great quality endures and continues to inspire. It has been an insightful ‘man’ week, Lucy. Thanks.

  • nkk 3 years ago

    very inspiring. loving the list of design resources, thanks xxo

  • Kate 3 years ago

    Better late than never, looks great!

  • Diane 3 years ago

    Great interview – I loved finding out about the behind-the-scenes Desktop and how Brendan got to where he is today!

  • deb 3 years ago

    Love the interview and great guy! Very motivating!

  • Mummageorge 3 years ago

    I loved my New York snow dome complete with Twin Towers, but I broke it.
    ps. Come photograph my desk

  • jasmine eastwood 3 years ago

    Happy Birthday guys, i would love a copy! :)

  • Marissa Fleming 3 years ago

    I think the new design make a massive difference…will have to buy a copy tomorrow and check it out again, very good revamp/re brand. Totally agree about dooner covers…nothing that creative around

  • Mandy 3 years ago

    Happy Birthday Desktop! Ace Mag. x

  • Kat 3 years ago

    Count me in for the doona project. I am currently designing and revamping the doona as we know it. I love this mag it gives me visual overload overdose!

  • James boorman 3 years ago

    Such a fantastic refreshing facelift for Desktop.
    Congrats!

  • Kristine 3 years ago

    Heyy! His name sounds so familiar. Unless my memories deceive me I think I went to highschool with Brendan. Wow he’s done so well for himself. If I recall he aced at art and photography subjects, he was sure fire talent. All the best to him and his fab mag =) Would love to grab copy. And while we’re sharing stories, Stephen Banham was my former lecturer at RMIT. Enjoyed his lectures at building 88, truly a master in typography.

  • Nani 3 years ago

    he’s very talented

  • teags 3 years ago

    swoooooon

  • steve hurley 3 years ago

    desktop was one of the first design based mags around when i started in advertising in the mid ’80’s, great to see it still vibrant and making an important contribution to melbourne’s creative community. happy birthday

  • Rojo Robin 3 years ago

    Love the focus on local creative talent in Desktop, great to see!

  • Anna 3 years ago

    i remember mani from the original desktop, he was the typographer computer geek king! what ever happened to him? this story was nice see it’s evolution…

  • Dahlia 3 years ago

    Happy birthday!
    Great issue!

  • Snowdomes 3 years ago

    A man after my own heart! Snowdome-love is the best love!

  • Honeysuckle 3 years ago

    I have exactly what info I want. Check, please. Wait, it’s free? Awoesme!

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