Studio Visit

Brendan McKnight of Desktop Magazine

Lucy Feagins
Lucy Feagins
2nd of 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: For design thinking: For design porn: For Australian content: For Australian design from the past: For the cheeky plug:

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.

Latest Stories

Recent Studio Visit