Friday, July 4, 2008

You Never Know, Until You Ask

Back when I was in college, I had aspirations of working in the magazine industry.

How that was going to happen - I was a Philadelphia-area kid, with no aspirations of moving to New York - was anybody's guess.

But as a journalism major, one of our classes focused on production.

Our big assignment that semester was to produce a proposal for a new magazine. I modeled mine as a cross between People magazine and what was then Life.

My magazine, named Faces for the close-up photographs that would compose each issue, was to be an in-depth look at celebrities, popular culture influencers and other luminaries. It would feature artsy, black-and-white photographs of each article's subject. There were departments involved in each issue - involving what, I can't recall.

It was a flawed proposal, but still, it was mine. And I believed in it at the time.

As part of our research, the professor encouraged us to read about the history of various magazines' development, and if we could, interview a professional to get their take.

This was back in the 80s, before the Internet. So there was lots of reading and scrutinizing of microfiche in dark, musty corners of libraries.

Being a writer, I felt I could gain a foothold on the content aspects of my vision for my magazine. But because the visual aspect was something I was less adept at, I decided to interview a few people who knew what they were talking about.

But how?

At the time, I was an avid reader of Glamour and Rolling Stone magazines. The two could not be more dissimilar in terms of their design, or focus. But they were among the publications that inspired me to become a writer in the first place.

So, on a whim, I looked through the mastheads. Figuring I had nothing to lose, I called the main office number at Glamour, and asked to speak with a junior designer. I did the same thing at Rolling Stone.

Miraculously, both got back to me.

Even more surprisingly, each referred me to their bosses. To them, I explained about my project, the research I was doing, and my intention to speak with a professional who could provide some insights.

And art directors at both publications agreed to meet with me - simply because I'd asked!

It was a week before spring break, and I managed to find one day where I could coordinate both appointments.

Rolling Stone was in the morning, and I remember speaking with a woman with short, dark hair and straight-across bangs, who gave me all kinds of insights into photography and art direction and taking risks and establishing a visual voice.

During the Glamour meeting in the afternoon, I met with the publication's art director, who told me how photo shoots are concepted, styled, and shot. By way of example, he talked about an article about the perfect hamburger, and how the bun should be something more grand than the standard puff of white flour you get at the supermarket... that it should be glossy and seeded and the lettuce a more exotic variety than the usual pale, whitish iceberg because bright-green leaves would photograph better.

A few months later, I opened the magazine to see an article featuring just such a photograph, and I relished the behind-the-scenes information.

Each art director was focused on how the visual manifestation of their magazines' brands came through in every image that appeared in the magazine.

The photographs that appeared in Glamour would never look like Vogue's, the art director said. Each had a visual language they used to bring the editor's vision to life each month in a way that reinforced their brand.

So often, I worry about what people will say if I ask for something, but I try often to snap out of that way of thinking. What's the worst that can happen? They say no, and that's it.

I've had amazing things happen, simply because I've asked. When I look back, I realize that it's incredible what I've learned. What I've experienced. Conversations whose meaning and insight have stayed with me for half a lifetime.

If there's one thing I can say on this Independence Day, it's this: Go for it! Ask for what you want. Great things are bound to happen for you when you do.


Kitty said...

that's a cool experience you've shared.

I find that professionals are often dying to tell people what they think. I think it's their one chance to spout their views without criticism. How often do we have to defend or sell our ideas? It's wonderful just to voice one's opinion.

so I'm sure the experience was well-appreciated on both sides! how great?

Spandrel Studios said...

You're absolutely right, Kitty! In that case, it was a no-pressure situation for them, and I was so grateful for their time and their willingness to share ideas with me.

These days, with everyone hosting a blog, you never know where your ideas may end up (lol!).

bob c said...

um, uh, no images of your Faces magazine cover for the blog entry? wtf!

aside from that I couldn't agree with you more, spandrel. In fact, I believe we can all apply your lesson to more than just the occassional favor or the time of someone you don't know. Too often we tend to assume things in our everyday relationships (for whatever reasons) only to find out later that we assumed wrong. and dont ya just hate it when people assume things about u when they could have just asked? no such thing as a dumb question in my book. all too often asking questions is the only way to be sure or perhaps even learn something < gasp >!

Spandrel Studios said...

Right on, Bob C! Ask and you shall receive, right? Assumptions can be dangerous things.

And yeah, the Faces launch kit is a distant memory. I don't even have it in my files... Although I remember the color scheme was black and white and red. It was all very late-80s.

Stephanie said...

so true - you NEVER know what the answer is until you ask - and you have to be ok with WHATEVER the answer is (try not to take NO personally - a lifetime struggle for me...)

Spandrel Studios said...

Hey, Stephanie!

You raise an excellent point, not taking "No" personally. Hey, you just have to regroup, and move on! And, hopefully, find some others to ask -- the more you ask, the more wonderful things happen!

Conversely, having been raised to always say yes, to keep everybody happy and not rock the boat... boy, saying "No" is always the hardest thing for me! Unless I feel extremely safe, doing so.

It's tough, but I'm getting better at that.