Sunday, July 26, 2009

Design journalism

About a week ago I was commissioned to write a 1000-word feature on 'capsule collections' that are joint ventures between fashion labels and retailers. The story was for Design Reporter, an initiative of the 2009 State Of Design festival that was independently produced by Chase & Galley and edited by Penny Modra and Ray Edgar. (The astute observer will realise that I worked with Stuart and Penny on Is Not Magazine.)

It's really a magazine, with news, features, interviews and reviews about different aspects of design and debates within the field, but it uses the newspaper format to provoke questions about what we currently settle for in design writing and journalism in general. I haven't actually got my hands on a copy yet, so I can't tell if it's achieved its ambitions, but I'm amused by the way the front page makes design topics – which are so often arcane and elitist – seem like urgent news for everyone.

As you can see, my story ended up with the tiniest headline on the front page (it appears just above the giant EAMO'S), which may be a good thing as I worked really hard on it but wasn't especially happy with the results. Within the word limit, I pretty much just had space to give a broad overview of some of the best-known designer/retailer collaborations, gesture towards the way they were viewed by designers, retailers and consumers, and suggest some criteria for a 'successful' collaboration.

I feel frustrated that I didn't really get to the bottom of why these collaborations are everywhere right now, and what's at stake for everyone involved. I can't help thinking that if I'd had more time to think about and shape the piece, more incisive ideas would have emerged. Lately I have been thinking that the way I write often feels like the process of hewing a statue from a hunk of marble – revealing and polishing ideas using words as my tools. The more I chip away with my writing, the more I feel the essence of what I'm trying to say emerges in a recognisable, elegant form.

However, this isn't really compatible with the 'reportage' approach that was important for the Design Reporter project. I felt as if my final story had been a compromise between an interview-driven story and an analysis-driven story, without the strengths of either genre. Also, having to depend on interview material to shape the story was logistically difficult. As well as Fat, I had approached TV, Alpha 60, Alice Euphemia and Chip Chop! for interviews, but only Bianca Wiegard from Fat and Karen Reischieck from Alice Euphemia were able to respond by my deadline. I felt bad about not including Karen in the story but then I didn't want to turn it into a story about how independent boutique owners view mainstream design collaborations.

Anyway, these are just a few thoughts on the constraints and compromises involved in the production of this particular story.

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