“Open: The Magazine of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art,” was a members-only premium conceived during the heady, short-lived days of the first internet boom. At the time, the museum was benefitting from many arts-minded corporate sponsors, and its membership numbers were breathtakingly strong. David Ross was the director then, and his mandate required that the magazine be designed with the same craft and thought as the design work already in the museum’s permanent collection. “Open” was a marketing tool, but it was also a serious publication showcasing artists’ work and processes and featuring well-written articles and interviews by the curatorial staff.
When I framed the magazine’s design challenge as primarily typographic, I was considering type as the one domain exclusive to the graphic designer. By pushing typographic possibility to the forefront, I, too, was educating the “Open” audience. Type could be more than just text. It could become structure and decoration. Nevertheless, the design had to be confident, strong, and playful without overpowering the text or the artwork. To do this, I had to develop a flexible design vocabulary — one that could speak in all volumes, from shout to whisper.
I didn’t want to raise a powerful beast only to hobble it. That’s tragic design — the watered-down, the screened-back, scaled-small, made inadvertent and forgettable. I wanted an animal whose ferocity I could tame enough to wrestle and play with — obedient with a gleam in its eye. So the investigation began.
Some early studies involved a soft organic structure. But as I leafed through a history of arts publications, it struck me. What about creating all design elements — structural, decorative, and communicative — from type? Once I developed some basic methodologies and visual vocabularies, the process ran on its own energy. For each issue, the office spent several days simply exploring type. I would sometimes suggest themes: “for the spring issue, let’s consider plants and growth,” or “this issue concentrates on the environment, so what can we do with mapping and landscape?”
These were wonderful, exuberant days of invention and the office seemed full of magic. Well into the sixth issue, the bubble burst, the museum’s finances tightened, and the magazine was cancelled — but not before the five completed issues were accessioned into the museum’s permanent collection.