GWAS Bloke In Media - Bruce Daly, art director

Last November Good Weekend magazine celebrated its 25th anniversary, producing a spectacular cover designed by Bruce Daly in addition to an editor's retrospective. Daly has since parted company with the prestigious Fairfax newspaper supplement, but today adds a bit of bloke to GWAS with insight into the art director's role, the influence of punk culture and pop art and his most memorable Good Weekend covers...

Good Weekend is a pillar publication in Australia. What was your art direction on the magazine? I've had two stints on Good Weekend. The first time was for about nine months in 1989; time enough to reduce the number of typefaces and colours being used. The second time was in 1997, which was a proper relaunch of the title with Fenella Souter, the editor, who I had been working with at HQ magazine.

The magazine changed in size from A4 on coated stock to the large, 355mm X 278mm newsprint version we have today. Fenella's vision for the magazine was for a more journalism driven title sterring away from too much reliance on lifestyle content. It was a larger magazine in terms of pages also, with page counts up around 70 to 100 pages.

In terms of design, my job was to showcase the excellent journalism and give the publication authority and gravitas. At the time we were looking at the UK supplements in The Guardian and The Independent and, to a lesser extent, The New York Times Magazine.

In terms of cover subjects, GW continues to push boundaries. Is this a benefit of not having the typical concerns of generating newsstand sales? Newsstand mags have a lot of design constraints when it comes to covers. Big, readable mastheads and coverlines are the commercial reality and often a recognisable celebrity. I think there's a lot more freedom with an insert mag about what you do with the cover. Unfortunately, in the last few years, even insert mags have started to use cover formulas that are meant to reinforce the brand and the recognition of that brand, which is a bit sad. And a little boring.

What were your most memorable Good Weekend covers? Did any garner a particularly controversial response or traverse new territory? There were a lot of covers! But here are some that stood out for a variety of reasons...

October 4, 2008: "This was a controversial cover about a controversial artist, Bill Henson. The decision to run the naked shot (very small) was brave but necessary inside the mag." January 31, 1998: "Originally I wanted a pic of a patient in an induced coma. Unfortunately the reality was considered too grim as it involved a breathing tube. This was the compromise."

June 18, 2005: "The Design issues of Good Weekend gave me the chance to try more abstract ideas." March 23, 2002: "This was another difficult topic which has to be treated with sensitivity. I backgrounded the horrific shot of the anorexic girl to make the cover acceptable to a wide audience."

May 8, 2004: "This was the first (and only) time the name of the mag appeared sideways. I argued that as the mag was an insert we could break some rules. The shot too was a concern as it pushed right up to the "yuck" limit. Personally, I liked how I aligned the type using the scar." November 7, 1998: "This was a minimalist cover for the Y2K bug/disaster that never eventuated. This sort of imagery is possible when the magazine doesn't need to work off a news stand. Unfortunately a lot of editors slavishly follow the conventions of news stand titles without really thinking about how the mag is read."

June 19, 1999: "This was something I shot with Richard Ludbrook. I'm particularly proud of my headline and the subtle dig at wallpaper magazine. Humour doesn't get used on magazine covers much anymore, I'm not sure why." July 3, 2004: "The use of toy food worked really well for this."

May 19, 2001: "This illustrated cover I commissioned from Glenn Lumsden annoyed a lot of American readers. I've included here because I love the illustration and it's an example of an "issue" based cover that is becoming increasingly rare in Australia." September 6, 1997: "This was a lovely upbeat shot of Francis O'Connor, by James Braund, at the beginning of her career which I art directed and commissioned."

November 12, 2005: "We ran this before Chris Lilley was as well known as he is now. We had letters from people asking us why this "girl" thought she was so hot!" November 4, 2006: "This was something that worked well graphically."

April 6, 2002: "This cover got a lot of attention (including Mediawatch on the ABC)". February 11, 2006: "In the time I've been working on magazines stock photography has gone from being the last resort to often the first choice for art directors."

In your view, does Australia play it safer in terms of magazine design? Sadly, yes. Most of the magazine design here is based on work done overseas. That is also due to many mags here being franchises from OS.

Are there any Aussie titles doing exceptionally good design work? I think The Financial Review Magazine stands really proud in the newspaper insert category. Australian GQ magazine is also very well done.

On the global scene, are there any covers that stand out in memory? I wouldn't know where to begin! I think I could best answer that by mentioning some of the truly exceptional magazine art directors whose work I have admired. In no particular order:
- Alexi Brodovitch (Harper's Bazaar)
- George Lois (Esquire)
- Neville Brody (The Face, Arena)
- Janet Froelich, Creative Director, The New York Times Magazine)
- Fred Woodward, (ex Rolling Stone, now US GQ creative director)
- Roger Black (he's everywhere!)

What is the key to being a good art director? Forming a relationship of mutual respect with the editor/publisher is crucial. I've been fortunate to have worked with some truly amazing editors: Shona Martyn at both Good Weekend and then ACP's HQ, and Fenella Souter (also at HQ and then back at Good Weekend!).

This relationship, at its best, is a great creative partnership where the art director realises the editor's vision. A good art director, I believe, also needs to read – it's especially important when working in the conceptual realm of being able to convey a story's main idea through arresting visual imagery and type. An art director doesn't work in isolation, so having great subs and production teams also make a better mag.

Where does your passion for design and art come from? I sort of fell into it from an early age. I won a scholarship when I was 12 to a Special Art high school. People kept telling me I was good at it, so I stuck with it. I did a BA in Design at what is now Curtin University in Perth, WA. I majored in photography and graphic design. I was there from 1979 till '81.

After graduating I spent a year working for the Student Guild at the University of WA producing also sorts of stuff, including the student newspaper, Pelican. I was pretty much left alone to figure out the technical and artistic side of things, which was pretty daunting, but also exciting and creatively very liberating.

Who/what have been the key influences in your career? Before I studied design I was unsure about what I wanted to do. I got into a degree in Economics at the University of Western Australia, but I decided to take a year off and ended up working for an insurance company, where I was very bored.

When the Punk thing happened in Perth in '77-78, I started going to a lot gigs and came into contact with the whole art-school crowd in Perth. They all seemed to be having a great time and it was something I really wanted to be part of. There was an enormous explosion of energy and ideas around that post-punk scene. I decided to go to art school instead, which kind of made sense having won the scholarship to the art high school. I was initially accepted as a Fine Art student. The lecturers tried to encourage me based on my drawing portfolio, but I didn't really have the confidence to take on something that wasn't going to lead to a job.

I loved the whole anti-art aesthetic of Pop Art, so I gravitated to graphic design. Like a lot of young designers at the time, I was following pretty much everything Neville Brody was doing on the Face magazine. I also loved the photography of Anton Corbjin which was appearing in New Musical Express (NME). Also, the work of Malcolm Garrett and Peter Saville in London, who designed – amongst other things – record covers and imagery for Joy Division, Magazine and the Buzzcocks. It was a very cool and minimal style that used a lot of pop elements. These were guys who were in their mid-20s and were changing graphic design; it was pretty exciting.

If you could produce your own magazine, what would it feature and what would it look like? At this point in publishing history, I'm not sure that would be such a good idea. Ideally, I think quality magazines should surprise and intrigue a reader. I think there's way too much reliance on dishing up shiny, bland pages. I'd love to aspire to do something as good as Wired or the NYT Magazine.

Check out more of Bruce's work @

Yours truly,
Girl With a Satchel


Alison said...

What a great interview!As a designer I love this guy's work!!

Style On Track said...

Brilliant man, so much tallent :) thank you for the interview Erica

Megan said...

Always lovely to read about a smart man doing interesting work.

Anonymous said...

Great to see a Designer interviewed on your blog - really enjoyed this post.