Here Chris tells us more about his background in desktop publishing, how he went about creating the layout for the magazine’s 50th issue and what his first impressions were of Affinity Publisher.
Tell us a bit about your background in graphic design and desktop publishing.
From as young as I can remember, I was interested in drawing. Growing up in Australia and also being an above average academic student, my creative side wasn’t encouraged and by the end of high school I pretty much dropped out to go surfing and travelling—for 10 years. I was an avid photographer and was able to get into college to study art based on my photographic work over that 10 year period, which led to me being accepted into a BA Fine Arts course.
About halfway through my first year of that I realised that I should have chosen graphic design and dropped out to go travelling again, and ended up in London, where I managed to get into a part time typography and graphic design course at St Martins. This was about 1985. This got me a job working for a publisher as a paste-up artist. For those too young to know what that is, it’s taking galleys of phototypesetting and sticking them onto page layouts that are drawn onto boards, making sure everything is perfectly straight and aligned. Tracing paper overlays are then placed on top where instructions are written for the repro house on where to place the photos and any colours that the type needs to be. It was a slow, methodical and very smelly job because of the glue we had to use.
When I saw my first Mac and DTP I knew immediately it was the way forward and proceeded to learn it. I initially started with Ventura Publisher on an MS-DOS machine. Windows didn’t exist, as such. But quickly moved to PageMaker on a Mac, before switching to Quark XPress at version 2, and a brief flirtation with Letraset Design Studio, which never really took off. I stuck with Quark up to version 5 before fully switching to InDesign. I mostly worked in publishing in London and Milan, as well a stint working in advertising, but magazines and publishing were always my preference. Now I flip between graphic design and photography.
How long have you been designing the layout for Wing Chun Illustrated and how did you come to be involved with the magazine?
I’ve been working on WCI since its inception in early 2011. I used to freelance for the film magazine Moviescope as a journalist and its designer. When the editor left he asked if I would be interested in working as a freelance designer on a new project he was developing, and I’m not very good at saying no to creative opportunities. I’ve been working on it ever since.
Can you tell us more about the magazine and how you feel it has developed over time?
Wing Chun Illustrated is a specialist magazine about the Chinese martial art of Wing Chun (sometimes written as Ving Tsun or Wing Tsun). About 4-5 million people practise Wing Chun worldwide. In recent years, it has become even more popular due to the Ip Man movies. The mag embraces all the different schools and lineages of Wing Chun, including Jeet Kune Do, which Bruce Lee developed from Wing Chun (Lee was a student of the late Wing Chun Grandmaster Yip Man). Initially, Wing Chun Illustrated was the only martial arts magazine specifically dedicated to Wing Chun, although one or two others have appeared recently, but they are only available digitally. As the mag’s reputation has grown its content has continued to improve. Design-wise, it doesn’t change a great deal from issue to issue. Much like Wing Chun, I wanted the layout to be as efficient and practical as possible. I wanted the information to be clear and easy to read, with as few unnecessary flourishes and distractions as possible.
I decided to do a complete redesign for our sixth anniversary, as I felt the old design was getting a bit stale, and also to keep me interested. It wasn’t a radical change, mostly changes in the typography, but it was even cleaner than previously.
Wing Chun Illustrated embraced Print-on-Demand and digital publishing from the outset. Do you think this has been a key factor in its success?
I started using the Magcloud Print-on-Demand service at the end of 2008 as it was the only PoD that specialised in magazines. That was for a magazine called Film & Festivals, which was dedicated to film festivals. I was its designer and occasional journalist but eventually ended running it singlehandedly, apart from a few contributing journalists. It lasted 29 issues but wasn’t making any money so I eventually had to shut it down. When Eric (Lilleør), WCI’s publisher and editor first approached me about the magazine, he had already seen what I was doing with Film & Festivals, so PoD was an obvious choice especially as we were working with no financial backing. Using PoD meant that we could publish without the expense and risk (and wastage) of traditional print. It also meant that it was much easier to reach an international readership, as Magcloud shipped directly to the customer, so that was one less logistical problem we had to deal with with our limited resources. PoD has certainly meant that the magazine can continue in print form.
We also embraced digital publishing from the outset, as an alternative to print. It meant that readers could access the content not only more easily but at a lower price than the hard copy. And extra content could also be added, such as video clips. We decided that keeping the same layout as the print edition was the easiest way forward rather than to create one of those fancy bells and whistles digital magazines that were appearing at the time.
What is your usual process for planning and designing the layout?
As I mentioned before, the layout is pretty much set with the same regular columns and then the issue’s feature articles. I just use the same 64 page-template each time. The editor, who is currently based in Finland, uses an online flat-plan that we work from. All the articles and images are then posted into individual folders on a shared Dropbox folder for the issue, which I layout as and when they arrive. I make low-res PDFs for checking, then final high-res PDFs for publishing.
How did you first hear about Affinity apps and what made you want to give them a try?
I was aware of Serif some time ago when they produced DTP software for Windows, but I only used Macs and needed industry-standard software, i.e. Quark/InDesign. I became aware of the Affinity apps through online advertising and press/blogs. I didn’t jump onto Photo or Designer early as I had old (pre-CC) versions of Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign on my iMac that all did the job for me, and my iMac was so old (2008) that it couldn’t be upgraded to a compatible system for CS, and I didn’t really want to fork out the excessive monthly fee for apps I did not need. When I got myself a MacBook Pro (and 27” Benq monitor) a few years ago, I subscribed to Adobe’s photo package for my photography editing. This was just before Affinity Photo was released. I mostly shoot live music in badly lit venues and Adobe Camera RAW does a really good job of colour correcting the LED lighting, so it didn’t seem worth changing. I still haven’t fully moved to Photo as its RAW editing isn’t quite good enough for my requirements but I now only use Designer for any vector editing/creation I need to do. I was never a fan of Illustrator, preferring FreeHand, until Adobe bought Macromedia and discontinued it.
I continued using InDesign CS5.5 on my iMac for WCI, but when Publisher was announced I was intrigued, especially as I didn’t need to be compatible with anyone to make the magazine, and I could work from my more powerful MacBook.
What were your first impressions of Affinity Publisher?
I’m always up for trying something new. Moving from PageMaker to Quark XPress was a major shift, then from Quark to InDesign was a similar shift with an adjustment period. I was expecting a similar adjustment period with Publisher but it was a fairly simple one and quite intuitive. The biggest adjustment was in the way stylesheets are created, but I soon found everything I needed. As a version 1 it was remarkably well thought out and feature-rich, but it did have 30+ years of DTP development to build on and refer to.
Why did you choose to switch to Affinity Publisher for the layout of the 50th issue?
The 1.7 update was a big encouragement and happened to coincide with the 50th issue. Initially I was going to wait for the long-rumoured IDML import function, but in the end, I decided to simply take the plunge and manually recreate everything and hope it all went well. Nothing like jumping in at the deep end to test the capabilities of new software.
How did you go about recreating the existing magazine layout?
I always used Master Pages and Stylesheets. It’s the way I’ve worked for decades. Basically, I kept the InDesign version open on my iMac, and manually copied all the Master Page specs, then began to recreate all the Paragraph and Character Stylesheets. As I mentioned before, those were a bit trickier as the Publisher approach and naming is a bit different to InDesign, but I got there in the end. I managed to also remove a load of redundant stylesheets in the process.
Which tools/features have you found to be the most useful so far?
Without a doubt, StudioLink is the best. Just being able to access Photo and Designer editing tools without having to leave the page is a real time saver. I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with the way Publisher imports PDFs. All the ads are sent to me as PDFs, but Publisher needs the fonts installed for them to reproduce correctly. On the other hand, if the client sends PDFs that are wrongly formatted or have some other error, such as a spelling mistake, I can easily fix it without having to go to and fro with them, especially when the deadline is looming.
The magazine’s layout is pretty simple and isn’t filled with heavy graphics so it doesn’t need a lot of features that would be needed by people doing something such as posters or advertising.
“Without a doubt, StudioLink is the best. Just being able to access Photo and Designer editing tools without having to leave the page is a real time saver.”
What is the process for uploading the final artwork to MagCloud?
It’s simply a matter of making a PDF according to Magcloud’s specifications, which, again, I copied from InDesign. Same for the digital version. I did initially have a bit of a problem with bleed when making the Magcloud PDF from Publisher, which was partly user error and partly a glitch with Publisher. It was fairly quickly resolved in the forum. The PDF is then uploaded to the Magcloud website and everything is pretty much automated after that, apart from telling the readers it’s available.
Will you continue to use Affinity Publisher to design the layout for Wing Chun Illustrated?
Absolutely. Once the master file was created, doing the layout was pretty straightforward, and apart from that minor PDF export error it was a completely painless experience and I can’t see any reason to go back to the current “industry standards”.
What features would you like to see introduced to Affinity Publisher in the future?
As said before, for a version 1 Publisher is incredibly powerful and feature-rich and does everything I need. But this is coming from someone that was happily using InDesign 5.5. One of the mistakes a lot of software developers make is that they bloat their apps by adding new features that most users never need with each update. One of the things I loved about Quark XPress 3 was all the XTensions that were available to do things that weren’t included. If you needed something specialised, such as indexing or imposition, there was an XTension. A similar plug-in architecture for optional features would be nice. And IDML import. And the ability to import PDFs that retain the embedded fonts, and make it an option for it to be editable if needed.
What advice would you give to other designers thinking of making the switch to Affinity apps?
Just do it (I hope Nike’s lawyers aren’t reading this). The whole suite does everything you could possibly need. Bitmap and vector files aren’t a problem for compatibility. Unless you’re working in an environment that needs to exchange files with other InDesign users there’s no reason not to use Publisher. And with its bargain price, there’s no reason why studios don’t simply install it anyway. The reason Microsoft and Adobe have their monopoly is because of the “everyone uses it because everyone uses it” mentality, even if they’re not necessarily the best products. Designers are supposed to be free thinkers and lateral thinkers, so it doesn’t make sense that they won’t at least try something new (and decidedly more cost-effective) if it offers a better way of working. Also, it’s supporting a small independent company rather than a bunch of bloated corporate bods and their shareholders.
You can find out more about Wing Chun Illustrated at wingchunillustrated.com.