Inky Insights Into My Ancestry ~ March 07 2014


My pages didn’t appear from thin air.

There is a lengthy history of noble forerunners that came before me, stretching as far back as the 1700’s.

My earliest ancestors looked very much like books but didn’t sound like them at all. Their pages were filled with elaborate essays written by genteel men such as the enraged Mister Daniel Defoe, who wrote the first English magazine, The Review, whilst locked up in prison for criticizing the Anglican Church. His readership came to rely on the journal’s sarcastic tone, sprawled across four pages of dense print. They seemed to love the dependability of the author’s point of view, regardless of the publication’s lack of pictures!

It mightn’t sound all that thrilling to you, but it set the standard for all British magazines of the time.

Which is a shame really, because then it all got a bit snarky.

In fact, lot’s of my great-great-grandparents were pretty gossipy, nasty and frankly, snobbish. They had toffee names like Tatler and The Spectator… plus they looked a bit shabby. Unfortunately, they copied the style of daily newspapers - 8 x 12.5 inch sheets, printed in smudgy black ink on both sides. It would be a long time before we’d be referred to as ‘glossies’.

Their creators were moralizing men of letters, and boy did they have opinions! My ancestors were used as soapboxes for social commentary and exhaustively long-winded points of view.

But people seemed to like my elders even though printing technology limited even the most popular magazines to an absolute maximum of 100,000 copies, thus creating demand and exclusivity. The educated elite snatched them up from the stands with great interest and poured over their teeny type for hours (not possible to flick through those grand dames while you wait at the check-out).

But, as any designer will tell you, the punters needed more than copy. Soon, engravings and sketches made way for photography and added new life to pages.

It also added a hearty dose of scandal. Muck racking and the genesis of society pages (and we all know what horrors their grandchildren, the paparazzi tabloids, turned out to be!) made their way into mainstream media. A new visual language was evolving on the pages where art was just as important as copy - and the all-important advertisers were paying close attention because they were no longer limited to the printed classifieds.

Suddenly, around the turn of the 20th Century, magazines didn’t need an Eton education to be read because images could explode across the pages and convey powerful messages without saying a word.

Graphic design, my dear friends, had found its happy home.