Magazines, Notebook

magCulture Meets Real Review

Notebook: 6 April 2017 | MAGAZINES


magCulture Meets are a monthly series of informal talks by magazine makers and designers at the magCulture shop in St John Street, Clerkenwell, London and their most recent event was a session with the editor and designer of the award-winning Real Review architecture based magazine.

The talk coincided with the release of the third issue of the magazine and, just like issues one and two, it comes packaged in its distinctive cellophane wrapper and is branded with a red face illustration by the brilliant Nishant Choksi and a large, black, ‘brutalist’ ‘R’. But it’s Real Review’s tall, thin, double-folded format that really sets it apart – it is saddle-stitched and then folded again vertically so that it fits comfortably in the hand. The reader can then chose to read one slim page at a time or unfold the magazine further to reveal additional long-form content.

Editor Jack Self (from The Real Foundation) and designer Rory McGrath (from design agency OK-RM) explain how the magazine has been designed to feel disposable and not at all precious – they didn’t want it to be a beautiful publication that ended up sitting on a coffee-table unread. They deliberately chose a very thin, almost throwaway glossy paper in contrast to the thick uncoated stocks favoured by many independent magazines. (For paper geeks like myself, the stock is called Thin Star 50gsm and is a paper normally reserved for use by magazines with huge print-runs such as newspaper supplements. Consequently it is only available as large rolls for web printing – and so Self and McGrath have to have the paper guillotined down beforehand into sheets for printing on the short-run, sheet-fed press used for printing Real Review.) The thin paper can quickly become dog-eared especially when the reader unfolds and refolds the pages, but this is precisely the look and feel that Jack Self is after. The crackly cellophane wrapper was designed to protect the magazine prior to purchase and then to be tossed aside once the mag had been unwrapped but it has inadvertently become part of Real Review‘s essential uniqueness and identity, and many readers, including myself, like to delicately insert the mag back into its wrapper (taking care not to get it caught on the sticky seal!) once it has been read.

Real Review is not a traditional architecture magazine but instead, it has a basis in architecture and the environment, and explores how design shapes society. The latest issue has an assortment of intriguing reviews including: The building where we keep the world – a look at an anonymous town in Oregon that is home to row-upon-row of server stacks that house all of Google, Facebook and Apple’s cloud data; Café society which compares London’s 17th century coffee houses with today’s coffee bars; and Androgynous peripherals – a feature about travel adapters that touches on the development of an ‘androgynous’ docking system for Appollo and Soyuz space craft in the 1970s that avoided using ‘male’ and ‘female’ connectors – and hence any inference of the US being ‘penetrated’ by the Soviets, or vice versa!

The layout and typography of Real Review is simple and functional. Each review is set in either a larger point size across a one-column grid or in a smaller point size as the one-column grid splits into two columns. In places, the two columns break down further into four columns, and hidden at the back of the magazine, almost like a hidden, bonus track on an LP waiting to be discovered, there is one feature set in a tiny point size across the very narrow four-column grid. Generous portions of white space are placed here and there to add breathing spaces and structure.

The magazine has no online presence. If you click on their website you’re confronted by that big, bold, beautiful ‘R’, a brief description of the mag, the option to simply Buy or Contact, and nothing moreso stories appear in print only and remain untracked and so they have no way of knowing which stories are read more than others. But Jack Self is not bothered by this and he has described it as liberating.

Having explored every part of my copy of issue 3 of the Real Review, it has taken on that dog-eared, lived-in look with the red ink chipping away on the back cover and the edges of pages starting to tear. I like it like this. I insert it gingerly back into its cellophane wrapper and place it on my shelf next to its beautiful brother and sister.


magCulture Meets talks take place regularly and you can visit the magCulture website for details of forthcoming events. The talks are sponsored by Park, the independent magazine printer and by the Canopy Beer Company, a microbrewery based in Herne Hill, South London – their Brockwell IPA is a delicious fruity, hoppy beer and I can vouch that it is a perfect accompaniment to a magCultue Meets event, especially on a gloriously sunny evening in early April!


For my review of issue 1 of the Real Review click here