Notebook: 16 September 2015, with updates in December 2016, May 2017 and March 2019
Long before the days of the internet and graphic design mags, if you wanted a career as a graphic designer, then the place to go to view the job ads, used to be Campaign magazine. Campaign is of course, the weekly trade magazine for the advertising industry but back in the 70s it was stuffed full of jobs for designers as well as for advertising execs. It was, and still is, a great looking publication with a sharp design that has changed little during its 47 year lifetime and the fact that its design has stood the test of time so well, is testament to the creative skills of its designer – the mysterious and enigmatic Roland Schenk. Schenk was a Swiss typographer who had worked with the legendary German art director Willy Fleckhaus on Twen magazine (see footnote below). When the publisher Haymarket bought the stuffy trade paper World’s Press News in 1968 and re launched it as the snazzy Campaign, they called upon Roland Schenk to craft the design and he combined punchy yet elegant typography with dramatic portrait photography to produce a thoroughly modern, ground-breaking style that pioneered the way that many business-to-business publications look today.
Haymarket recognising that Schenk’s sharp design gave their magazines a commercial edge over their competitors, described Schenk as their ‘secret weapon’ (link here, scroll down to p5) and he became their design mastermind for the next 30 or so years setting the style for countless Haymarket publications including a stunning design for the business magazine Management Today (with radical cover photography from Lester Bookbinder). Schenk championed up-and-coming photographers and illustrators including Brian Griffin, with his unique approach to business portraiture and whose career he helped launch. See below.
A spread from a 1980’s issue of Management Today magazine with ground-breaking photography by Brian Griffin. Note the headline set in Schenk’s favoured font Franklin Gothic Bold Condensed with very tight letter spacing. This was before the days of Apple Macs and the instruction to the typesetter would have been to set the headline ‘close but not touching’ (see footnote below).
On the back of Campaign’s financial success with its money-spinning recruitment adverts, Haymarket used the same successful model to launch the business titles Accountancy Age (launched by Michael Heseltine and a young Maurice Saatchi in 1969) and Computing (1973) both again designed by Roland Schenk in his inimitable style and which Haymarket sold off to the Dutch publisher VNU in 1981 for £17m to help pay off their debts. Now this is where I join the story… It was summer 1982 and having just completed a graphics course at the Royal College of Art I was offered a position at VNU as art editor of Accountancy Age. Friends couldn’t understand why I wanted to work on, what was in their eyes, a dull trade publication for accountants, but I loved the Schenk design with its well crafted typography, creative white space and the very large picture budget that allowed us to commission lots of bold portrait photography and cutting-edge illustration. As at Campaign, mug-shots and dull press handouts were banished in favour of moody and contrasty b&w portraits with subjects sometimes photographed against gritty and dramatic cityscapes. Below are some pages from my time as art editor at Accountancy Age
Accountancy Age was designed by Schenk and followed the Campaign style but used Century Bold Condensed as its headline font.
Accountancy features were regularly brought to life with illustration commissioned from young up-and-coming illustrators. These are by Peter Wilson and Ed Briant.
Double page spread from Accountancy Age 22 August 1985. Photography by Fredrich Cantor.
A few years later, and after a short and miserable spell at IPC, I saw that Haymarket were advertising for an art director for… Campaign. I jumped at the opportunity to work on the publication that I’d admired for so long and it seemed a natural progression after my time at Accountancy Age. I was surprised to be interviewed by Haymarket’s editorial director Mel Nichols (who was editor of Car magazine 1974-1981) rather than by Roland Schenk who I’d heard so much about – good and bad – from colleagues at VNU (who had worked with Roland at Haymarket). But I guess Mel Nichols must have liked what he saw because he offered me the job, and some of my feature layouts from Campaign are shown below.
Striking photo by Simon Lewis that typified the Campaign style – great drama, attitude and composition.
Powerful illustration by the brilliant Ian Pollock
Another cracking photo from Simon Lewis of the advertising creative director and copywriter, Tony Brignull in 1988
The artist Bob Williams produced this clever illustration for a feature about popular characters from TV adverts
Photographer Mark Harrison shot this striking portrait of the larger-than-life Harry Turner who was MD of TV South West
Each day I thought that Roland would make an appearance in the Campaign office, introduce himself and guide and mentor me but he never showed up. Instead he spent his time hidden away in a large inner office on an upper floor at the Lancaster Gate premises working on new launches. One day, needing his guidance on the design for a new section within Campaign, I finally got to meet the enigmatic designer that I held in such high esteem. He was brusque and unhelpful and I departed his shadowy sanctuary with my tail between my legs but it never stopped me from recognising and appreciating his huge talent and I always drank fully from the cup marked ‘Roland Schenk design style’.
The Campaign of today may be a little thinner and a little smaller in size but Schenk’s classic look still lives on. In 2013 the design was tweaked by Haymarket’s Creative Director Paul Harpin and the then art director of Campaign, Justin Marshall. The size was reduced to save on print and postage and a more contemporary sans headline font called Giorgio, with a large x-height, was introduced to replace good old Franklin Gothic Bold Condensed which had served so well for so long. The new art editor is David Robinson and the design still looks as sharp as it ever did.
Campaign 4 September 2015. Today’s magazine may be smaller and thinner but it still bears many of the hallmarks of Roland Schenk’s original design from 1968.
Finally, as a small footnote, back in 1998 while I was laying out the pages of Campaign, on the floor above me there was a young designer hard at work on Marketing magazine which was another of Roland Schenk’s creations and which used the elegant headline font Goudy Old Style. Each week I admired Marketing‘s classy and clever layouts which the designer Mark Porter appeared to craft with such ease, and unsurprisingly, Mark Porter, after a stint on Campaign himself, went on to much greater things culminating in his redesign of the Guardian in 2005 – and today he is recognised as one of the world’s greatest editorial designers.
Mark Porter spoke of his time at Haymarket and his contact with Roland Schenk: “I remember him being very demanding and somewhat intransigent. He had his way of doing things and was not really interested in discussion or open to different approaches. But I admired his work immensely and he taught me some great discipline. I acquired some good art direction habits from him which I have never lost. I do think his work was amazingly sophisticated, and I consider him to be a great unsung genius of British magazine design.”
And what happened to the master, the mysterious Mr Schenk, who set such a path for others to follow? He retired from Haymarket in the 1990s and I believe that he is now living back in Switzerland. Any more information on him would be very welcome.
FOOTNOTE and UPDATE Dec 2017: Rob Burgess worked with Roland Schenk in 1997 on the launch of Revolution magazine. Here’s Rob’s recollections of that time
“In retrospect it sounds like a curious project – a glossy print magazine telling the story of the unfolding new-media revolution. But in the context of that time it was a huge success in the world of business-to-business publishing, and a great cash-cow.
“Roland was an eccentric figure. He arrived around 10.30am each day in a black cab, dressed always in some stylish suit and tie. He was assigned a Mac operator, who actually created the pages and moved things around. He would sit well back from the operator, often with a glass of white wine in his hand, and say in his Swiss-French accent – “left a bit, right a bit. A bit darker etc”.
“I got on reasonably well with him, but as production editor it was my job to mediate between Roland’s very strong opinions and those of my editor, Stovin Hayter. For one feature layout, Stovin wanted a bright, ironic ‘Yippee!’ to be placed at an angle to the main headline. Roland refused. Stovin refused to budge and I was running back and forth like a military courier between trenches. I can’t remember who blinked first, but it took about two days to settle.
“Roland was obviously well paid – if the suits and taxis weren’t an indicator, we’d sometimes get faxes from him at the Metropolitan Club in New York. As a young journo, I found it inspiring to work with somebody so clearly at the top of his field. On the other hand, he was an ideas man and not particularly concerned how those lower down the ranks brought his ideas to fruition – as one example, he put in three-colour keylines that were so fine they simply could not be printed in register. Since they were dark brown, I think we just made them solid black.
“I worked with a lot of designers at Haymarket. Quite a few were colourful characters, very creative, stubborn, obstreperous and eccentric – though I think Roland outdid them in all those categories. The world of design has moved on a lot since then, and the Roland Schenks of this world are a thing of the past, it would seem. I’m glad I got to work with him and, thereby, to connect to a past of design, art and artisans that have mostly been swept away in the digital era.”
FOOTNOTE and UPDATE May 2017
In May 2017 an email dropped into my inbox from… Roland Schenck! He’d stumbled across my blog while researching his past work. Roland made some interesting points and I list them here:
• Referring to Management Today magazine, the headline face was actually a modified version of Franklin Gothic and applied with specially commissioned Letraset (!) rather than being photoset as described above.
• Roland attached some Campaign layouts that ‘were produced within the scope of the design formula’ although he didn’t go on to explain what the formula was. I’ve reproduced those layouts here and I’m pleased to see that one of them was designed by myself (‘Transition’)…
• Before working with Willy Fleckhaus on Twen magazine in Zurich, Roland had been art director of the Swiss arts and culture magazine Du in 1959-60 and some of his striking covers, which hint at the style that was later to emerge with Campaign and MT are shown here.
FOOTNOTE and UPDATE March 2019
Roland Schenk died in March 2019. I believe that Eye magazine interviewed him just before his death and that they are planning a retrospective of his work.