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AMA: Elliot Jay Stocks, co-founder of Lagom magazine, founder of 8 Faces magazine, former Creative Director of Adobe Typekit

almost 5 years ago from , Co-founder of Lagom magazine, founder of 8 Faces magazine

Hi everyone!

I started life as a web designer 12 years ago and over the years I’ve transitioned to a mix of web, print, illustration, branding, etc. I also started making my own products (mainly as an antidote to the ephemeral nature of the web) such as the typography magazine 8 Faces in 2010, and in 2014 I launched the lifestyle magazine Lagom with my wife.

From the beginning of 2013 to the end of last year I worked as the Creative Director of Adobe Typekit, but I've now returned to independent life to focus on the magazine plus a few client projects.

The folks at Designer News have very kindly invited me to take part in an AMA, so throw some questions at me and I'll try my very best to answer them all.

Looking forward to chatting with you!

32 comments

  • Jonathan SimcoeJonathan Simcoe, almost 5 years ago

    Elliot, I'm a self-trained web and product designer that never got a proper foundation on typography and grid systems. Where would you recommend I start? Any salient advice?

    Huge fan of your work. Thanks for doing this AMA.

    3 points
    • Elliot Jay Stocks, almost 5 years ago (edited almost 5 years ago )

      Hi Jonathan. Thanks so much for the kind words!

      I’m entirely self-trained as well and have no formal education in design, so I might not be the best person to ask! ;)

      However, there are a couple of great books on typography that I’d recommend, and both do a great job of acting as easy-to-access primers that also get into the nitty gritty as you delve in: Erik Spiekermann’s Stop Stealing Sheep & Find Out How Type Works and Ellen Lupton’s Thinking with Type.

      As for grids, Josef Mülller-Brockmann’s Grid Systems in Graphic Design is the one everyone always recommends, although personally I haven’t read it. For a concise yet thorough overview of grids and page layout theory, I can thoroughly recommend Alexander Ross Charchar’s web-based article ‘The Secret Law of Page Harmony’.

      I hope that helps!

      0 points
  • Max LindMax Lind, almost 5 years ago

    Hey Elliot - thanks for joining us! Couple random questions for you...

    • This probably comes up a lot, but what are your thoughts on the resurgence in print magazines? (specifically design related, but other industries as well) --- and have costs/options to print become less expensive/easier?

    • Is there any correlation between user's interest in digital news --> print magazines as there is from digital music --> vinyl? (or is that a complete stretch? ;)

    • What print magazines do you follow/enjoy?

    • Going from working at Adobe to working for yourself, how has your workflow changed? (or has it not? :) --- anything from the tools you use, to the time you work, to the tasks you complete.

    • With a wide variety of design experience, do you notice yourself missing certain things you no longer partake in day to day? (i.e. working on the magazine makes you miss branding work for clients)

    3 points
    • Elliot Jay Stocks, almost 5 years ago

      Thanks for the invite, Maxwell! And the questions, too.

      • When I started 8 Faces in 2010, it seemed like a crazy idea to start a print magazine. Not only was I a web designer, but everyone was going crazy for digital everything, especially iPad magazines. But I did it because I wanted to create something that would last; something that put me in touch with the physical world. And shortly after that, there was a huge rise in new independent magazines. Now, don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying it was because of 8 Faces by any means; more that 8 Faces and publications of its ilk were / are a product of internet culture. That is, there are a load of people like me who wanted to create something more meaningful than a fleeting screen-based design. (I don’t think costs or options have become cheaper or easier than they were beforehand, but there’s at least an awareness now for what’s possible, and actually print isn’t as scary or expensive as most people assume.)
      • I believe absolutely that there’s a correlation between the move from digital news to print and digital music to vinyl. Definitely. It’s that same desire to have a closer relationship with the medium. You could argue that there’s a general trend for all things retro (like why people loved all the intentionally-degraded filters when Instagram first came out), but I think it goes deeper than that. I also believe that it’s a strong argument for accepting that print (or vinyl) will never die: they exist alongside the digital as something to be appreciated in addition to the firehose of digital media. They’re not competing concepts.
      • Print magazines I enjoy: Little White Lies, Monocle, Another Escape, Sidetracked, Cereal, Makeshift, Toast, Four & Sons, Hot Rum Cow.
      • My workflow has changed massively. I still go to work at the same time (my schedule is influenced by having a baby daughter), but I now have so much variation in my day — so many different things I could be working on, or discussing, or organising at any given time. Oh, and I’ve recently embraced Sketch and fallen in love with it.
      • I’m very restless and have a very short attention span, so in order to stay sane I have to have lots of things on the go, and I have to change them up very regularly. One of my goals in going independent is to get ‘back to the coalface’ a bit more, whilst also recognising that I work best when I’m surrounding myself with people who do things better than me. So, for instance, I’m not designing the new Lagom website because I feel like I’m just too close to it — I’m working with an external designer to bring a fresh pair of eyes to the project.
      3 points
  • Sarah ParmenterSarah Parmenter, almost 5 years ago (edited almost 5 years ago )

    Have you ever used the trackpad of an Apple laptop in a circular motion, expecting magic to happen?

    Answer honestly.

    Love Sarah x

    1 point
  • Aaron DavisAaron Davis, almost 5 years ago

    Hey Elliot, love your work.

    Just ordered the latest issue of Lagom (after seeing this thread).

    In the spirit of asking anything, when do you think the magazine will arrive? I'm in Texas.

    1 point
    • , almost 5 years ago

      Hi Aaron. Thanks for the kind words and for buying Lagom! It’s hard to give an exact date, but usually to that area of the States it takes about three weeks. Hope you enjoy it when it arrives!

      0 points
  • Dimitrie Hoekstra, almost 5 years ago

    Hi Elliot,

    I have been following you around for some years. What is your best tip for creating something new/being different with type on for example media such as web and mobile apps, while keeping the quality high?

    Of course buying fonts from foundries is a step in the right direction, but what is your train of thought when creating something amazing.

    1 point
    • , almost 5 years ago (edited almost 5 years ago )

      Hi Dimitrie. That's a good one — and also tough to answer!

      Yes, paying for fonts and investing in really robust families (multiple script support, full OpenType features, expertly-spaced, etc.) is a great start. I would say the next step — and obviously this doesn't just apply to type, but more to design as a whole — is to consciously avoid trends. At the same time, of course, it's worth looking into why the ‘classics’ are considered classics. Some typefaces are great workhorses. But no typeface is an island, or so they say (do they say that?), and some of the most innovative typography can come through thoughtful type pairings. Tim Brown’s book, Combining Typefaces is a great reference in that regard.

      I hope that helps!

      1 point
  • Luke Starbuck, almost 5 years ago

    Fascinated to know if the title of Lagom is more of a nifty/differentiated lifestyle magazine brand name, or if the editorial vision for the magazine is invested in exploring the concept of Lagom in various parts of life? Really enjoyed the last issue by the way :)

    0 points
    • Elliot Jay Stocks, almost 5 years ago

      Hi Luke! I’m glad you asked.

      Coming up with a new brand is so hard and we went through so many names that just didn’t work. Words come with so many pre-existing connotations, we wanted something that would be easier to remember and write, but act as a bit more of a blank canvas. At the same time, we knew we’d be having a strong focus on a positive work-life balance in our stories and that there’d be a recurring theme of living well but in moderation, so ‘lagom’ — the idea of having not too much, not too little — fitted perfectly.

      We talk about the name in the magazine a bit (especially in the first issue) so when the connection is made it all makes total sense, but even if that meaning isn’t at first apparent when people discover us, that’s okay: the word itself gives us the almost-blank canvas we were after.

      1 point
      • Luke Starbuck, almost 5 years ago

        Thanks Elliot! That makes a lot of sense. I'm just-fanatical-enough about the concept of Lagom, and living well with this kind of moderation in mind (I much prefer it to the idea of all-or-nothing, amazing-or-broken that comes along with a lot of common consumerism and Western culture). I really respect your approach for the magazine, and also appreciate your explanation of how you thought about balancing the editorial direction, with the needs of the brand you were creating. Great insight! Thankyou.

        0 points
  • Peiran TanPeiran Tan, almost 5 years ago

    When will 8 Faces be back?

    0 points
  • Chris GillisChris Gillis, almost 5 years ago

    Hey Elliot - thanks for coming in for the chat.

    I'm a pretty big craft beer fan and I know from twitter that you are as well . For years I've thought this industry was ripe for some great design and In the past 4-5 years we've seen some solid packaging and type work there.

    http://www.ohbeautifulbeer.com showcases alot of good work and is very inspiring.

    What are some of your favorites in this space? Design & Taste?

    0 points
    • , almost 5 years ago

      Thanks for letting me know about Oh beautiful Beer, Chris — what a great site!

      I wrote an article for Hot Rum Cow a couple of years ago about my favourite beers that also have beautiful labels. It’s now been republished online: [http://www.hotrumcow.co.uk/beautiful-beer-by-design/](hotrumcow.co.uk/beautiful-beer-by-design)

      In general my taste leans towards very heavily-hopped IPAs and challenging sours. I also got into craft beer through a love of Belgian beers, so I’m always partial to a strong Belgian tripel.

      Design-wise, I’m up for anything. From elaborate, illustrative stuff like those on Odell’s beers to über-minimal, let-the-hops-speak-for-themselves labels like those from The Kernel.

      1 point
      • Chris GillisChris Gillis, almost 5 years ago

        Thanks Elliot - will check out the article.

        Yeah Oh Beautiful Beer has become pretty popular - even launched a book http://amzn.to/1TV0pjV - which is great to see.

        I've been pretty impressed with some of the classic design work done in beer as well and have been collecting some pretty great labels from Belgium from the 80s, 70s, even 60s.

        It is really great to see good design in this space now.

        0 points
  • Judith Mayer, almost 5 years ago

    I am designing a typeface that is a revival of a wood type design, it's my first attempt at a complete typeface, and was wondering what your thoughts are on creating value with a revival and how much it should follow historical references versus being something new. Thanks.

    0 points
    • Elliot Jay Stocks, almost 5 years ago

      Hi Judith. There’s definitely value in revival typefaces and I think it’s twofold: as you mentioned, it should be historically accurate (as a jumping-off point) and new — as in, making the most of it existing in the digital medium, doing things that could never have been done with the wood type itself. Sorry for not being anymore specific — I think the secret sauce is in exactly how the typeface designer achieves that balance between the historic and the modern. Of course, it could be said that simply having the typeface exist in a digital format is enough!

      0 points
  • Mitch BartlettMitch Bartlett, almost 5 years ago

    Hi Elliot!

    I work in some studio space in Stokes Croft, Bristol. I'm currently deciding whether or not to remain freelance or find a full-time job. You've worked here for a long time if I'm not mistaken. When I was younger, Bristol had the reputation of being a graphic design powerhouse. Do you see still that here? Do you think there are opportunities here that are, shall I say, modern? I'd love to be part of a team here working on products, but I tend to notice that Bristol seems to be stuck in the age of designing flyers for Aardman, some local business, and not much else.

    0 points
    • Elliot Jay Stocks, almost 5 years ago

      Hi Mitch! Are you in Mild Bunch? I used to work there when Jon first opened it. Or maybe you’re in Hamilton House? We might actually be getting a space there at some point soon...

      Anyway, to your question: I’m afraid I have to hold my hands up and admit that although I love Bristol deeply — and I call it home more than anywhere else I’ve lived — I’m almost entirely untouched by its jobbing design scene. There are some new startups doing interesting things, but I’m afraid I have to agree with you about the agencies. It’s a shame because Bristol is such an independent, creative city, but I do almost no local client work.

      That said, Bristol is the epicentre of an independent publishing scene, so maybe there’s space for you to get involved with some of the indie mags coming out of Bristol. There’s us, Cereal, Another Escape, Ernest Journal, Boneshaker, Sidetracked, Off Life... that side of things, at least, is super exciting.

      Maybe Bristol needs some sort of meetup for independent designers? Big agencies not invited? ;)

      On a parting thought, I’d encourage you to stay independent rather than get a full-time job. It keeps things so much more interesting.

      1 point
      • Mitch BartlettMitch Bartlett, almost 5 years ago

        I think I will try to stay independent for now. Finding a product team or agency I'm eager to work with will probably take time and may even involve leaving Bristol, which I'll never do!

        It's always a small world when you're in Bristol. I've shared space with Rosa and Rich of Cereal Magazine twice. They're awesome people! I was also close to moving into the Mild Bunch office. I set up a time to meet Jon, but unfortunately had to cancel a few times due to being busy and then being ill. Understandably his patience was short and we didn't arrange another time, so I moved in with Cereal again after that. I've thought of asking again, but I don't want to be cheeky!

        I currently rent a desk with some friends in Utility House next to Lakota, but unfortunately they're moving on and the studio's lease is up in a few weeks. Hamilton House has always appealed to me. I've been incredibly lucky to share space with some of my favourite creatives - and would love to continue doing so. If you guys ever have desk space that you'd want to let out, I'd be very interested. :)

        You should check out Utility House as well. They're really nice studios, and the owner is very keen to keep it a creative space. Might be the right fit for you.

        Great talking to you, and thanks for the advice!

        0 points
  • A B, almost 5 years ago

    Hi Elliot,

    What technology, present or future gets you excited most, on a creative level?

    For example, I mean this in the sense of either designing for technology such as wearables or perhaps new design tools that have rocked your world...

    Cheers

    0 points
    • , almost 5 years ago

      Hi AB! I love technology, and I’m always excited by the new design challenges it brings, but to be completely honest I’m most excited when I’m designing physical products — at least for the moment, anyway. Delving into more analogue technologies is very much what gets me going as a designer right now. Smart fridges be damned. ;)

      1 point
      • A B, almost 5 years ago

        Interesting! I guess it's natural progression to want to push yourself into different areas once you feel you've 'conquered' something – in this case digital technology perhaps?

        Thanks for the insight!

        Andrew

        0 points
  • Dustin CartwrightDustin Cartwright, almost 5 years ago

    If you had any advice for people aiming at a creative director or design lead type position, what would it be? Any skills or particulars to learn?

    0 points
    • Elliot Jay Stocks, almost 5 years ago

      Hi Dustin. I think it’s just a case of experience. Senior design positions — like any senior positions, I suppose — are given to designers who have a good amount of experience under their belt. I see some courses that prepare students for being art directors, which I think is misplaced — you’ll become an art director (etc.) once you’ve had a good amount of experience as a designer.

      One thing I would say is that senior design roles usually involve a lot of non-design-related responsibilities, like leading projects, liaising with stakeholder, presenting ideas to a team, and presenting ideas to management (with a clear understanding of how the design tasks relate to business goals); so anything you can do to practice skills like that would be valuable in preparing for that step up to a senior role.

      I hope that’s useful in some way!

      1 point
  • Mark FinnMark Finn, almost 5 years ago

    Hi Elliot!

    My question was going to be why you decided to leave Typekit but you've already answered that! I suppose my next question would be what advice would you give somebody that is wanting to go independent in 2016?

    0 points
    • Elliot Jay Stocks, almost 5 years ago

      Hi Mark! Thanks for leaving the first question.

      It's a good one because it's been fresh on my mind, since this is technically the second time I've gone independent. I think the basic recommendations are still true: save up a bit of a cash buffer before you do it, have some clients lined up (not necessarily booked in, but interested), and ideally make the jump when you find that having a day job and doing freelance work are no longer compatible.

      What I personally found interesting this time around was that I was in a very different position. The first time I left my job for independent life, I was confident I would earn a fair amount more money once I'd gone freelance (and that was true), but this time around my job had a lot of financial security and I faced a different challenge: that going independent was pretty much never going to be a sensible thing to do form a financial perspective. And I hear that a lot from other people in the tech sphere. But there's more to life than money and I think as long as you can make sure you're at least covering the basics you (and any dependents you have) need, then everything else is a bonus if you're happier in yourself.

      I hope that helps. I can't extol the benefits of independent life enough. I hope you take the jump and that it works out for you, Mark!

      3 points