Collaborating on “I live here”

I live here, front and centre of Sophia's Art Books, two blocks from the Digital Design campus.

I live here, front and centre at Sophia Books, a block from the Digital Design campus.

The Digital Design program is excited to have Paul Shoebridge and Michael Simons teaching ‘Creating Online Magazines’. The pair is renowned in the industry for their creative work — print (such as Art Direction at Adbusters Magazine), interactive, and even combinations of the two.

Most recently, Paul and Michael co-created (with Mia Kirshner and J.B. Mackinnon) the book I live here — sometimes described as a ‘˜paper documentary’, sometimes as a ‘˜multimedia journal’, but intriguing to everyone who picks it up. I live here tells personal stories of those in distress in four different countries: Chechnya, Burma, Mexico, and Malawi.

Paul and Michael were kind enough to answer a few questions about the genesis of the project, as well as their thoughts on design today.

Tell us about the impetus for creating “I live here”.

Mia Kirshner approached us at Adbusters Magazine, where we were working as Creative/Art Directors. She proposed a book project that would focus on unseen corners of the world, in an assertive, creative way. Of course, we were interested. Over the course of the next 5 years, we worked very closely to shape the books into the visual/textual hybrid they eventually became. We commissioned artists to produce some amazing graphic novels, and asked a group of well-known writers to contribute to the creative non-fiction text. We were lucky that J.B. Mackinnon, whom we’d worked with at Adbusters, agreed to come on and help keep the stories on track.

You’ve both worked in print as well as online environments. Why does one project take a print form, while another becomes an interactive experience?

That’s usually determined by the initial planned scope of the project — however, they occasionally spin off. For instance, the book eventually got a website that had to communicate much of the same tone, emotion, and content as the book it was promoting. It’s always tricky translating one to the other, as they’re best handled as separate media, with inherent strengths and limitations.


What’s exciting to you about design today?

We love that there’s a significant shift from purely digital design into a more handmade approach — a reaction, we feel, from designers who have been stuck with baseline grids and other non-organic approaches to their material. The generic Photoshop and Illustrator brushes and filters are being slowly replaced by actual hand-done work. To us, the increased intimacy that being involved with your material, as well as the eventual reaction from the audience, who has a different feeling toward hand-traced type than they do to Helvetica Bold, 55 pt, is a critical component of being a more engaged designer. We hope it’s a sign of a new generation that’s more interested in assuming the role of visual authorship, and not just packagers of other people’s work.

Do you have a particular philosophy/approach to the idea of online magazines?

To us, story is the key to making things work. So many designers focus on technique, and aesthetic, and not what’s actually being featured. We try to get students to work on inventing their own story by looking intensively at a particular area (in this case, the blocks surrounding the VFS campus), and finding stories in their own backyard. The beauty of the online approach is that it’s so multimedia, and can reference almost anything you’d like. That said, it’s story first’¦ technique, technology, and decoration later.

Thank you, Paul and Michael!

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