By Michael Schepis → Tuesday, April 10, 2012

It is with great pleasure that I have the opportunity to present to you all the latest Desktop issue along with an exclusive interview with one of Melbourne’s most inspiring creatives – Brendan McKnight, editor of Desktop Magazine.

Desktop is the leading publication for design, covering an array of creative fields including animation, branding, digital media, illustration, packaging, photography, post production, typography and web design. With contributions and insights by a hand picked collection of leading creatives, academics and thinkers both from Australia and overseas, Desktop sets out to inspire and inform. It has amazingly been around for 25 years and with a recent overhaul and with a broader design focus it now seems somehow far more relevant to design enthusiasts, as well as industry professionals seeing news stand sales increase by 260%, and subscriptions by 300%. 

This issue labeled the 'The Music Issue' which has just hit the shelves, has a real 'trick' reversible cover designed by Christopher Doyle (fantastic job!) Desktop is printed on a beautiful uncoated matte paper stock and it ranges anywhere up from 84 to 100 pages each month.

This issue looks at design in music culture from T-shirts to album art, from tour posters to logos, the visual element of music which has become an essential and compelling element of enjoying music and its industry. 

It’s been a great few months collating and researching for this issue – we’ve tracked down and spoken to designers of some of the Australian music industry’s most iconic imagery

Look out for the typography of set-lists from Stephen Banham, tee-music culture uncovered by Eddie Zammit, band posters by Sonny Day and Biddy Maroney (WBYK), commentary from the creators of a few of our favourite music logos, a selection of ARIA Best Cover Art winners discussing their award-winning covers, and a profile on Sydney-based studio Debaser.

ONE MORE REASON to check out the latest issue with Desktop Magazine, is that they have KINDLY offered a very generous giveaway for five lucky MagSpreads readers! You can win this months 'Music Issue' and have it delivered to your door! How nice is that! :) and THANKYOU DESKTOP! To be in the running, please leave your comment on this post before 12pm EST this Thursday night, Sydney time. This giveaway is open to Australian residents only. Five winners will be randomly drawn on Friday, and notified by email. If you subscribe to these posts by email, please don’t respond to your email, just pop over to and leave your comment there! Thankyou!

Please tell us about your background and role as editor of Desktop magazine? 

My background, well, I studied media arts at RMIT, making pretentious video and installation art, where I found my interest for research and curating. After graduating, I headed to East Africa for six months, then landed in London working at design studio FITCH as a creative assistant. I started to become interested in trends and writing, and so I scored a gig writing for thecoolhunter and a few other freelance gigs for some magazines and websites. Having been away for four years, I kicked around South America for a few months, headed back to Melbourne, and randomly landed a job as online editor of Desktop magazine. Six months later the editor resigned, and I applied for the position. It’s been an unplanned journey, but a pretty fun one at that.  

Tell me about how you and the team went about the redesign of Desktop - was it an unanimous decision, was it received well by the industry did it meet the goals and expectations of your vision.

When I scored the role as editor, the publishers asked me to go and have a big think about where I could take Desktop and what I thought the publication could and should be. I went out and spoke to everyone from people that have been in the industry from 20 minutes to 20 years, seeing what they wanted in an Australian design magazine. The publishers gave me quite a lot of freedom. I kept a few elements of the old magazine, but changed the majority. Obviously physical things like a change of size, paperstock, adding a spine and a redesign, but also a rethink of the content, tone of voice and target audience.

Desktop Magazine covers from the past few years – top images from the 1990′s, bottom left
2000′s, and the current 25th Birthday issue is bottom right! (Top image source The Design Files)

Can you please share with us how the team of Desktop magazine work?

We have a full time team of three. Myself, a sales manager and Alison (Copley), our online editor. Our design team work across the seven or so magazines that the company I work for (Niche Media) publish. I’m in charge of curating and putting together the magazine’s content each month, and Alison looks after the online content, as well as writing a little bit for the magazine, and helping in the proofing process when we go to print. I start off the cycle with anywhere from 76 to 100 blank pages each month, and I need to figure out what they are going to be filled with.

Do you rely on submissions or are you on the constant look out?

The vast majority of the content is found, commissioned or curated by myself. I always want to use fresh, engaging and original content, so I am constantly on the lookout.

Does the content in Desktop lead the design or does the design style happen regardless?

As with most magazines, we have a template and style-guide and so most of the content fits within that. But obviously things get tweaked and change over time, especially for special features or for special issues (like our recent music issue).

In the world of magazines content is king, how do you select what will be in the next issue?

I have a good understanding of our audience, and so content is selected based on its relevance and appeal. Obviously things have to look nice, but a good story is essential too. We don’t want to publish a magazine just full of pretty pictures. 

Deadlines are very important in the magazine world. How does the team at Desktop manage and stay on top of their schedules?

With a monthly magazine (and a small team), sticking to schedule is imperative. Print schedules are fixed and cannot be moved, because there is so much involved - from shipping, to distribution, to advertisers expecting the magazine to be on sale at a certain date. It’s taken me some time to refine my technique, and to an outsider it probably seems like chaos, but I have a pretty good spreadsheet and calendar system. 

Brendan how does it make you feel when you walk past someone that is reading Desktop? 

It’s a strange feeling. A mixture of pride and weirdness. The other month I was sitting next to a girl on the tram who pulled Desktop out from her bag and started reading my editorial. It was pretty awkward. 

Technology is changing ever so quickly. Does Desktop magazine embrace this change.
If so how?

We have a strong following through our website and have developed a community through our social media avenues, and there’s a digital version of our magazine. I’m a big advocate of print, and it’s great that our audience have an appreciation for print too. Especially the smell and feel of Desktop. The readers go nuts.

If you can please list a few of your favorite magazines?

It’s horrible, but I don’t have a lot of time to read at the moment. Any time for reading is seen as a valuable opportunity to catch up on sleep. I enjoy reading magazines like Grafik (hopefully it will resurrect again), Dumbo Feather, and am a big fan of unwinding by reading Sunday magazines in the weekend papers over brunch.

Where and who are you currently looking at for Inspiration?

Inspiration comes from everywhere, although I do get a lot of ideas commuting to and from work, when my brain is a little clearer.

What does a typical day at work involve for you?

A typical day is generally pretty hectic. I’m constantly working on about 3 or 4 issues, so there’s a lot of balancing plates. Obviously the issue that’s about to go to print needs to get lots of my attention, but if I’m not thinking about the following issues, then I will be very behind schedule. Answering emails, visiting studios, briefing writers/illustrators/photographers, meetings with the publishers and design team, proofing, researching, not having lunch etc. 

What’s the best thing about your job?

Producing a physical object that goes out into the real world is pretty exciting, as is meeting and catching up with the community of talented folk that make up the publication.

What are you looking forward to?

I’m looking forward to going on a European adventure for a month in July. It will be my first proper holiday in a while. I’m going to attempt to not check my work emails. Although taking a month off means putting out two issues the month before I leave, so it’s going to be hectic.

Do you have any advice for those who are starting up a magazine?

Find a niche, find an angle, a point of difference and go do it.

Do you have any advice for those who are looking at redesigning a magazine?

Obviously your own design aesthetic is important, but think about your reader (or target reader) – how they interact with/digest your magazine. Are they having a quick flick through on the train to work? Are they sitting down with a cuppa on the weekend and absorbing every word and image? Work that out, and tailor the design/content accordingly.

Thanks so much again to Brendan and to the team at Desktop Magazine. We really appreciate helping us spreading the MagLove and we wish you all the best in the future! Readers don't forget to comment on this post for your chance to win one of five magazines delivered
to your door.

Michael Schepis

MagSpreads is dedicated to the process and progress of magazine design and the publishing industry and its practitioners, students and enthusiasts. Its purpose is to define and promote the world’s best magazine design, and provide a place where the magazine design community can review, critique and stay informed of the latest industry trends and design projects being created in the field.