NICE Magazine is a collaborative project between young cultural actors in African cities, the non-profit association Klaym, the photographer Flurina Rothenberger and HAMMER. The design office HAMMER is Sereina Rothenberger and David Schatz, both teaching graphic design at Vermont College of Fine Arts, USA, while Sereina also has a professorship for communication design at the HFG Karlsruhe.
Through intensive workshops with people of a specific city (e. g. Abidjan) or area (e. g. Ivory Coast), the magazine reflects various life issues, concerns and cultural vibrancy by those who make it: the younger generation of designers, photographers and writers. By enabling the makers to voice and present themselves through an engaged and highly entertaining style, the magazine builds a bridge between Europe and Africa and gives an unprecedented and original insight to contemporary African cultures.
Can you describe your approach or methodology to design?
The European perception of the African continent is often awkwardly undifferentiated, almost as if it was one single country. NICE magazine tries to present the diversity of multiple realities in African cities. The idea of mediation and exchange is the core aspect of the magazine. Each issue kicks off with a series of workshops and thereafter all the content is developed on-site. In the beginning, the contributors come together and discuss the stories they want to develop. In conjunction with non-profit association Klaym, national and international mentors then conduct masterclasses in photography, writing, typography, editorial design, etc… and supervise the participants on a project basis. Within 2–3 weeks students become collaborators. From our experience this dense mode of working is most likely to produce an authentic representation of the situation on-site.
Even though we are responsible for the art direction we only try to provide a framework in which the participants portray themselves. If we would design the whole thing ourselves, as if in a vacuum, we would probably make different design decisions, but it was very clear from the outset that we didn’t want to impose preconceived ideas on anybody.
Did recent technological changes impact your work? If so how?
The majority of the participants belong to the first generation on the African continent to have direct access to digital technology. The result is a playful digital aesthetic that is reminiscent of e.g. UK rave fanzines of the early 90’s. It is really refreshing to see what especially autodidacts create, when they suddenly have access to new technologies. Given an unlimited amount of effects like drop shadows, gradients and three-dimensional fonts, one tends to make use of all the possibilities at once.
Even though we demand certain standards when it comes to typesetting, legibility, etc… a super clean Swiss layout just wouldn’t do justice to the diversity of the project. So we came up with the workshop idea where we taught how to playfully switch between digital and analog layout creation and image production, cutting and glueing together handmade layouts that could be filled with digital elements. The design process is bidirectional. This results is a weird clash, like an issue of Twen magazine put through an Ivorian mincer.
How does your work environment look like? How does your work environment influence your creative outcome/designs?
The visual appearance of the magazine is of course heavily influenced by the visual culture on-site. In the case of issue #2 the magazine might seem cluttered to the western eye, but that is only a reflection of the appealing chaos of a city like Abidjan. Right now Cairo, Addis Ababa and Johannesburg are being discussed as possible next destinations, so we’re curious how this will effect the aesthetics of the next issue.