Interview: Richard Turley, Bloomberg Businessweek

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At the end of 2009 Josh Tyrangiel became editor of Bloomberg Businessweek, and in 2011 hired designer Richard Turley, formerly of The Guardian.

Since, the redesigned magazine has won plaudits due to the fresh visual and editorial approach. One telling statistic highlighting the change in direction is that according to Business Insider’s Dan Frommer, ad revenue for the first three months of 2011 was up 65% year-on-year, due in no small part to the visually bold approach of the new Creative Director.

We asked Richard Turley about how the magazine has captured the public’s changing mood around money and business. While Turley prefers to let the images do the talking around how the magazine has tapped into the changing public attitudes around money, it’s clear that the abrasive covers have locked onto public scepticism around institutions of power. At the heart of the magazine’s agenda-setting is a belief in imagery to shape thinking.

Curve: When Bloomberg Businessweek was being relaunched, how was design, photography, illustration factored into the planning?
Richard Turley:
Integral. I got a brief from Josh when I pitched for the job in which he outlined the magazine he wanted to edit, and we built it together over about a 4 month period. Design was always central. Illustration and photography less so. There was so much design to think about that I didn’t really have much of a philosophy about the artwork. I still don’t, I just like what I like. But the artwork in the magazine has evolved, is evolving. Not sure we've really got there yet.

Curve: The magazine feels less straightforwardly “businessy”, you have captured the zeitgeist in a change in how business is perceived. For instance of the suite of James Dawes covers for the review of the year and the recent Hurricane Sandy cover. Has our perception of business changed over the last few years?
RT: I think its taken a much more central role in our lives through the various financial crises we have lived through and the overwhelming coverage of it. Our perception probably has changed, from business being something we didn’t really think about to something we are deeply cynical and suspicious of.

Curve: Your covers get a lot of attention, partly because of the visual ideas. Can you talk us through your cover process through an example?
RT: Josh (the editor) will tell me what he wants on the cover the week before we publish an issue. We'll have a brief conversation about it. I'll ask him for coverline ideas as that usually focuses the process, even if they are coverlines we don’t end up using. Quite often we'll have an idea we love which we'll focus on, if not I'll usually have a longer think, send him ideas and the process continues till we have something we both like. If we don’t have anything we like I usually start asking other people in the art department here to contribute. Then I'll then work the ideas up, think about how we do it, do the commissioning.

We produce about 30%, maybe more, of our covers in-house, without any outside contributions. I usually prefer it when we do it all in-house, there’s more control and everyone understands what we want, less chance of an illustrator not understanding what we want. Often we'll have a couple of options, or at least a few different ways of using the type/imagery. We'll then pick one and it gets sent.


Curve: Images such as the Private Equity cover and layouts such as the New Abnormal, pose questions around ‘money’. In what ways has our relationship to money changed and how are you visualising that?
RT: Don’t know how it has changed. All we try and do is make an interesting magazine, not really thinking about those philosophical questions.

Curve: Over the last few years since the crunch and the bail-outs, the public attitude to Wall Street, to banking in general has evolved rapidly. How have you addressed this in your use of images?
RT: Again, I don’t really think we have made a point of addressing it in anyway. We just want to find interesting ideas with whatever subject matter we're working with to make people want to read and engage with the magazine.

Curve: Your use of portraits, of business and political ‘Leaders’ on the cover is selective and powerful, from Donald Trump to Obama, Steve Jobs, Angela Merkel and the famous Mitt Romney-cover-that-wasn’t… ‘Leadership’ and ‘Responsibility’ are such buzzwords at the moment, how have you played with these themes visually?
RT: We have a problem with old white men in the magazine. We try and avoid those as much as we can. When we can’t avoid it we don’t think about them as old, bald and white in the way other magazines reverently do perhaps. But again, I’m not sure. You tell me how we've done it! We just have a few ideas and throw them out in the world.

Curve: Which issues, and covers have had the best response?
RT: The plane sex one seemed to cause a lot of fuss. Obama/Romney aging ones. Global Warming after Sandy seemed to get picked up a lot. Our Steve Jobs issue people keep talking to me about, or our end of year’s issues.

View the back catalogue of Bloomberg Businessweek cover designs via Flickr

Take a look at a selection of conceptual imagery for finance campaign from the Getty Images collection

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