When most people retire, they take up hobbies, travel or begin volunteering. Not me. Determined to light a spark in the building design community, I immediately launched a second career and a magazine St. Louis Design Magazine. It broke tradition with its 10-inch square format, plain white cover, large black and white images, and paper that reeks of class it was and is the first local publication to focus exclusively on design. It took a lot of people by surprise. The first written response I received about the magazine began with, "Holy Cow!"
I was a marketer of design services for many years, and I often wished for an alternative print medium to increase the visibility of design in St. Louis. Design news often gets lost in the trees. My magazine is not about breaking news I'm simply offering a new kind of exposure and a different slant on design and designers, on architecture and art, on the old and the new. We profile the built environment within a specific category of building in each issue, and devote the remainder of the magazine to people, events and issues relating to virtually every design discipline. A whole lot of people are telling me this is the first magazine they've read from cover to cover.
Prior to the first printing, I trekked around the city and county visiting design firms, gauging reaction and interest. Listening to suggestions. I came away from each meeting with words of encouragement. It seemed destined to be a hit! Of course, there were not-so-encouraging encounters, as some thought it should be an architectural journal, publishing only examples of ground-breaking design ... and, I was cautioned that this happens rarely in the great Midwest. I clung, however, to my original concept. The goal is for the magazine to evolve as the pulse of design in the metro area.
Understand that the St. Louis facility design community is vast architects, interior architects, landscape architects, engineers, program managers, design/build entities, and an absolute plethora of special consultants. Building owners and developers in both public and private sectors enjoy a brisk interaction with this diverse group. A design team is frequently selected on qualifications, not fee; the competition is sometimes fierce; and decisions often hinge on perception. The design firm's image is shaped by the perceived success of its projects, the prominence of its clientele, the visibility of its key players, and the kind of press it can muster. A forum exclusive to the design community, and those who interact with them, would, I thought, provide immeasurable benefit for the entire community. I elected a magazine to serve as my forum, and these were my goals:
- To profile contributions of the full complement of professionals in shaping the St. Louis built environment;
- To partner with professionals to develop the magazine's direction, content, personality and relationships;
- To increase developer, owner and end-user awareness of the design community;
- To applaud the philosophies of those building owners and managers who recognize the value of good design;
- To provide a written forum in the community for design-related discourse;
- To interact with emerging architects as they define the future of design;
- To embrace other design disciplines graphic design, illustration, signage, photography, web design, artists and artisans, etc.;
- To support community organizations in exploring adaptive reuse of existing architecture.
Twenty-five years ago, the slate of architect/engineer firms invited to submit proposals in a specific market segment was a given the design community was small, owners knew all the firms, the same firms interviewed for most projects. The picture today is quite different. Many firms have transitioned to new owners or an employee-owned status. Key people have spun off and launched a hundred or more new firms. National firms have come to town, perused the landscape, and purchased or merged with firms who might give them real competition. RFPs today, more often than not, bring a "mixed bag" of contenders. In 2003, everything has changed, and everyone has stories to tell.
A young publication has to hold content to a minimum until it can support extra pages, and my "idea box" is simply bursting at the seams. We're waiting for more advertisers to think positively, faced with the economy and the threat of war in every economy some will prosper, and life for most goes on. Now is the time to stand out, not fade into the woodwork, something I hope they know.
I have an interesting track record the first issue appeared to be held hostage by the postal service. Some magazines arrived in two days, some after 30, and a great many just didn't arrive. Those that did were greeted with accolades. The second issue has drawn raves. I blush. Subscriptions are selling. Ad revenue, however, remains elusive and the schedule has been revised to quarterly. New columns continue to appear, covering historic architecture, sustainable architecture, local arts, and unique travel destinations. New feature sections will pop up spontaneously. Sold only to our subscriber base, complimentary copies in limited quantities are available at several locations galleries, restaurants, lounges, coffee houses, and the American Airlines Admiral's Club at the airport. We keep striving for visibility because St. Louis has vast and amazing art and architecture cultures to explore...
Barbara Walter is the publisher of St. Louis Design Magazine.