Collaboration and Respect: What It Means for Your Publication

Recently I completed a year-long volunteer position as editor of a nonprofit organization’s magazine. For twenty years, I have been on the design side of the art/edit equation so it was enlightening to wear the editor’s hat. I have a new appreciation for editors and the role they play. While art directors receive internal feedback due to the immediacy of visuals, editors receive feedback from the external audience—the readers.

So why is it that we constantly hear about the tension between art and edit when there should be understanding? The creative goal is the same—to create a successful publication that is the product of a collaboration between art and edit. To determine how this relationship can work more effectively, I asked talented editors I have worked with to provide insight. In a nutshell, the answer is respect.

“Editors have to learn that 50 percent of the success of an article/magazine is the packaging/presentation. You need to capture a reader’s attention with both words and images. I think most editors have a tough time understanding that. In turn, I think art directors have to realize that editors are under tremendous pressure to make the magazine work. Ultimately, it is the editor job that is on the line if a mistake is made or a magazine isn’t successful.” —Rob Vosper, Former Editor, InsideCounsel

“Number 1: Respect. This is hugely important. The editor should think of the art director as a collaborator, not simply as a technician who is there to serve the editor’s desires. Number 2: Confidence. The editor must have confidence in his/her own taste in visual matters. Enough confidence, in fact, that he/she can give guidance without micromanaging. The editor must also have confidence that the art director will pay attention to the actual content of the stories. Editors have their failings; we all know that. So do art directors, one of which is to fail to pay detailed enough attention to what the articles actually say. If art directors want to be collaborators, and they should, they need to dig in sufficiently when it comes to designing the magazine.” —John Benditt, President, DrivingWheel Consulting

“My experience has taught me that the best magazines consider the design and edit process to be hand-in-hand. We inadvertently handicap our design team when we don’t bring them into the thinking early enough in the editorial process. I think it’s crucial to not think of the design team as a “service” to the edit function, but rather a partner. That makes all the difference in the world. —Karen Dillon, Deputy Editor, Harvard Business Review

“Both sides need to value the other’s contributions and concerns. The best professionals are both word and visual people. That’s what this job entails, after all, not just one or the other.” —Jane Buchbinder, freelance editor

“I see the role of art director as a translator, as someone who can convey images onto a page, bringing alive and enhancing the words. I think it’s important to approach the relationship as a negotiated one, with the editor suggesting why something doesn’t work, either from a visual or content point of view.” —June Erlick, Editor-in-Chief, ReVista, the Harvard Review of Latin America

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