Foglio's Field Notes

Leif Utne's random rants, musings and meditations

Archive for the ‘magazines’ Category

NYT: Design Loves a Depression

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This hopeful piece from yesterday’s NYT, Michael Cannell argues that, just as the Great Depression begat early modernism and democratized beautiful design, the current economic downtown could usher in a new golden age of democratic, functional — even green — design.

Design tends to thrive in hard times. In the scarcity of the 1940s, Charles and Ray Eames produced furniture and other products of enduring appeal from cheap materials like plastic, resin and plywood, and Italian design flowered in the aftermath of World War II.

Will today’s designers rise to the occasion? “What designers do really well is work within constraints, work with what they have,” said Paola Antonelli, senior curator of architecture and design at the Museum of Modern Art. “This might be the time when designers can really do their job, and do it in a humanistic spirit.”

In the lean years ahead, “there will be less design, but much better design,” Ms. Antonelli predicted.

Let’s hope Cannell’s right.

Sidenote: Is Dwell really “old paradigm” like Architectural Digest, as Cannell suggests? My old Worldchanging colleague Sarah Rich might beg to differ.

Written by leifutne

January 5, 2009 at 3:11 pm

On the Sale of Utne Magazine

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People keep asking me how I feel about the sale of Utne Magazine, my employer for the past 8 years and the family business for the past 23, on June 1 to Ogden Publications of Topeka, Kansas. I left the staff the day of the sale. Rather than continue typing out the same email over and over again, as I’ve been doing for the last 3 weeks, I’ll just summarize my thoughts here, so I have a place to point people.

I feel, in a word, good. Really good, in fact.

I’m happy for Nina Utne, my beloved stepmom and former boss, because she gets back a chunk of the change she sank into keeping the place afloat for the past 7 years, and she’s no longer burdened with endless fundraising and nail-biting cash flow meetings.

I’m happy for the magazine because it gets to continue sustainably (and hopefully profitably) into the future as a crucial platform for launching ideas into the culture. I think Ogden’s a really good fit and I trust that publisher Bryan Welch will be a good steward of the Utne mission. They also publish Mother Earth News, Natural Home, Herbs for Health, The Herb Companion, and several niche collector magazines. I’m confident that I’ll be able to look with pride for a long time to come on the publication that still bears my family name.

I’m happy for my former coworkers, who got to keep their jobs (well, all but 5 of us), and, according to Ogden, will stay in their very cool workspace in Minneapolis.

And quite honestly, I’m happy for myself. After 8 years at the magazine, I had already been thinking for awhile about making some kind of professional move. My wife, Cilla, has been commuting to Seattle for the past year to attend grad school. Now we’ve decided to spend the coming year out there, living on Bainbridge Island while she finishes up her green MBA. Plus, I get to keep working for Utne as a freelancer, contributing story ideas, writing articles, and producing podcasts.

I’m not sure yet how I’ll be spending most of my time over the coming year, but opportunities have been coming at me from every direction ever since the moment I left the magazine staff. There are some exciting possibilities in the works, which I’ll be sure to update you on here.

Of course I have mixed feelings about the sale. The magazine my father founded, the family business for 23 years, is no longer owned by my family. That makes me sad. And it’s sad that an independent, single-title thought leader (that’s Utne’s category in the advertising world) magazine publishing company cannot be sustainable under a for-profit model in this country. Just about every other one in our category — Harper’s, The Atlantic, Mother Jones, The Nation, In These Times, The Progressive — has either been sold to a larger company or gone nonprofit.

Like so many other industries, the economics of the magazine business have changed so much in the past 2 decades that small independent publishers are an endangered species.

But all things considered, I’m really happy about how all of this has gone down. And I’m excited to start my new life. To mark the occasion, I even shaved my head. I’ll upload a video of it soon.

Written by leifutne

June 23, 2006 at 4:57 am

Posted in magazines, Me

“World-changing” is now a marketing term

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My friends over at will get a kick out of this. The inside front cover of the July/August issue of Sierra features a two-page ad for Honda’s Civic Hybrid. Under the banner “Environmentology” (not quite sure what that means, but it sounds nice) artistically rendered in images of plants, the company rightly touts its 32-year history as a fuel-efficiency innovator.

Civic Hybrid ad

Here’s the passage that caught my eye:

Civic Hybrid ad (detail)

In 1974, Honda introduced the ingeniously simple Civic CVCC. World-changing (sic) for its fuel efficiency and low emissions, the CVCC demonstrated our spirited commitment to environmentally responsible technology…

“World-changing”? Maybe. While Honda has been a leader in green car technology for a long time, it’s important to note that average fuel economy across the industry, even for Hondas, is unsustainably low. Appopriation and imitation are of course the sincerest forms of flattery. Kudos should go at the very least to Alex and Jamais at WC for changing the lexicon. It’s nice to see Madison Avenue’s taking notice.

Written by leifutne

June 20, 2006 at 8:58 pm