Breaking out with Russia’s Best Designed

Svetlana Maximchenko leads her newsroom with one charge: Please do something crazy —  break out. When was the last time your boss uttered those words?

The editor-in-chief and founder of Akzia newspaper shared an hour of the wealth of print design currently happening in Russia. Her general interest biweekly has won two World’s Best Designed awards in a row (2007-2008), and since 2001 has been a hit with 18 to 30 year old Russians. Maximchenko is also regional director for Russion (Region 17).

Students founded the newspaper, and she said most of her journalists are still in their early 20s, creating quite a unique newsroom dynamic. “They’re all young, some just graduated, not really experienced,” she said. “Of the ‘alt’ background.” With only about 10 people in editorial and four designers, she said she tells her team to be original and innovative, to keep their young audience in mind and to “make something to show your friends and say, ‘This is cool. I made this.’”

Covers from Russia's Akzia newspaper

Covers from Russia's Akzia newspaper

“You can do everything you want,” she tells them. “Please give any ideas. Please do some crazy stuff. You don’t need to look at other newspapers or magazines. You don’t need to look at stuff for older people. You need to think of what you want to see, what your friends want to see.”

While she said advertising was down 40 percent in 2009 overall for Russian media, Akzia launched a free, pocket-size culture magazine aimed at their young audience that’s been successful. The paper also produces sharp career, travel and entertainment supplements distributed throughout Russia’s 11 biggest cities.

Maximchenko noted that Russian media have collectively been slow to take to Web design — “we’re behind you guys on the Web” — showing off the Web site for Russian Esquire as example. And the iPad isn’t available in Moscow yet, so most Russian media companies really haven’t had motivation to put resources into developing tablet apps. Also, most newsrooms are operating with as few as three or four designers. “Only the bigger papers in Moscow may have ten or so,” she said. She also critiqued the general lack of photojournalism skill at papers in Russia.

But seriously, have you seen what has been happening in Russia? With little commentary, Maximchenko showed pages from Akzia and other top designed Russian newspapers and magazines. Spend some time with these links here. (And bookmark most of them.) It’s a stream overflowing in creativity and innovative print solutions.

Azkia newspaper – PDFs of their issues are available here.

Afisha/Ega – A publishing house with a trademark style. “People will say, ‘That has an Afisha look to it,’ or ‘Do that page in Afisha style,” Maximchenko said.

Visualrian – Russia’s own NPD for all forms of design

Slon, Marker, Rian – Various Russian media of visual notererity

Hermitage/Dima Barbanel – Hermitage is a magazine with a special black and white only style. The nameplate on the cover is raised and the cover line is presented in Braille. The link here is to images from Dima Barbanel’s person Web site. His work has been seen in Russian and international editions of Esquire, Harper’s Bazaar, Playboy and more.