Janet Michaud on POLITICO’s new magazine

In late July, The Washington Post’s design director Janet Michaud announced she was moving to POLITICO to become creative director of its new magazine. The magazine, she explained, was going to be built from the ground floor and in a matter of months, the magazine would launch. Last Friday, the first issue of POLITICO magazine hit newsstands, so I caught up with Michaud to see how it all unfolded.

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Katie Myrick: Who were the key players involved in making this magazine come to life?

Janet Michaud: [My family.] I could not have done it without their support. Susan Glasser is an amazing editor and knew exactly when it was time to tackle the next challenge. Her clear vision and ability to make decisions quickly were critical. Our aesthetics are very much in line and her trust in my instincts (as well as her own) made the magazine possible in the short time we had to create it. The magazine staff is very small, so really it couldn’t have come to life without each of them. It is such a talented group of editors and I feel very lucky to be working with them: deputy editor and Twitter rockstar Blake Hounshell; editorial director Geoffrey Gagnon; senior editor Denise Kersten Wills; associate editor Margy Slattery; assistant editor Elizabeth Ralph; and staff writers Glenn Thrush and Jason Zengerle. Working with Chris Buddie, the director of user experience, on the responsive website was a great collaboration. He and his team are so impressive and talented. They immediately welcomed me into the process with open arms, and gave us great functionality and tools to produce the magazine daily online. The Politico team as a whole has been rooting us on, and in particular Scott Mahaskey, Matt Wuerker, John Lipp and Bill Kuchman were critical in making the magazine happen. I worked with wonderful artists and photographers who showed great patience in working on a launch. Also a quick shout out to Denny Brack, Noelle Crombie and Bronwen Latimer and Larry Nista whose support was super helpful.

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KM: You started from scratch with this — was there a certain aesthetic/theme that you knew you wanted to go for from the beginning?

JM: Powerful. The magazine covers power, politics and ideas. I wanted it to feel powerful and smart in its visual approach. There is boldness and strength in simplicity. By that, I do not mean do what’s simple because it’s easy. Simplicity comes from the process of spitballing and putting it all out there, then having the guts to boil it down and shed…to admit what is and isn’t working. And in the end, that leads to clarity, which I hope we achieved. It was also challenging to make sure the book as a whole was cohesive and hanging together given the time frame. I was constantly keeping that in mind as I designed.

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KM: What was the biggest struggle you faced in the production process?

JM: Figuring out how to get done everything I didn’t know how to do. Like you said, it was from scratch and I was walking into an unfamiliar newsroom. In print, we had to make decisions as fundamental as what the size of the magazine was going to be, what paper stock we were going to use, how many pages it was going to be, etc. I found choosing the fonts particularly consuming. Typography is so important to a publication’s identity and to conveying sensibility, and I wanted to make sure the fonts were putting forth confidence and power across platforms.

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KM: You’ve said that one of your biggest dreams was to create a magazine, and now you’ve done that. What are you most looking forward to, going forward with the magazine?

JM: The magazine’s evolution as far as its voice. There are great minds behind this project and I’m looking forward to how far we can push it … how surprising we can be in print and online. Also looking forward to continuing to help build the collaborative process with the magazine team. The best ideas happen that way.