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Works That Work (second edition)

It’s a brave move to start a new printed design magazine given the tide of change to digital publishing.  But the second edition of Peter Bilak’s “Works That Work” has just come out, and it seems to be striking a chord with its readership.

By Gabrielle Kennedy / 04-07-2013

The problem with almost all design magazines is that they never stretch beyond the surface.  There are pages of glossy photographs that do little more than present portfolios --  a never-ending onslaught of attractive new products.  What it all means, however, and how it actually impacts on society, the environment, lifestyle, poverty, politics and education is rarely dealt with in depth.  It usually makes for a fairly dull read. 

Enter Peter Bilak’s “Works That Work”.  He doesn’t want to call it a design magazine.  Instead he refers to it as a magazine of unexpected creativity.  Think of it as Alice Rawsthorn meets National Geographic with a quiet emphasis on form.

“We look at how all manmade objects are designed,” Bilak says, “but we do not make the traditional selection regarding what is and isn’t 'design' because everything is designed …. We look at human creativity in all its different forms, and at the invisible processes to better understand how and why things are being made.  The ultimate goal is always to better understand the world around us.”

The magazine avoids narrowing its readership down to the typical in-the-know design audience.  It reaches further by embracing more disciplines in a way that aims to show how design is relevant outside itself.  

It wasn’t Bilak but his readership who voiced their preference for a printed magazine.  “The first edition was available both in print and digitally,” Bilak explains.  “You could choose and 90% chose the print format even though it was twice as expensive.”  Future editons will continue to be available in both formats.

The first edition of the magazine was financed using the increasingly popular crowd-funding approach.  The 2nd edition is funded entirely by subscriptions and loose sales.  And the magazine is commercial-advertising free.

Bilak is also keen to investigate new types of distribution networks - another designed activity.  “I am using social distribution for this edition,“ he explains.  “It bypasses the middle man.  Normally one distributes a magazine through existing chains, which specialize in local markets, but it becomes very expensive.  We wanted to find a direct way to put the publisher in touch with the reader.”

One way they are doing this is paying readers to deliver boxes to stores.  “But we also find they end up keeping the box and selling it amongst themselves,” Bilak says.

The method is working with readers of the first edition spanning the globe from Brazil to Russia.  “I am always rethinking the distribution process,” Bilak says.

“Works That Work” is designed by Susana and Kai from Atelier Carvalho Bernau, two of Bilak’s former students.  “Originally I thought I’d do it myself, but there is so much work in involved in publishing a magazine and this option just fell into place.  They were my first choice and it has worked well. I gave them a very precise brief about what the magazine should do, but not what is should look like.  I knew how much it should weigh and what envelope it needed to fit into and I already had firm ideas about the content, but the actual look of the magazine was left up to them."

Bilak has extended his pool of writers in this edition and welcomed some pitches from outside his trusty circle.  “I think we will do more of that,” he says.  “My focus will always be on keeping our readers engaged.  I want one story to somehow connect to the next so the whole edition reads like a sort of narrative.”

Follow the "Works That Work" blog here

Images: Main at top Peter Bilak, small from top pages from the first edition of "Works That Work".

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