Julia Kahl is known for her impressive work as editor and publisher of Slanted. Her passion for typography, editorial design, photography and the research work are seen in each publication. While running the award winning magazine, she and her team are also working on design books, a video interview series and photography calendar called Photodarium. Julia Kahl studied Communication Design at the University of Applied Sciences in Darmstadt. She lives and works in Karlsruhe. Together with Lars Harmsen she runs the independent publishing house Slanted Publishers, which has been founded in 2014.
How did you end up working in the field of graphic design? Does being a designer speak to your personality at all? Explain how.
I was born in 1983 in a small town in Germany and grew up in a rural environment, surrounded by woods, yet not too far from larger cities like Frankfurt. My interest for art and design sparked at an early age, first, possibly through my grandfather’s craftsmanship, and then maybe by nearby art museums. Drawing and doing handcrafts was my favorite activity – I lately found the very first “magazine” at my parent’s house – 12 pages, 2 copies (one for me, one for my best friend), written in a secret script (each Latin letter was replaced by a sign) that only my friend and me could read. Maybe this was the starting point for getting into magazine making 🙂
After graduating from school, I went on to study Visual Communications at the University of Applied Sciences in Darmstadt where I focused on photography and typography. The more I engaged with my studies, I found it more interesting to combine these two disciplines. Finally I graduated with a diploma, making a book about the gold rush of our times.
What was your plan after you graduated from University? Did you follow through with that plan or end up doing something else?
My husband (boyfriend at that time) was living and working in Kalrsruhe where I made an internship (at Magma Brand Design) just half a year before. Therefore it was clear to me to come back to Karlsruhe and start from scratch here. In terms of working: I didn’t want to work as a freelancer and therefore had the plan to start preparing a good portfolio and then applying for jobs in the region.
But, things never turn out the way you expect them to 🙂 So, I was asked by my former boss Lars Harmsen whether I could imagine to help out with the next issue of Slanted Magazine. It was a delicate time for Slanted which started 3 years before with the blog that was quite renowned already. However, the magazine was still in the early stages of development with a print run of only 300 copies, printed by our former digital printing partner Océ (they printed the first 5 issues of Slanted magazine on fairs to show the quality of their machines). Slanted received lots of awards and appreciation for the first five issues and made its mark in the design field.
My job was to help designing and editing the first issue that was then being printed offset and therefore we had a bigger print run.
How did you start the Slanted Magazine? Was it a challenging process?
Slanted Magazine was – and still is – a passion-fueled project first of all. Back then, when it started (set. 2005), it was a side project at the design studio MAGMA Brand Design in Karlsruhe, that followed the blog www.slanted.de (est. 2004) to slow down the speed of the digital platform and to dig deeper into the field of typography and graphic design. Of course it was challenging and it always is to edit and publish a magazine, because in the beginning we did not know how to do it »right« and since then we’re improving the processes and our work to keep it running.
When I started working for Slanted, most of the things I did were self-taught. I didn’t learn how to distribute a magazine when we had the first big print-run. I just called the important book stores and asked them whether they would be interested to have some magazines in stock. Neither we had subscriptions, advertising, or a frequent publishing table. It was a lot of learning by doing and sometimes things worked out fine, sometimes they didn’t. Only 10 years after Slanted started, we were able to separate it from the design studio and set it up as an independent publishing house run by Lars Harmsen and me.
What factors do you consider when choosing destinations to focus on in the magazine? What draws you to specific cities/countries and their graphic design?
It is a very subjective, personal decision between Lars and me. Sometimes he come up with an idea, sometimes I do and then we’re talking about it. We both love to travel, so often it occurs because of people we met or because of obvious circumstances e.g. Lars was living in Dubai for some months and therefore we are going to publish an issue about the design scene of Dubai end of October this year.
What do you have to consider when planning the content for Slanted? What are five things you’d recommend paying attention to?
Content is more important than design – saying this being a designer may sound weird, but in my opinion its like that. Therefore we invest a lot of time in researching and editing, conducting interviews and reviewing material.
1. Consider the trip and video interviews – this usually is the start of the new issue. We research and make decisions whom to meet in their studios. When meeting up, people tell us much more than only about their work. Keep your ears and eyes open for interesting side stories or the city they live in and maybe you can find some hidden treasures that might be worth to work with in the magazine.
2. Consider the schedule – there’s always a certain time for different parts in the process. Often the contributors don’t stick to the deadlines, so keep some extra time to not get into a hurry (and you will for sure anyway 😉 )
3. Consider the structure of the magazine – there’s certain space for different sections in the magazine, so you need to know how much content can be placed on the pages and then you start compiling it
4. Consider colors – our magazine is not fully printed in CMYK – we have parts printed with spot colors and some printed in greyscale. So you need to know which content will be placed on which pages, so there will be the fitting content for the right colors
5. Consider production – it might be an early stage to think of papers and the production, but it is worth having this in mind already when thinking about the content. There might be some interesting matches.
What have you learned from traveling around and experiencing different cultures through a design lens?
The importance of design is perceived different, depending on the economical and/or political situation prevailing in the country or city we’re visiting. Despite globalization, there are still varieties in a visual design language depending on a certain region. Those cities/countries that don’t have a long history of design show super interesting and surprising ways to design. In general, it is always worth talking with each other as this opens up our minds for the big picture.
How do you see the role of women in design throughout different parts of the world? How is this field evolving, in your opinion?
Back in 2010 we published an issue about Women in Design to give it a bigger visibility. In 2018 I think women are more visible than ever before. Also in the Eastern parts of the world, women have more rights and therefore have more possibilities (to study etc.). Still, there are much more female graduates in the western countries, but only few who keep on working in the design field. This still has a lot to do with the complexity of having a family and keep on working. I have a toddler myself and although my husband and me a both taking care of him and we do have daycare center, it is not easy to accommodate a number of things. I’m sure there are many women who decide not to get back to work after birth, or if later, it might be difficult to gain a foothold.
Where do you see yourself in your profession in the next 10 years? Do you see a future for you and Slanted that is different from where you are today?
I’m taking care of everyday business in our office in Karlsruhe where I have support by an awesome, talented team. We just moved to another studio with a little bit more space. I hope we can keep working on Slanted by always finding new ways to collaborate and getting our finances stable.
What’s special about a printed magazine, in your opinion? How do you feel that sets your publication apart? Do you plan to digitize?
We have that special background of starting with the online platform and then publishing a printed magazine, so, we’ve never been only in print to only digital. We use the online channel to inform our readers about what’s going on in the international design scene on a daily base. The magazine is something you take your time with, to flip through the pages, take the time to read an essay, smell the paper and colors and hold something in your hands. For us therefore, we do not have the plan to digitize. Moreover, the beauty of typefaces can only be discovered when printed on paper …
What are some of your biggest passions, and how do you stay true to those in your professional and personal life?
There’s my son and my husband of course with whom I like to spend as much time as I can. I’m traveling quite often, but nowadays I decide to not be everywhere I could. Besides, I’m playing tennis and I’m big into gardening, where I love to spend my time.
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