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REWIRING, HIS WAY: Taking over Scott Dadich’s old job at Wired, a magazine that won the National Magazine Award for design two years running and is nominated again this year, was an intimidating charge for the magazine’s new creative director Brandon Kavulla.
“I think any magazine you take on, if you don’t feel intimidated or feel like, ‘Oh, man, I really got to do some great stuff,’ you’re not being realistic,” said Kavulla, who was hired from Rodale’s Men’s Health in February. “It’s like a musician who’s been getting on stage all his life and is still nervous getting up there — people paid for the tickets, and I have to perform.” Dadich left the magazine in October to focus on his role as Condé Nast’s executive director of digital-magazine development. He recommended Kavulla, a friend from the Society of Publication Designers board, as his replacement. “The fact that he threw my name in there really meant a lot,” he said.
Kavulla spent most of his career working on music magazines like Vibe and Spin before joining Rodale to work on Best Life, until it folded in May 2009 and he was transferred to Men’s Health. He said his experience with Men’s Health, where the design challenges revolved around creating visuals for “ideas” stories (“How do you deal with something about fish oil? How do you deal with the concept of metabolism?”) have prepared him well to work with Wired’s nerdy content.
The job required Kavulla to move his family — two young children and his wife, Anne-Marie, a fabric artist with her own company, Pirtti — from New York to San Francisco to be near Wired’s headquarters. Two days into the job, Kavulla flew back to the East Coast to judge the ASMEs and supervise his first cover shoot with Mark Seliger for the May Humor issue: the comedian Andy Samberg with various cats, fluffy kittens and a hairless sphynx. “If you’re wondering how the cats thing came about — it was more about what sort of defines Internet comedy,” he said. “Everyone has cat sites and it’s the lolcat thing.” He tucked the words “OH HAI” (an Internet lolcat joke — Google it) on the cover next to the date.
In spite of the magazine’s design track record, Kavulla isn’t worried about making his own changes. He said his job isn’t just to protect the status quo. “If anything is sacred with Wired, it’s evolution and reinvention,” he said. “Over the last five years with Scott, Wired has gone through at least three rethinkings, and none of those were because something was broken or wrong. It’s just what Wired does.” He plans to launch his own “reboot” in the next few months, and plans to strip things down.
“One thing that I always do whenever I go to any magazine is I simplify things,” he said. “I’m always excited to see what people do with a limited palette; I think that’s when you get a lot of inventive solutions. If you give somebody every crayon in the box, you always get something boring. If you just give them red, you’ll see red like you never even thought of it, if you give it to somebody good.”
In other news about the issue, Wired is aiming to stem the slide in sales of its iPad edition, which fell by about 75 percent to an average of 27,000 a month for the six months after it launched last June, when 100,000 were sold. The May issue will be free on the iPad, courtesy of Adobe, Condé Nast’s partner in digital magazine production.
— Zeke Turner