Monday, October 21, 2013

interview with Kai Brach from OFFSCREEN

OFFSCREEN is an independent magazine we cherish here at Athenaeum Nieuwscentrum. Always well designed and full of good editorials and interviews with "the people behind the pixels" - people who made, make and design the internet.
We had some questions for editor-in-chief Kai Brach.

Why did you start a magazine?

In late 2011, after ten years of working as a web design freelancer, I just had enough of dealing with clients. I took a six-months break and went travelling. During that time the idea for Offscreen began to take shape and when I came back I actively started working on it. I wanted to create a product that, on one hand, provided a break from the screen for people like myself, and on the hand showed what was actually happening behind the screens of the more successful websites, apps and startups in our digital world. Ironically, in order to produce that product, I now spend more time online than ever before.The biggest challenge was that I didn’t know anything about print or publishing. I never worked in Indesign, never wrote or edited a lengthy piece of content for a publication, never produced anything more than a cheap flyer in print. English isn’t even my first language.

Why did you choose to publish it on paper and not online?

The web community is fantastic and I still enjoy being part of it immensely. Everyone is pushing the envelope, is helping each other and is excited to build something that can potentially change the world (as clich├ęd as it sounds). The advantage of digital is that you iterate fast. Most of the work you do is never really finished, instead you keep improving, keep pushing out changes until the data that comes back confirms your decisions.

I’ve been doing this for around 10 years, but at some point in 2011 I felt like I’d increasingly lost touch with what I was doing all day. The benefit of iterating also means that you hardly feel that sense of accomplishment that a carpenter must get when he’s finished building a piece of furniture. Our trade as digital creators has no tangible output. 'All' that comes out is a new release number until it’s updated once again.

So, after my hiatus, I decided to make something tangible – a real product. I’ve always been a big fan of indie magazines. I like the physical experience they provide. They seem to be the only things that make me put my iPad or iPhone down for a while so I can solely focus on the reading experience. I appreciate the physicality of real magazines — the smell of the ink, the touch of the paper. It's a multi-sensory thing which you can't get from a screen. To be honest, I was also driven a lot by the idea of holding my very own magazine in my hands. In that way, I guess the first issue was a very self-serving experiment.

What are your favourite magazines?

Frankly, I don't subscribe to a lot of magazines. But I do love to browse through a good bookshop/magazine store to find some new material. I also don't read a whole lot of magazine from cover to cover, but there is always a stack of mags sitting on my desk at home and it takes me weeks if not months to slowly go through them, a few pages at a time in small chunks. 

The most appealing magazine are the ones that offer a very compact and consistent brand experience. Monocle, Magazine B, Underscore, Colors, Collect and The Weekender are a few to mention here.

Do you feel part of a scene or movement in independent magazines?

You know, yes and no. Coming from the web community, where naturally, people use technology to connect and work remotely across the globe to solve problems, the indie publishing scene seems a lot more disconnected. I miss the same sense of community that I get from the web industry. I had to learn a huge amount by making mistakes and contacting people one person at a time, and every other indie publisher I meet tells me the same thing. We can learn so much from other peoples success and failure, but not a lot of people are sharing it. Or maybe we haven't found a great tool/network to facilitate that sharing.

I for once have made a great effort to share every single step I take on my blog. Under the tag "Behind The Scenes" ( I've documented every mistake I made. I'm a big proponent of transparency and so I recently also published things like my annual income ( Every time I post something like that I get a ton of email telling me that we need MORE of this sort of sharing in this industry. Let's hope that happens eventually! 

What are your future plans for Offscreen?

I've just published a post ( about changing the content (and design) a little bit to address a broader audience and expand on the original idea of the magazine. The changes initially will be subtle but my intention is to go beyond the geeky image of Offscreen and reach a bigger audience by not just talking to/about web designers and developers but exploring how people use the digital tools we create in creative, unique ways. 

Offscreen is still very much a one-man project. It's very exhausting running a magazine by yourself, let's be honest. I'm currently not looking further into the future than 2 maybe 3 issues. What happens after that depends on the response I get after each issue — which to date has been overwhelmingly positive.

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