Alternative Realities: Works That Work
What would compel a photographer to create his own magazine?
Founder of Musée, Andrea Blanch, herself a photographer felt curious to investigate the drive behind fellow like-minded photographers turned magazine publishers.
Interview by Baylee McKeel
Works That Work is a magazine, founded by photographer Peter Bilak, which focuses on all elements of design, going beyond what meets the eye. This bi-annual magazine, published both online and in print, looks at the impact, functionality, creativity, and more behind innovational ideas, testing their limits in every which way.
Can you tell us a bit about the name, Works That Work, and what drove you to begin a publication?
Peter Bilak: Works That Work is a design magazine that presents a wider understanding of what is design. In our vision, anything which is man-made includes elements of design, so we look beyond the surface and looks. The title refers to our mission: we look at the impact of design, we look at the examples of design that positively effect people’s lives.
I was frustrated with the limited presentation of the possibilities of design in specialized publication. Design is seen only as an aesthetical facade, rather than looking at the function of design. People became obsessed by appearances only, and often ignore the underlying structures. We look at the ignored examples of creativity, and report for example how innovative postage stamps in Bhutan allowed raising funds to build schools and hospitals in this Himalayan kingdom; how removing traffic signs can improve road safety, or how to design a largest city in the world in less than 8 weeks.
You offer both print and digital editions, why do you feel it is important to offer both?
PB: We let our readers choose and vote with their wallets. Our readers prefer to pay a €16 for the printed publication, because reading long articles is convenient, and the magazine is impeccably printed and produced. Our workflow is digital, so making a digital edition is easy, and very practical for issues that go out of print. At the same time, digital edition allow tagging content geographically, offering alternative ways to navigate the content.
How often do you publish and what does the process of putting together an issue look like?
PB: We come out twice a year, in April and November. It takes us more than 6 months to make an issue, so we always work on several issues at the same time. Typically, it takes 8 months to research, write, document and present a piece. We work in a small team of six people, plus dozens of contributors.
How do you decide who to publish, what are the criteria for artists to be featured in your magazine?
PB: We don’t publish artists or designer’s profiles, instead we shift our focus to users of design. We look at what ideas, or objects improve their lives, which also means that we don’t compete for recentness of news, as these new stories are often not tested, and their consequences are not fully known. For example, someone may propose a revolutionary housing for rural Africa. It may be a great idea, but until we see how is it embraced by the people on the ground, and what difference does it make, we don’t report on it. Too often, these ‘revolutionary’ ideas get the headlines, but in reality fail to be implemented.
In simplest terms, the editorial policy is to ask if a particular story is strong enough to be shared with friends over a dinner. These friends may not be designers, so the story should be centered around ideas, rather then execution.
Works That Work is a magazine of “unexpected creativity”, can you tell us a bit about this, and how it sets your magazine apart from other publications?
PB: We expect creativity to be found in museums, design shops, or anything with the 'design' label on it. We expect it to be expensive, and made by people with degrees from best schools. In Works That Work we make no distinction by whom the work is made, whether they had a design degree or not. Instead of showing latest trends and fashions, we are more interested in a Japanese construction company that exists for 1400 years and how come it does in the age when we can't plan for 2 years; about a 250mi long tunnel under Austria that Czechs wanted to dig to bring them to the sea; about some of the 700,000 Albanian bunkers being repurposed; about how direction of arrows on highway signage affects traffic flow, or an Indian man that wore sanitary napkins and improved lives of millions.
What do you want your readers to take away from your magazine?
PB: Ideally they should discover something that they never knew. Something that they never knew that they never knew.
How has the magazine, if at all, influenced your own photography or creative process?
PB: For the magazine proposed the concept of Social Distribution, and the magazine has been designed to be small, light and portable. The idea was that readers buy a bag of magazines for half price, and share it with their social network. The intention was to cut the middle men in the distribution, we received questions from places traditionally ignored by normal distributions channels (think of places like Brazil, Russia, India, etc) interested in the idea to find the most direct connection between the reader and the publisher.
This has impact on our other activities — for example I run a type foundry designing digital fonts, and we also looked for a way to find direct connection with our clients, and not to work with any resellers.
What can we expect from your upcoming issues?
PB: Our latest issue was produced in Bhutan, and is entirely about this small country. Next to the printed issue we have produced a documentary film, a 40 minute film about how Bhutan designed its national identity to protect itself in a region where countries are frequently annexed. The film is available to the magazine subscribers, but we are searching for a wider distribution, and I think we may produce more video based content in the future.