Plasma magazine, issue 4

Founded in 1995, Lodown magazine—the Berlin-based skateboard-culture-cum-contemporary-arts magazine—has long switched up its editorial design with each issue, bringing on guest designers and contributors like Mirko Borche, Matt Irving, Manuel Bürger, and Marc Brandenburg. Often flipping from landscape to portrait, the magazine has acted as a platform for different design styles from issue to issue, and often within the same one, with designers taking on individual articles.

Around 2012, one of those designers was David Benski, at the time a design student in Nuremberg. When he received another call, unexpectedly, a few months later, the Lodown editors were well into the 90th issue. “They were in a rush because the art director had left for maternity leave,” he says. “So I went to Berlin and I designed the magazine in about a week.”

This was both the start of a long-term client relationship with Lodown (in collaboration with Oliver Zuber, Benski has designed 13 issues) and a prescient career-starter. While Benski’s practice involves more than just magazines—his work also spans exhibition catalogs, branding, posters, motion graphics, and commercial art direction—they’ve been notable pillars of his practice. Yet despite their serial nature, magazine projects haven’t exactly given Benski the stability of a set structure. By his own account, he’s “never designed the same magazine twice.”

For Lodown, change is built into the publishing model. For Plasma, an art and science magazine that launched in 2015, the challenge was to match the success of one issue without replicating the design exactly. After meeting founder Diana Wehmeier through his work at Lodown, Benski came on as art director for Plasma’s fourth issue, together with Roger Lehner. His cover design featuring eight die-cuts of different sizes—which expose an image underneath, in three different versions—quickly became the new magazine’s most recognizable issue. A striking mix of scientific imagery, precision, and typographic cool; the cover was shortlisted for awards, made the design blog rounds, and still seems to pop up on Instagram fairly regularly, nearly a year later.

Along with Laurens Bauer, with whom he’s recently opened a studio with, Benski’s working on the fifth issue now. He says it will look different, but “have the same feeling.” After receiving so much recognition for the previous cover, the idea is to achieve the same visual impact without re-using the cut-out design (which came from a visual language loosely mimicking molecules seen throughout the equally striking interior design of the issue). With the fourth issue, he created a magazine special enough in its materiality, and stunning in its visual design and art direction, that people wanted to own it as a physical object. “Right now it’s so hard to run a magazine and [make a] profit,” he says. “You have to build up a brand based on a feeling you want it to have, and give people a reason to really want to have it, especially if you can read all of the content online.”

Poster artwork for droidcon Berlin, by Bitrise. David Benski and Laurens Bauer.

For Benski, translating a certain mood is not only essential for making a magazine that feels unique, it also gives visual consistency across issues. This is important especially for magazines that change their layout and cover design entirely from one issue to the next—in other words, the ones Benski is prone to work on. (Note: Benski is also the designer of the fourth issue of Eye on Design magazine, which also has a new designer, and design, each issue.)

“Right now it’s so hard to run a magazine and profit”

Conveying a feeling or mood that can act more or less as a magazine’s “brand” isn’t quite as straightforward as creating visual consistency with a layout and cover system that stays the same every issue. Benski’s approach is to start with set of tools that can be used consistently throughout the magazine—a grid or typography system, or guiding structure—so he can go wild with design elements and type while still having a solid underpinning.

This way of making expands beyond magazines, too—into other areas of Benski’s design work, which have recently included the branding for the Papiripar music festival in Hamburg (under Studio Laurens Bauer & David Benski), identity and logo design for eyeglasses brand Mykita, and visual direction for Nike. Together with Bauer, the two designers have set up the Studio Laurens Bauer & David Benski, where they’ll continue making the same vein of work, just jointly.

“With everything, you’re telling a story, setting a mood, and building a brand”

Across everything, the process and philosophy stays the same. “The medium really doesn’t matter to me,” Benski says. “I’ve been doing magazines a lot lately, but I don’t think it makes a difference whether you’re making a website or designing an exhibition catalog. With everything, you’re telling a story, setting a mood, and building a brand within each project.”