Forth + Back detail the process and production behind their two genre-bending print publications
Forth + Back is a Los Angeles-based multidisciplinary design studio based in Los Angeles, California. Usually regarded for their visual identity projects, they’ve also ventured into the world of editorial design; being involved in the conception, design and production of two genre-bending publications – SPIRAL and Dreams of New York. The former is a magazine that bridges the gap between American football and culture, while the latter is a dream-like documentation of the streets of New York, via Google Earth. As huge fans, and with both publications making an appearance in our store, we caught up with Forth + Back’s Nikolos Killian and Tanner Woodbury to find out more.
EM Hey Nikolos and Tanner, how are you doing?
F+B Hey Elliott, always great to chat! Well, despite the world being a bit out of sorts at the moment, we are thankful to be doing well.
EM How did you get involved with SPIRAL, and what has your involvement been in the process of creating it?
F+B The idea for this magazine came from our close friend and collaborator, Shawn Ghassemitari. As a studio, and friends of Shawn, we got in at the ground floor as co-founders, collaborating with him on both the creative direction and general ideation for what Spiral is today.
Our main goal is really to make more creatives into fans of sport.
EM What did you set out to achieve with your design approach?
F+B As creatives who are also sports fans, we wanted to bring a level of visual contemplation and conception that we were craving from the world of sports-related media (with American football specifically). We knew these stories and aesthetic nuances existed, and we just got super energised with the idea of bringing more of these ideas to light. Our main goal is really to make more creatives into fans of sport, and conversely, tune the aesthetic sensibilities of existing sports fans.
EM How much were you thinking about a system that would work for future issues when you made the first one?
F+B Very much so. But we also wanted to straddle the line of rigidity and experimentation and play. With issue two, it has been really exciting to see what systems remained, what systems evolved, and what systems completely changed.
EM The ‘spiral’ binding is obviously the perfect fit for the name! At what point did it come into your design process, and did it have an effect on how you designed the spreads?
F+B The name Spiral and the idea for a spiral-bound magazine happened simultaneously and really very early in our process. Once that was sort of decided upon, it completely influenced the design of the spreads and the entire magazine. Side note, not only did we of course love the reference to football and the direct relation to how the magazine would be bound, we also really liked that a coach's playbook was early on often a handheld spiral-bound notebook. So there was this really intimate and integral idea about coaches, teams, plays, and the overall influence of the page to the game. Additionally, we had never designed for a spiral-bound layout before and the limitations turned out to be really funky and fun to embrace. An example being that the colour you choose for your binding ends up as a part of every layout you design.
EM In terms of the process, at what stage of the editorial creation do you start designing – and making key decisions like the running order and what’s on the cover?
F+B In all honesty, we’re still sort of working this process out as we go. The order of things varied from issue one to issue two of SPIRAL. Generally speaking, we have initial discussions about theme and editorial direction at the beginning stages, as those greatly influence design and art direction. With issue one, the design and editorial process happened simultaneously, as we were still heavily exploring how the issue would initially look and flow. With issue two and going forward, since we already had the framework of the design in place from issue one, the remaining design (things that would be bespoke for issue two) were definitely saved for the home stretch. With issue two, we really wanted to dedicate a lot of time to finding the right creatives and collaborators to contribute to the mag. A huge thing for us is also considering who will be featured in each issue. Sometimes an athlete, musician etc will confirm in the last mile of the mag, and then we may have to reconfigure the hierarchy and reconsider the cover. It’s kind of like a fun/mind-numbing puzzle that is always changing. We’ve found that cover ideas can come at any time and generally start with an idea from the beginning that can and usually does change as the stories evolve. Section themes and running order are seemingly always in flux and can change up until we go to print.
We were on Google Earth looking at a street view somewhere in New York.
EM Can you recall when you first had the idea to make Dreams of New York?
F+B For some reason, we were on Google Earth looking at a street view somewhere in New York and we came across an image of a group of skater kids. They were all in a row facing the camera and doing exactly what kids would do – throwing hand gestures up, raising their arms, lifting their shirts and generally just acting real wild. We loved this image and sat with it for some time until we started wondering how many more of these strange random occurrences existed out there – leading to countless hours ‘walking’ the streets of New York. We now have this original image printed large in our studio.
EM Have you thought about continuing the projects into other cities?
F+B Yes we have, with Los Angeles being an obvious follow-up. However, the timely process of wandering, excavating and ultimately producing these images has somewhat deterred us, which possibly makes the initial project more special. Ultimately, Dreams of New York may end up being a one-off project… but you never know. Dreams of Los Angeles does have a nice ring to it…
EM You must’ve had a tonne of images to choose from – how did that process unfold? The book is categorised by borough right?
F+B Yes! Dreams is categorised by borough, as this is originally how we started to organise and archive the images we were finding (in addition to particular towns and neighbourhoods in each of those boroughs). As we continued collecting, we really loved and embraced how drastically the characters would change with their environments. And as a result, as you make your way through the book, you really do encounter a feeling for each borough. And yes, there was a huge amount of image content – this book comprises maybe 20% of what we’d found. The first iteration of this project was a website and Instagram page, where we’d post images we were discovering. Because we had so much imagery, we ended up thinking that a curated selection would be great content for a dreamy coffee table book. The selection process was a tricky one! As it was very hard to say goodbye to so many memorable characters that we had become quite attached to. But ultimately it came down to preference and creating a flow from page to page that best captured the idea of a dream. There could have easily been a volume two and three with all of the additional NY images we’d accumulated.
EM In designing these publications, what’ve you found to be the most consistent challenges?
F+B Time has to be the most consistent challenge. As the studio continues to grow and take on more work, we find that our time for self-initiated projects becomes less and less. Recently we’ve made a calculated effort to be even more selective about what assignments we take on as a studio, and make sure that time for self-initiated projects is a priority. This can be extremely difficult, however, we always find the result to be extremely rewarding.
Additionally, the reason we do these projects is because we truly love it. We love getting to see an idea come to life and be distributed across the globe for individuals to interact with. On that, it is always tricky to find the right distributors and stockists, which is why we thank folks like yourself for stocking and supporting us to help keep the dream alive.
EM Looking ahead, what’s going down in Forth + Back’s world over the coming months?
F+B Speaking of time, we’re trying to find enough of it to both work on new commissions, as well as fully produce and release a handful of completed projects that we haven’t shown to the world just yet. Of course, as Spiral Journal is an annual publication, issue three is already in the works. Stay tuned…