New magazine spotlights Chicago design from the other side of the world

“There are endless blogs and magazines documenting the work everyone is doing, but we want to lift the lid on the space they’re doing it in. We’re nosy; we want to know how other people curate and run their studios.”

So begins a conversation with Zoe Ikin, a designer at Alt Group in Auckland, New Zealand, in explaining the publication she founded with fellow designers Clem Devine and Sam Trustrum, Studio Magazine. The magazine made its name by featuring an international spread of studios—a logical extension of their location at the other side of the world—and winning design awards in their country. But for its fourth issue, on sale starting February 28, inspiration came from a very focused location.

Ikin spent the summer of 2013 as a visiting design researcher at VSA Partners’ Chicago office, soaking in as much of the local design industry as she could. “Studio Magazine is like a creative passport for us; spending three months in this awesome city was the perfect excuse to dedicate an issue to it,” she said. Her impression of the industry as a whole was one that was very tightly knit. “The first studios I talked to made suggestions for others that would also be interesting, and in turn mentioned each other when we asked them who they admired. This was probably the easiest issue to collate content for.”

Issue #4 looks at several creative firms, including IDEO’s Chicago office, Plural and Thirst, but also broadens that definition by peeking into offices like Pitchfork, Legacy Frameworks and Sonnenzimmer, asking each to describe their work, show a photo of their entrance, and imagine what they would do to their space if money were no object. Ikin dismissed the idea that there was a “Chicago style” in these offices. “We realize more with each issue that creative people are more of an international breed,” she said. “There seems to be a common appreciation for nice objects, quality tools and often modest spaces.”

An interview with Associate Partner and Design Discipline Lead Dave Ritter appears in the issue—Ritter discusses how the Chicago office culture comes from both its physical space and its location at the crossroads of the country. Regarding the floorplan of the current office and past locations, Ritter said, “We gravitate towards these blank shells, rather than giving someone the job of ‘defining our new space for us.’ We lower the physical barriers, maximize the sight lines and encourage people to work together. The whole place is an invitation to interrupt.”

After her time at VSA ended and Ikin had collected all her interviews, she and co-editor (and fiancée) Trustrum explored much of the United States, traveling to Milwaukee to improve her appreciation for Harley-Davidson motorcycles, stopping in San Francisco and driving down the Pacific Coast Highway. Back in New Zealand, she took inspiration from some of her favorite Chicago experiences—Big Star tacos, the Farnsworth House, the Pitchfork Festival and, of course, the clearly defined Chicago hot dog—in creating the issue’s delicious cover.*

This Thursday sees a unique worldwide launch party for the new issue, featuring events held in Auckland and Chicago—the latter will be held at the offices of the newly-renamed Basecamp. VSA Senior Designer Katherine Walker—also Ikin’s host during her stay in Chicago—is co-hosting the event, which sold out in less than two hours. A limited number of copies will be available for attendees to purchase on site at Basecamp.

If you can’t make the international launches this week, issue #4 is now on sale through the Studio Magazine site for $20 (US dollars). At the time of this writing, copies of issue #3 are also available for purchase. Follow them on Twitter and Facebook for updates on future issues. And for more background and inspiration from Devine, Ikin and Trustrum, watch their September 2011 presentation at the first-ever CreativeMornings Auckland.

*WARNING: Do not eat magazine.