Q&A with Lisa Mansfield

12 August 2013 Lisa Mansfield

Q&A with Lisa Mansfield

Photograph by James Braund

Big Issue Art Director Lisa Mansfield has been in the publishing biz for 20 years. Before coming to work with us, Lisa was a designer at The Sydney Morning Herald and, after that, Art Director at Belle magazine. Since 2010, she’s been at the design helm of The Big Issue and earlier this month won the Best Cover award at the International Street Paper Awards in Germany for her Ed#401 cover, ‘Face to Face’.


Tell us about the winning cover from Ed#401 (February, 2012).

We did a feature story on The World Press Photo Competition, a prestigious international photojournalism contest. The photograph is of the Danish-Iranian actress Mellica Mehraban by photographer Laerke Posselt, and won first prize in the competition’s portrait category. It was a huge favourite in the editorial office.

What do you like about this photograph? Why do you think it’s so successful as a cover?

The way her eyes engage you instantly! Plus the crazy hair and the starkness of the image – being in black and white. For us, cover portraits work best when the subject is looking out at the viewer. It was a bit risky going with black and white as at The Big Issue we generally use a lot of colour to make us stand out on the street. 

The Big Issue is different to other magazines because it’s sold by vendors on the street rather than in newsagencies or bookshops. What kind of challenges does this present?

We need maximum impact and engagement to get people to stop and buy a copy (of course, our cheery vendors help with that too!). It’s a different scenario to selling a magazine at a newsstand or newsagency, where people have time to browse. For us, it’s important to make our new cover very different from the previous edition to help regular readers recognise there’s a new issue on sale that they may not have bought yet. The Big Issue comes out every two weeks, so that’s 26 editions for people to read, collect and remember they’ve bought. We like to help them out with that! So colours are important, as are mix of famous people and other cover subjects.

Do you get much feedback from vendors on covers and cover design?

Vendors are not shy to say what they think, which is really a great thing. They are the best people to know what sells for them and what doesn’t. Every two weeks we have a vendor breakfast to launch the new edition and you get to know pretty quickly if the vendors like the new cover or not. We hold our breath on occasions, in case a cover might get the thumbs down, but it usually ends up with smiles all round. So far so good...

The Big Issue features more illustrations than many magazines, is that a conscious thing?

There are so many great artists and illustrators (especially here in Melbourne) and it just seems kind of wrong not to include them whenever we can. By working with illustrators we can get some beautiful, poignant and funny images that are unique for our publication, at the same time as supporting the creative folk who make the world a nicer place to look at! A lot of publications are moving away from illustrators, we’re trying to do the opposite.

Which other magazines do you love design-wise? Which designers and art directors do you admire?

My favourite art directors are Australian locals: creative director Lara Burke of Frankie and Smith Journal, and artist/designer Adam Cruikshank (designer of Gazette). Both are such elegant designers. And then there are the designers who made me want to work in magazines in the first place: Neville Brody [The Face, Arena] and, later, Dave Carson [Ray Gun]. In terms of typographers, I love [American agency] Emigre, Australia’s Stephen Banham, and my absolute favourite at the moment, Estonian studio HandmadeFont.

Should illustrators and photographers pitch to you at The Big Issue?

Please do! We don’t have a lot of space in the magazine, and of course there is always a tight budget to contend with, but we’re keen to see work from new people. For photographers, we are one of the few magazines with a photo-essay section – called ‘Roving Eye’. Take a look at our past editions to get an idea of what kind of series’ we publish. We have some great ones coming up as well.

What do you like about working at The Big Issue?

Hands down, it’s the people – the vendors and other TBI folk – who make the job worthwhile and fun. One of the most important aspects of the magazine is that vendors feel proud of what they are selling. It’s a hard slog making a living this way and the least we can do is make a product that they (and we) believe in. And I’d be lying if I didn’t say it feels good to be working on a publication that’s directly improving people’s lives, rather than making more money for Mr Packer’s boat collection! Our vendors are some of the loveliest, most hard-working people you can meet and they certainly make me think about what is worth valuing in life. Kudos to them!