Get to know Deem: Our team on why we’re making a magazine and what design means to us
A conversation with Deem
Hello imaginary panel. My name is Nu Goteh. I am Deem’s Creative Director. I have a background in many things. These include strategy, marketing, research, and design in a couple of different forms. Currently, I am excited to be working on Deem and bringing this baby to life. I also help run a research, strategy, and design studio called Room for Magic with my friend Alice, as well as a vintage home décor business, Mandana Blvd, with my fiancé.
My name is Alice Grandoit. I am the Editorial Director for Deem Journal. I also co-lead a design studio, Room for Magic, with my good friend Nu, where a lot of our work focuses on cultural research and strategy. In addition, I work in hospitality and food design with my long-time collaborator Cybille, via Earthseed Provisions. During my “free time,” which I actively create, I am a student of the Sogetsu School of Ikebana.
I'm Isabel Flower. I am the Editor for Deem. I am also a writer. Most of my work is about art, fashion, mass culture, and the murky distinctions (or lack thereof) between those things. I also write copy for brands and businesses. I co-host the Top Rank podcast (with Marcel Rosa-Salas) which was founded by Alice in 2015. Marcel & I are also working on an open-call book project about nameplate jewelry.
Hola, I’m Jorge Vallecillos. I am Super Producer for Deem as well as for Room for Magic. I make a living by producing and programing content and experiences that revolve around art, music, and technology. My background is in fine art and graphic design and I am currently working on a new series of illustrations for a solo show later this year.
Hi, my name is Justin Gorman. I'm an independent art director working with Deem. I live in Los Angeles and I make things for the internet, most often content and brand experiences.
I'm Cody Cano. I'm a designer for Deem. Right now, I'm wrapping up my degree and prepping for my grad show.
My name is Larenz Brown. I'm originally from Evanston, Illinois, and I'm currently living in New York City and finishing up school at NYU. I love writing and learning about culture. I'm an intern at Openbox Design Studio and my goal is to one day develop educational technology initiatives.
“When most people consider design, they're really thinking about the output of design—this could be graphic design, industrial design, architecture, etc. But all those things are unified under one umbrella, which is the process of design.”
— Nu Goteh
Cool. We're all here for the mutual purpose of working on this magazine, Deem. Some of us have worked in magazine journalism before, some haven't, but clearly this is a format that we all care about experimenting with and believe will produce something fruitful. To start, let’s talk about the role of magazines in our lives. What’s the first magazine you remember really liking?
When I was a kid, my dad would give me an allowance. I used to get five dollars a week, I think. I would go to the convenience store and I would buy The Source, Vibe, Slam, and Kicks. I would buy these magazines every single week. A lot of them are still in my best friend East’s mom's basement and when we get together we go through these old magazines and enjoy ourselves. Also, my dad and I would go to record shops similar to Tower Records. There was one in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He would go look at records and I would go look at German or Japanese hip hop magazines and see people dressed in all these crazy clothes. I saw a Shepard Fairey DC Shoe collaboration and I was like, "What the fuck is that? Who is Shepard Fairey? What's DC?" Magazines helped me see the world and all the crazy things happening out there that weren’t happening in my backyard.
The Source, June 1994
My background is primarily in arts and culture. I read a lot of music magazines when I was younger. Anything from Word Up to Vibe. But I think when I got to high school I was actually really blown away by The Fader, around 2001, 2002. For one thing, I couldn't find it in just any store, so by default it was very interesting to me. My older sister was on the “seeding” list, so copies were mailed to my mother's place all the time. I would basically snatch it before she would find it. I remember taking some of my favorite publications or books with me to high school and literally putting them on top of my text book when I was supposed to be reading in class. I was out here. What I really loved was the element of discovery. I was reading so many things and new points of view; there was always a lesson and I always felt propelled into deeper thinking and research.
The Fader, Spring 2000
The Fader, Oct/Nov 2016
I love hearing about those formative memories. I never really read outside of school so magazines were more visual for me. As an art student, I loved the look of fashion editorials and architecture magazines; it was a combination of big type and photography. I don't really remember a specific magazine impacting me early in life, but I do remember seeing tabloids as a young kid, the bizarre headlines and celebrity vacations. Actually, I obsessed over the CCS Catalog. As a teenager, it was my access point to skate shoes and clothing while living in small-town America.
Definitely tabloids. I didn't have much access to niche magazines. The magazines I was aware of were mainstream and pretty well-circulated. I loved Vibe, but I think the first magazines I ever really paid attention to were People and Star. Every week in the grocery store checkout aisle I would try to look at every page before my mom was ready to leave. I wasn’t allowed to buy them. I was definitely affected by the juxtaposition of different kinds of information, for example, offensive (and bogus) sensation stories next to astrological charts and advertorial shopping guides. I think that jarring mix is what made me interested in the format to begin with.
People, May 2, 1977
Growing up, I was definitely inspired by Transworld Skateboarding and, on the opposite end of the spectrum, Nintendo Power. I liked that both were hyper-focused publications and specific about what they were covering. Skateboarding and video games were their own subcultures in the early ’90s, before they were popping in the 2000s. These magazines spoke to my soul and kept me captivated.
Nintendo Power, October 1999
Yeah, skateboarding magazines were big for me. I started skating when I was really young and my older brother had a subscription to Transworld Skateboarding and Skateboarder. As a 9-year-old who didn’t skate further than my driveway, these magazines showed me that there was a whole culture of people doing the same thing and feeling the need to document and write about it. There was something really magical about holding a skateboarding magazine. I was drawn to how sophisticated those particular magazines presented skating to be, as it was generally seen (at least at the time) as a gritty and disruptive activity. I felt like an insider and an outsider at the same time. These magazines are also what introduced me to design. It was a pretty transformative moment.
Transworld Skateboarding, October 2007
Transworld Skateboarding, December 1994
As nerdy as it is, I've always loved National Geographic. There's something about being reminded of how much there is in the world. When I was growing up I loved the stories about animals and ecological systems. Every time I opened that magazine I felt like the world got a little bigger.
National Geographic, May 1996
National Geographic from the ’70s and ’80s is pivotal. Beautiful images, saturated colors, explorations of photography and nature that influenced later TV shows like Planet Earth and Our Planet.
Hearing this makes me miss magazines. By the way, Nu, I too have my entire life’s collection. I can't bear to get rid of any even though I never look at them. So we all love magazines and we are making one. But why a magazine and why now? What kinds of media do we feel are in excess at the moment and what kinds are scarce? Or, is there any journalism you’ve seen or read lately that really moved you, like wow, why isn’t there more “content” like this?
I believe there is an excess of snackable, bite-size content pieces that don't really allow for much reflection or even knowledge exchange, independent of enticing someone to purchase something. What I think is scarce is content that feels like it's in conversation with the intimate conversations I'm looking forward to holding with the people in my life. Content that is adding texture or depth to real conversations. Recently I read an article in The LAnd Magazine, a new publication in direct response to the new, right-wing ownership of LA Weekly. The piece, “Las Mujeres de Virgil Village,” was written by Samantha Hernandez, a documentarian and writer covering gentrification and displacement in Silver Lake and along the East Hollywood border. She wrote this specifically about the women of Virgil Village (which is where I live in Los Angeles) giving, I think, visibility and personality to the existing community that was here for many years before us.
Samanta Helou Hernandez, “Las Mujeres de Virgil Village,” TheLAnd Magazine, Volume 1, Issue 1, Spring 2019
I feel like media has always been about delivering information as quickly and concisely as possible, and, to your point, we now see storytelling following that model to keep up with our social media tools. There is a lot of short form, but I’m interested in how we build new types of long form using technology. Books on tape and podcasts are the most obvious examples of this. At the same time, this pattern of bite-sized storytelling is exactly why magazines and books are more relevant than ever. When I was in the process of researching for Deem, I came across a printed journal called Kerb. In it was an essay by architect Claudia Bode called Re-territorializing Lima: The Role of the Visual Image. The essay compares the built environment and resources of Lima’s periphery to that of the colonial city center. Similar to Alice’s example about Virgil Village, Bode’s piece provides visibility into neighborhoods whose voices are not being represented.
My response is actually something that you posted Nu—Frank Ocean in Gayletter—which I thought was a very good example of finding somebody who usually isn't very vocal and working with them to make a conversation happen. It’s a very good “exclusive” because even though Frank is often reluctant to talk, in this situation everything lined up correctly regarding motives between the interviewee and the interviewer, which I thought was really special.
Frank Ocean in conversation with Tom Jackson, Gayletter, Issue 10, April 2019
I agree with Justin’s point about speed, and with Alice that snackable clickbait is noxious and deceptive. I think that a great magazine needs a point of view. A unique editorial vision. These days, it seems that many publications run the same articles and profiles as their competitors. You end up with seven versions of the same piece, all in different places, but with no significant difference in messaging. The article I wanted to mention relates to both Alice and Justin’s examples and was published by The New York Times last fall. "The Case of Jane Doe Ponytail" is a long-form investigative profile about a Chinese massage parlor worker in Flushing who dies unexpectedly in a strange and seemingly inexplicable circumstance. In a way, it’s a crime piece, but it's also much more. It weaves a complex and deeply humanistic story about everyday life for working class, recent immigrants in New York. It’s about otherness, assimilation, bureaucracy, gender, and power—all of these topics converge in the details of one woman's life and death. I found it extremely moving.
Danny Barry and Jeffrey E. Singer, “The Case of Jane Doe Ponytail,” The New York Times, October 16, 2018
I'm very worried about the excess of clickbait. We live in the time of the misleading title. It's beginning to seem more and more that people will write whatever in their titles in order to get someone to open their link and engage with their content on a surface level, but don't actually concern themselves with the quality of the rest of the piece. I think this is a slippery slope. Something great I read recently was "The Game Believes in You," a 2015 book by Greg Toppo. It’s journalistic investigation into Edtech pilot programs around the United States. Full of really cool stuff.
Greg Toppo, “The Game Believes in You: How Digital Play Can Make Our Kids Smarter” (New York: St. Martin's Press, 2015)
I totally agree with what everyone is saying. I find it very hard to parse through media, just like it's hard to parse through life in general, because we’re consuming it in real-time and it’s really easy for anyone to give a handsome face and some sense of authority to the content they produce. I do think long-form journalism is scarce and making that more available is an interesting challenge. Lately, I’ve been delving into more academic and theory-heavy textbook reading because of my classes, but I recently listened to an episode of the podcast “Everything is Alive” in which a guy interviewed a can of soda. It was completely unscripted and the conversation got surprisingly intense. I thought it was an unusual and creative idea for an interview show because it managed to tell an engaging moral story through an inanimate object. It’s also worth considering what you can get out of audio experiences, in addition to reading.
“Louis, Can of Cola,” Everything is Alive. Podcast audio, July 16, 2018
Podcasts make long-form storytelling easy to consume, meeting the listener where they are, whether in transit or in the comfort of home.
“Because the conditions of everyday life have changed so quickly in the last few generations, culture seems to have a very malleable meaning. I'm excited for Deem to explore the boundaries of its definition.”
— Isabel Flower
It’s great to hear what everyone is getting energy from. We are making a magazine that is about design, and therefore also about culture, but I think we all agree that both of these words are overused and often loosely defined. For the sake of Deem, what do these words mean to us?
When most people consider design, they're really thinking about the output of design—this could be graphic design, industrial design, architecture, etc. But all those things are unified under one umbrella, which is the process of design. I think that for Deem, the most important thing is really looking at that process in which design happens and boiling it down to the act of adding value. So, locating spaces and places and moments where someone deems an entity to be valuable and then finds the opportunity to improve upon that value. Or, sees that there's a lack of value and then adds value. And adding value is not limited to an output. As long as you have this framework in mind, you might partake in this process without even noticing. You might be like, "Oh, this chair shouldn't be here. Let me turn it this way." Or, when I go to a Chinese food buffet and I'm like, "Why is the rice at the end? I need it to build the foundation of my plate. The rice should be at the beginning." Even that is a form of design, a form of consideration. So, for Deem, design is really about stopping and taking a moment to look at something and reconsider it and find an opportunity to improve upon it for oneself or for the community or culture one wants to serve.
I think these words definitely get used and abused. But at the same time, who really owns the right to define them? I think it comes down to a shared value system: when a group shares values and makes things they care about together. It's reasonable to get kind of possessive about these things, especially when others capitalize on them.
I read something that I liked recently about culture being a medium through which communication may travel. I thought it was a really cool way to think about culture—like a wavelength that people find commonality on and use to communicate with each other.
I agree that culture is shared values, how we communicate, how we interact. One thing that’s always been ingrained in my mind is that culture is usually passed down from generation to generation. It's an oratory thing or a written thing and there's some sort of artifact that is capturing the moment, the feeling, the sense, so that it can then be communicated and preserved. It's hard when we talk about culture now because there are so many different cultures and they all happen in parallel, they all happen in perpendicular, and they're all like zooming across your head, and I think part of it relates back to our last topic about media. Media is a tool of capturing and communicating culture. But because we're so over inundated and bombarded with media and information, I feel like a lot of the time people are just having a hard time even grasping what culture is, like what is something that's worthy of passing down? I think that Deem’s point of view on culture is going to be about sensing key pillars of things that happened in the past, are still happening now, and that might inform the future or at least leave something for someone to be like, "Oh, hey, in 2018 there was a relevant topic that in 2050 is still relevant."
To your point, Nu, to me the inspirational aspect of culture is the origins—that depth. During my time working in marketing I’ve noticed a lot of conversations around enabling or creating “culture” that feel misused or fabricated.
I find that too. I've never understood what people in advertising mean when they say “culture.” But, it does seem to have a sacred status, like no one really knows what it is but they know that it’s valuable. Something I’ve written about is that the mythology of culture as possessing some innate “authenticity” is sort of a fallacy. I think that idea props up the ways in which “culture” is used (usually by people not involved in whatever it is) to make money. I think culture can be any ritual that people share and identify with. I think this applies to many participatory things that we don’t usually think of as “culture” proper, or that maybe we don’t think should be culture—like shopping. Shopping is as much a kind of ritual and identity formation for a lot of people born into global consumer capitalism as any other kind of culture would have been for people before. Kind of depressing. But, because the conditions of everyday life have changed so quickly in the last few generations, culture seems to have a very malleable meaning. I'm excited for Deem to explore the boundaries of its definition.
I do also think that people hyper-fixate on culture and now everything has a culture and everything is a culture. Like everything becomes something that people want to savor and then want to elevate. And to your point, Isabel, some things aren't that deep and not everything needs to be that deep.
“I think Deem is for people who don't always see themselves represented in media in a way that's satisfactory. It’s for people who want to reclaim their rightful place in design conversations. It’s for people who have felt excluded from things that they feel deeply about.”
— Larenz Brown
That gets back to how the mythology around “culture” can be used to exploit. I personally question any scenario in which people feel the need to “elevate” something. Elevate for who? And that comes back to design. Instead of semantically “elevating” things by changing their contexts, how can we actually add value to something? A last question for all of you. Who do we imagine that Deem is for? What are we trying to get from this magazine for ourselves?
I'm hoping that Deem will connect people through unexpected conversations—conversations people may never have thought they were a part of. I think this is largely why we're positioning ourselves as a design publication. I'm interested in people starting to identify the intuitive elements of their practice as design, or insofar as identifying themselves as designers, whether or not they are classically trained or creating traditional design work.
The way I look at Deem is expansive in terms of the people it includes. It’s taking a much more inclusive stance. It’s championing people who are doing things, people who are creating things, people are facilitating creation, and giving them an opportunity to be highlighted and to tell their story. While we can say, "Yeah, Deem’s for everyone," Deem is really for people doing things and people who appreciate other people who are doing things. And if you're doing something—whatever that thing is—then Deem is for you. We’re trying to take this lens of design and help people see, whether it's through a framework, or a terminology, or even just someone finding themselves reflected in an article. Like coming across a piece of content and saying "Oh shit, okay. Well this person in Singapore is doing something similar to this thing that I'm doing." That puts the battery in your back.
I think being conversation leaders and providing access are what I'm looking forward to. And being trusted to share information about people who are actually just doing the things they want to see happen.
I'm hoping to grow and learn from Deem. I'm very excited to work with people who share this vision for the way that things can/should be. I'm excited to use expertise I've already gathered as well as to step outside of my comfort zone and learn new things. I'm also excited to meet all the people who will join us along the journey. I think Deem is for people who don't always see themselves represented in media in a way that's satisfactory. It’s for people who want to reclaim their rightful place in design conversations. It’s for people who have felt excluded from things that they feel deeply about.
I hope to widen my perspective. I’m excited that all of this is centered around design, because design for me is truly endless. And endlessly entertaining. That's why I love it. There's always a new way to go about it and it’s always embedded in a social context.
I feel the same. I relate in particular to what you said, Nu, because having worked at magazines before, it's amazing when you can do a piece on someone where they feel accurately represented and understood. That can really mean the world to someone. “Highlighting” someone or something isn’t as easy as it sounds. It takes a lot of time and care. And, of course, great journalism benefits its audience too; it helps people better understand themselves, their lives, their world. It’s a win for everyone involved.
I think Deem will show a way to be more democratic when considering the world of design while still upholding design’s pillars. It’s not, "Hey everyone, no need to get a degree in anything, just come along" but instead really showing how these rigid subjects and professions actually translate to other industries that you may not consider, you may not even deem related. It is at that intersection where interesting things start to happen. Deem aims to uncover, create, and facilitate these intersections.