Also, being brutally honest when critiquing a design may not always the best for potential employment prospects.
Was writing a feature for my studio blog on some of the zanier events of the past 20 years (it’s our anniversary) and I kicked around adding this one over there because it involves logos so it fit, but it was before The Logo Factory, so it didn’t.
I’ll post it here where it does..
Getting the call.
Anyhoo, a long, long time ago, I was an art director for a bodybuilding magazine called MuscleMag International (no, I wasn’t then, nor am I now, a bodybuilder) and after ten or so years had become largely unhappy with the direction everything had taken when a new editor had come on board.
He was kind of a dick.
At the time, bodybuilding was run world wide by an organization called The IFBB (The International Federation of Bodybuilders) and they had pretty well a lock on the entire shooting match. Into that mix came Vince McMahon – he of WWE fame – who figured he could start his own organization that was to be similar to his WWF empire (as it was called at the time) that would feature bodybuilders competing in various over-the-top personas.
All in all, a terrifically awful idea.
This new enterprise had its own magazine, called Bodybuilding Lifestyles, in order to mirror the IFBB‘s publications – Flex and Muscle & Fitness. They were head-hunting talent, reached out to me, and asked if I wanted to come down to their HQ in Connecticut to talk about a possible tenure with the publication.
“Why not?” I thought.
Two days later was flying first class south, greeted at the airport by a limo driver with one of those “Mr. Douglas” signs, and whisked off to the sprawling campus through which the (then) WWF empire operated. I’ll always remember the two women at reception opening a seemingly endless pile of envelopes containing royalty cheques from licensed products emblazoned with the WWF brand (I laughed out loud when one of them referred to “those little finger puppets where you stick your thumb up the wrestler’s ass.”)
My day at WWF HQ.
Anyhoo, it was a full day of interviews and portfolio reviews with staffers down the food chain (I remember walking down a hallway chocker-block full of Macintosh computer and monitor boxes – apparently the Apple sales guy had convinced McMahon that this newfangled desktop publishing technology was the way of the future.) I bumped into a lot of big guys who I assumed were professional wrestlers (I didn’t follow it much to be honest) and a few bodybuilders I knew personally, who were there to talk about making the leap from the established Weider organization – the IFBB was run by a Montreal guy called Ben Weider, while his brother Joe ran the publishing arm from California. I talked to marketing guys, communication guys and the art directors for several of the WWF magazines. I thought I was doing quite well – still hadn’t thought about the logistics of moving to Stamford, green cards, visas and what not – and everyone seemed pleased with my work. After the initial vetting, it was time to meet McMahon himself and I was ushered into his office.
My interview with Vince.
Vince is actually a really nice guy, much more reserved than the oaf he sometimes plays on the telly. We talked about his empire, my history, his plan for the World Bodybuilding Federation (or WBF) as it was called, and that he was in the process of rolling out. Bodybuilding Lifestyles had a couple of issues under their belts already if I recall correctly, but the layouts were drab, the photography listless (seeing the fledgling organization on the horizon, Weider had tried – with some success – to lock down the best bodybuilding photographers to exclusive contracts.) Vince slid a copy of the magazine across his desk and asked me what I thought. I was honest, told him I thought it was boring and dull, pointed out some obvious things I’d change. Then he asked:
“What do you think of the logo?”
Magazine logos are incredibly important – two thirds of the cover is often covered by shelf (unless you pay a huge premium to get front row or in the racks beside cashiers at the supermarket) and often the only thing that’s visible. It has to be eye-catching, colourful and recognizable. The Bodybuilding Lifestyle masthead logo was awfully dull – a simple serif font treatment with some weird bevels that weren’t particularly well done. Figured I’d show Vince what a confident director of art things I was, so I cut right to the chase:
“The logo sucks.”
I sat back, waited for McMahon to realize how brilliant I was, but instead he just looked up.
“My wife designed that logo.”
His wife was Linda McMahon, a Republican Party candidate and a higher up on the WWF board of directors.
The interview didn’t go on long subsequent to that. After some more banter I was ushered out of McMahon’s office, the WWF building in total, returned to the airport by limo, flown first class back to Toronto, all the while kicking myself for being such a logo know-it-all. “Gotta learn to be more tactful” I remember thinking to myself.
Also “you are such an idiot.”
Didn’t hear anything from McMahon and company for a few weeks – figured I’d scuppered my chances with the logo quip – but eventually a call did come. They wanted another series of interviews, but by this point I had realized that the job – even though it was for a (then) sizable pay increase – was impractical for a wide range of reasons. The WBF would get me a USA visa. None for my wife so we’d lose her salary as part of our day-to-day. The move would involve upending our kids from school, moving away from family and friends. Etc.
I declined. Good job too.
The WBF folded about a year later and the Bodybuilding Lifestyles magazine ceased publication. Bodybuilders who had jumped ship (and found themselves banned for life from the IFBB for doing so) were welcomed back into the fold. I continued at MuscleMag for a short while, until I was fired and began the journey that would result in the launch of my studio, now celebrating its twentieth year of operation.
Otherwise, I might have taken that job, lost it, and still be selling pencils from a cup, at a Stamford Connecticut street corner.