Magazin design - B2B Magazine

The challenges of co-branding design

Note: This text is about the visual and not the commercial aspect of co-branding, which is the more common use of the term.

One of the questions I encounter every day during the magazine design process is how to draft visual treaties between various design systems. For example, you can have an article about financial sector sitting beside an advertisement for a restaurant. It get’s more difficult when it’s two distinct branding systems are sitting side by side. However, no task is more challenging than successfully landing a distinct branding system with its own guidelines on typeface, white space, choice of colour and visual devices (i.e. frames, illustrations, icons or other visual concepts), on a page of a magazine that has its own branding guideline as well as content style guide.


Of course, this sort of conflict does not happen when you are working on an art, a literary or political magazine where only the magazine style guide rules, except for islands of advertisement. But for a business magazine like B2B, which is a blend of various brands, products, and services sitting side by side, you can’t simply dismiss each entity’s identity and dictate the magazine visual style. Each and every of them should have a chance to show their distinct visual identities, along with their message to readers.

Now you have not only different and sometimes contrasting visuals sitting side by side, you have to frame the content within the magazine’s own style. After all, you are not creating a product/services catalog, the magazine’s style guide should encompass and hold all the distinct visual elements like a glue, so readers experience a natural and continuous flow of various stories, advertisement, and features.

From my own experience, one of the most successful approaches in creating the harmony is thinking about how much you can bend the magazine style guides to accommodate the brand it’s hosting. however, at the same time, you should be careful not to sacrifice the host brand. Obviously, this is a one-way road. You can’t expect to bend the guest branding rules to fit the magazine style guide, except the choices of typography. If you change the typography for each brand, the result is a saddle-stitched catalog, not a magazine.

b2b120-oct-v1-1 - Magazin design - B2B Magazine


So it’s your magazine’s brand that “wears” the dress of each brand it hosts, but it’s still the magazine brand, and not beyond recognition. I think the most common example these days is how Google co-brands itself with various causes and historical events. I don’t personally like it because I think this is a posturing as a force for good, which is philosophically irrelevant at best, for a publicly-traded company with its main goal of giving more profit to its shareholders. However, at least they are successful in doing so in visual terms.

In issue #120 of B2B Magazine, it hosted RSM on for the cover story and I tried my best to maintain a balance between the branding identity of them and our magazine. Photography is done by me and the photography venue was the courtesy of QT Lounge, Canberra. I would like to thank the fantastic RSM team members for their time and patience and as always thank Tim Benson, our editor for all the support and guidance.



Magazine layout and design

Constant refinement in publication design

Usually, there’s more room for design improvement in publication design than to brand development. Brand designers deliberately avoid leaving any room for future refinements. The philosophy behind this approach is that the guideline should be infallible. It should think instead of the graphic production artist two continents away. It should leave nothing to guess (and imagination). That’s why the amount of boringness of a brand is in direct relation with the volume and variations of its presentation.


In branding, finding the best method to apply the guidelines to various situations and mediums is the designer’s target. When working on a publication, except for some broad guidelines, there’s no limit to creativity. Usually, the guidelines are not that rigid in the first place. Visual and the literary style guides are always evolving and open to interpretations based on the context. That’s why they are the source of many challenges between editors, authors, and graphic designers.

Magazine layout and design

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In the realm of print, instead of trying to apply a set of rules to various physical forms, the designer is working on a single well-defined medium. A sheet of paper has proportions that may change about every 100 years. So, focus on creativity and constant refinements is the goal.

I’m not suggesting designers can’t be creative when working on brand development. But there’s always a possibility that their efforts become dismissed by the public. All their harmonisations efforts can be seen as trying to make things uniform.

ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr's article in B2B Magazine

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The question of brand development is how you to harmonise the message across the media. This is in direct contrast to publication design, which has a well-defined medium. A medium that lets designer focus on layout and the meaning instead of odd dimensions, materials, and proportions.

In theory, there’s no limit to the refinement of every element of a printed publication. Photography, from the art to technique, post production and prepress, has a limitless capacity to improve.

Typography, both as in playing by the rules and not playing by them, has an unlimited capacity for exploration, too.

Back to the magazine, in this issue (#120) of B2B Magazine, I’ve tried to refine several technical and visual aspects of the design. Table of content generation is automatic and articles are hyperlinks in PDF form. Also, some important hyperlinks in pages are active. Typography is more uniform, stylesheets are cleaner and better defined. All the photos are converted to FOGRA 39 and not left to conversion by Raster Image Processor. Most of the pictures are 350 dpi and sharpened for print in the last step. Every editable file is kept as PSD and no lossy compression is involved. Also, nearly all the visual elements of the magazine adhere to a baseline grid to improve readability and beauty.

As I said, there’s an immense space for constant refinements and I hope I can do more in upcoming print cycles. After all, print, no matter being a dying art or not, is a very beautiful one.

Billboard design, canberra

My first billboard design in Canberra

As a kid, I was fascinated by masterpieces of classic and modern literature and ‑like many others my age- dreamed of writing a novel, or a collection of short stories and become a famous literary figure. I even had a very good name for my hypothetical novel, which is so good I won’t tell anybody, just in case I find time in this life to write the book. I was living the lives of Bulgakov, Joyce, Proust, and Kafka and spent days and nights working on my own short stories. Life, however, had a different plot for me, with different characters playing pivotal roles in my life, and to my surprise, my first work that printed maybe in millions was not a novel or a collection of short stories, actually not a bonded book at all, but a package I’ve designed for a fountain pen. It was not an excellent pen and certainly didn’t had a very good package. My “work of art” was judged and used in a very different way than what I originally had in mind, but, it touched so many people, perhaps a lot more than the number of people who might read my stories.

I think, for graphic designers, consumer product package design and billboards are two empowering and critical subjects at the same time. Both of them are “out there” to be judged and experienced by almost every kind of person in society, not to mention that their impact is also measurable in various ways.

This is my first billboard in Canberra, Australia. The brand must attract attention in the shortest span of time (around 2.5 seconds, before display switches to another ad), and should be visible under the southern sun.
Because branding hadn’t defined a secondary colour, I’ve chosen the most visible and noticeable yellow the outdoor advertising industry recommends of LED displays.

The photo is taken by Canon 5D mark II and Canon EF 17 – 40mm f/4.0L USM.

Big Impact Advertising is the billboard provider.


Apollo's Echo

Meet your trendy graphic designer from, er, the Middle East

I’m old. Born in 70’s, I have difficulty understanding the later generations, and it’s not limited to understanding younger Australians (which being a foreigner and not having a shared cultural history adds to the complexity), even in Iran understanding the youth was difficult for me. Note there’s no negative undertone to my words; younger generations are way different than me and experiencing a different world from what I saw as a kid. They see and so think differently.

Now, why I’m bringing my midlife crisis into the business of design? Because I want to say it’s very challenging for an old, Middle Eastern guy to design a logo for an Australian musician perhaps a decade younger than himself. Remember, I’m coming from a country which western pop music is officially illegal.

I remember as a kid in Tehran, my older cousins used to party with the 70’s disco music, but they had to dim the lights and hang blankets behind the windows so the police and militia won’t notice there’s a party going on and arrest them. Of course, unfortunately, we were not that lucky, or careful all the time and sometimes we ended up running on rooftops and throwing drink bottles to neighbour’s yard in the middle of the night, removing “evidence”.

Apollo's Echo logo

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Apollo's Echo logo

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These ordeals are certainly not good CV bullet points for designing a logo for a Canberra based trendy musician.

Appolo’s echo is a Canberra based growing music project by drummer Mark Levers and his friends.The focus is on 70’s pop and soul classic vinyl as well as making their own original music.

It would be too easy to put some visual elements of the disco era to create the “retro look”, but I tried to re-interpret the 70’s and create a modern look for a living band in the 21st century, not a mimic of dead people of the 70’s. In addition to the challenge I’ve made for myself, I had also a real challenge: the name is too long and hence difficult to put together visually.

I’ve made various typographic manoeuvres for creating a balance of positive and negative space but none of them satisfied me. Also, I wanted the design to be risky and alternative to common conceptions of a pop music band. Australian younger generation — from my own observations — like design to be edgy.

Back to the question of negative and positive space in design, I decided to use a blocky typography so the words can fill each other’s negative spaces and interwind. Also, the Hellenic, enigmatic name evokes the feeling of deliberately being difficult to understand, like a maze or riddle.

Apollo's Echo CD design

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Interestingly, there is an ancient Persian typography technic named Bannaei script, which has the very same specifications; geometric, maze-like, enigmatic, black and white, and with a uniform line width. It used on buildings and put together by mosaics of the same size, and that’s the origin of the name “Bannaei” (Masonry).

So I’ve created this typography for the logo which I think I think is edgy enough for a Canberra based band, a logo with hidden, ancient Asian identity under its skin, and modern and minimalist like circuits of a chip at the same time.

I dislike irrelevant and out of context usage of foreign cultural elements as much as I dislike the fake “retro” design which is prevalent these days. But this design really happened organically and not because of my background. That’s why I like it. To me, it is very Australian indeed. A beautiful, organic mix of the best of the different cultures.

So here you are; your trendy designer from the dusty streets of the angry Middle East.

Drone photography

B2B Magazine August issue has landed

August issues of B2B magazine is covering the upcoming Australian computer society Canberra chapter’s 2016 Annual Conference.

This year’s conference theme of Drones, Droids and Robots, gives us the chance to get our hands on some interesting gadgets to photograph, courtesy of Drone/UAV pilot and analyst, Greg Farrugia.

Current regulations made it difficult for us to take close up shots of the flying drone, so we settled for indoor shots.

Here you can view a selection of pages that I liked designing the most, as well as some of my photography work for August and July issues of the B2B magazine.

I’m very thankful for patience and help of ACS Canberra team and Greg for providing us with this opportunity.





B2B Magazine issue 116

B2B Magazine issue June 2016 is out

Photography for this issue’s cover story is done by fantastic Canberra photographer Andrew Sikorski (AIPP). Visit his website Life in Canberra and you will see there’s not a photo in it which one can’t learn some compositional lesson from it.

Also, we have two aerial shots from Canberra by Tim our editor which are fantastic and show how our aging Canon 5D Mark II and it’s wide angle L lens are capable of producing sharp and detailed landscapes. Some de-hazing is done using lightroom which saturated colours a bit, albeit in a good way. I think shooting a landscape of Canberra is open to all sort of beautiful post processing interpretations and we just had to choose one of those that fit’s the context and looked best in print:

Canberra aerial shot by Tim Benson

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Photo by Tim Benson — Canon 5D Mark II, 40mm, 𝑓/8.0, 1/125sec — Canon EF 17 – 40mm 𝑓/4 L USM

Here are some pages that I like their design more:

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Here’s the complete magazine to read: