Classic Art Departments: Men’s Journal, October 1996

For the latest in our series of great art department mastheads, we’re highlighting the genius cluster of people who worked at Men’s Journal during the time of their October 1996 issue. Men’s Journal was still published in its oversize format, a lively, elegant, great-looking magazine, filled with visual pleasures. Under the direction of art director David Armario, the magazine seamlessly fused refined typography, beautiful, bold photography, and a highly sophisticated approach to page design. Thanks to everyone from Men’s Journal who so kindly contributed their remembrances of the magazine and their co-workers.

Magazine: Men’s Journal, October 1996.
David Armario: Art director
Denise Sfraga: Photo editor
Tom Brown: Deputy art director
Kim Gougenheim: Associate photo editor
Dirk Barnett: Designer
Eva Spring: Art assistant

David Armario: It takes a great group, who are dedicated and passionate, to create such a well-produced magazine. I was lucky to work with such an ace team! It took us six months to redesign Men’s Journal, while producing regular issues. Dirk and Tom were the music DJs, always designing to many grooves. Thanks for introducing me to Bjork, Dirk! I miss them all dearly.

(David Armario went on to redesign and art direct Los Angeles, was creative director at Pottery Barn in San Francisco, and continues to work with David Armario Design, working on magazines, redesigns, and annual reports.)

Denise Sfraga: I started at Men’s Journal in 1996 after a long stint at Rolling Stone, which was my first job out of graduate school. I never thought I’d be able to part with that innovative group of talented people, but after nine years I moved to Men’s Journal. David Armario arranged for my job interview at a local Chinese restaurant. What I didn’t expect was to be interviewed by the whole art department, which made it a bit unnerving, but I made it through unscathed and started working shortly afterwords. Kim Gougenheim, the associate photo editor, had been a photo intern at Rolling Stone. We made a spirited and determined duo, with the help of David’s endless energy and enthusiasm. What I remember most was how well the art and photo departments worked together collaboratively. There was a lot of respect and passion for the magazine we were creating. We worked with the best photographers and illlustrators in the country, lots of BIG pictures, majestic spreads, feature stories filled with innovative, clever design and bold typography. It was creative bliss.

(After Men’s Journal Denise Sfraga worked at People, Civilization, Entertainment Weekly, and Health. She is currently the director of photography at This Old House magazine, and teaches photography at Parsons The New School for Design.)

Tom Brown: I had just been relocated to New York from Vancourver by the folks at Wenner, so I was still pretty wide-eyed when we dove into the redesign of Men’s Journal. Our art deaprtment was pretty great, but only great because of David. He was our “dad,” and the art department functioned like family…a collection of siblings. Personally, I don’t think I ever learned more than I did that couple of years at Men’s Journal working under David. Having him guide this ship through a very turbulent time at Wenner was key. He deflected all the craziness and encouraged the department to explore possibilities, gave us all freedom to collaborate and develop in areas we normally wouldn’t get a chance to. We also had some pretty good interns come through the department as well: the talented Todd Albertson (now art director at AARP) and a squeaky clean Matthew Bates (design director of Backpacker and now Creative Director for Active Interest Media’s Outdoor Group).

(Tom Brown left Men’s Journal to become founding art director of Travel + Leisure Golf and to run his own studio, Tom Brown Art + Design (TBA+D), redesigning titles like Field & Stream, Ski, Golf, Adbusters, Bon Appetit, Outside’s Go, and Garden & Gun. He continues as the creative director of DestinAsian magazine.)

Kim Gougenheim: I fell into magazines through a photo internship at Rolling Stone. Fred Woodward told me about the associate photo editor position at Men’s Journal. I had interned with Denise Sfraga at Rolling Stone; she was a dream to work with, and so passionate about photography. Men’s Journal was my first fulltime magazine job. It was fun and exciting! It was such a talented group of people who I really enjoyed working with. I learned a lot from David about the marriage between photography and design, the world of magazines, and how to navigate through office politics. We worked hard, but David also believed in having fun. He would often gather the art and photo departments for field trips out of the office. We even went camping and canoeing along the Delaware River Gap one weekend. It was a very different time in the magazine world.

(Kim Gougenheim went on to work at Food + Wine, Family Life, and O. She’s currently the photo director at Every Day with Rachael Ray magazine.)

Dirk Barnett: I was at Men’s Journal (Straight Arrow publications, anyone?) from 1994-97, first as the art department intern, calling in portfolios, then the art assistant, still calling in portfolios, then junior designer, calling in less portfolios and actually doing a TOC now and again. It was an amazing place for a young designer to be starting out. Fred Woodward was down the hall doing some of the best work he did at Rolling Stone, not to mention the Cobain and Garcia books (still amazing!). At the other end of the hallway was Richard Baker, doing his incredible work at Us. The friends I made became friends for life; one of the editors was later the best man in my wedding. As a young kid straight out of school from the University of Oregon, there was definitely the added bonus of Sting, JFK Jr., and Mel Gibson walking the hallways. As the Men’s Journal intern, they had me stuffed into this little cubicle corner in the Rolling Stone photo room, and I would listen to RS photo editor Jody Peckman and Mark Seliger talk ideas and go over edits with Fred. But more than anything, it’s where I met and worked with the genius brains of David Armario and Tom Brown, the AD/Deputy AD team that transformed the design and art direction of Men’s Journal, and set the direction for my design aesthetic and my career. Working with those two maestros taught me that typography can be both a design tool and a poetic authoritative editorial voice. At one point I was offered a designer position at Vanity Fair, but turned it down to remain with them and soak up anything I could. Armario has a gift for leadership, and there are aspects of his style management that I carry with me today with my own team. And Tom Brown is relentless at pushing you to achieve the best design possible, doing dozens and dozens of openers for one story until it’s just the right balance of typography, text, and image. And yes, there was pot smoking and whiskey swilling back in productions, and the Xmas parties were legendary.

(After Men’s Journal, Dirk Barnett worked at Entertainment Weekly, Travel and Leisure Golf, Worth, Popular Science, Premiere, The New York Times (Play and Key), Blender, Maxim, and is currently at the Newsweek Daily Beast Company.)

Eva Spring: The sole reason I ended up at Men’s Journal was David. We first met at San Francisco Focus magazine, owned by PBS station KQED. I was the associate editor for membership publications, and he was the art director of the magazine. David moved back to New York to take the art director position at Men’s Journal, and when his art assistant left he hired me as his replacement. I learned so much from David during the year and a half I was at Men’s Journal. He was–and still is–the most genuinely gracious and edifying teacher I’ve ever had. There is something so special about him…who he is, and how he chose to lead his department. He strove for excellence on every single page and had the most incredible eye for detail. He engaged the whole team in the process of designing layouts and listened to everyone’s comments. I have the nicest memories of this time: seeing Hitchcock’s Vertigo at the Ziegfeld Theatre as a way of introducing us to Saul Bass, taking in an exhibit at the Cooper-Hewitt, watching classic holiday shows at the Museum of Television and Radio, and our biggest “field trip,” river rafting and camping with the art and photo departments of Us and Rolling Stone. When David decided it was time to leave Men’s Journal, he found me the perfect next thing. When I told him that the magazine I’d most like to work someday was Martha Stewart Living, he made a phone call and it just so happened that there was a position available.

(Since leaving Men’s Journal, Eva Spring worked at Martha Stewart Living, and was the Editorial Development Design Director at Real Simple. For the past three years she has been freelancing, working on the Real Simple redesign with Janet Froelich and with Scott Dadich’s Editorial Development Group at Conde Nast. She recently reunited with Kim Gougenheim to work on a special section for Every Day with Rachael Ray magazine.)


The Men’s Journal art and photo posse (L-R): Tom Brown, David Armario, Eva Spring, Kim Gougenheim, Denise Sfraga, Dirk Barnett