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Q&A with Designer Nicole Von Ruden

By Michael Lotti

Do trade pubs and good design go together? Absolutely. Our latest Q&A features Nicole Von Ruden, designer of Specialty Fabrics Review for the past three years and occasional web designer for Industrial Fabrics Association International (IFAI), the Review’s parent company. She’s also known for her extensive collection of garden gnomes.

Q: What’s the best part about working as a designer for a trade magazine?

A:  It’s made me much more resourceful and creative as a designer. Trade publications can have a bad reputation in the design world because the specific nature of the content sets limitations on what a designer can do. I’ve enjoyed the challenge of sometimes taking literally nothing and creating a six-page feature story that I can be proud of as a designer. I refuse to sacrifice good design just because I don’t work on some glamorous consumer pub that has access to wonderful photography and a big budget. I hope designers in the trade-pub industry see they have a design opportunity to make their magazine look great, despite the challenges associated with it being a trade pub.

I’ve also gained a treasure trove of random fabric knowledge.

Q: What’s the worst part?

A: Getting good images is a constant problem. With the exception of the magazine cover/interview, all pictures are submitted by sources or are stock, so photo quality is pretty dicey and never consistent. It is always a challenge to take lower-quality images and render them usable. Too many people think you can copy and paste an image from their website to run in the magazine.

 Q: What challenges do you and the other designers at IFAI currently face?

A:  It seems that with the downturn in the economy, the trend is doing more with less. Juggling additional projects while trying to maintain printer deadlines always proves to be a challenge. Like any other magazine designers, we’re trying to help keep advertising up while making designs look fresh and innovative.

Q: What do you do to keep your work “fresh and innovative”?

A: I cover my workspace with things that inspire me. You can’t see much of the walls in my cube! Keeping my workspace fun and creative really helps.
I also try to keep my work fresh by seeing what other publication designers are up to. I subscribe to a ton of magazines so I can stay up on what the publishing industry is doing. Through IFAI, I have a membership to AIGA, a national professional organization for graphic designers that has a very strong MN chapter. I get to one or two of their events each month.

Q: Any recommendations for sources of good design news?

I like Design*Sponge, Communication Arts, the New York Times Thursday style section, and the public portfolios of local design and ad agencies. 

Q: Any gizmos you can’t live without?

My MacBook Pro, complete with leopard-print case. I’d be totally lost without it.

Q: What about those garden gnomes?

I really do love garden gnomes. They are hidden all over my cube. There is no reason, in particular. I like woodland creatures in general (owls, deer, bunnies), and I’ve been known to incorporate a gnome into the design of a feature story—if appropriate to the subject, of course. There are at least a couple articles throughout the year that deal with sustainability and I feel a gnome gives a little zest to the design…perhaps it’s a geeky designer thing.