Scott Dadich tops our list of most influential magazine makers

First published in GYM CLASS 12, March 2015

Illustration by: Margherita Urbani

The GC20 is a celebration of the top 20 magazine makers — the new stars, mainstays and disruptors — who we believe will define our industry in 2015. These are the most influential editors, designers and commentators in modern magazine publishing. WIRED Editor in Chief Scott Dadich topped our inaugural list. Steven Gregor spoke with Scott for GYM CLASS 12.

Is the Editor in Chief role at WIRED a dream gig for you? Did the thought ever cross your mind while you were the magazine’s Creative Director?

Boy, is it ever. I never thought I’d end up in this position, but every single morning when I head into the office I am thankful for the opportunity to lead WIRED. In my job I get to learn from some of the brightest minds on the planet, both colleagues and the people we cover. It’s often a very difficult job, but it’s always a thrill to think about the impact we can have on the world.

In your Editor’s letter for the design-themed October 2014 issue, you wrote about being pushed by the former Editor in Chief to incorporate more colour into a cover. You went on to highlight the benefit of collaboration and describe how good things can come from compromise. What type of Editor in Chief are you? And how do you think/hope the WIRED team views you?

I hope that I am viewed as someone open to collaboration and different points of view, because I really like the process of teaming up to solve problems. I’ve gained a lot of perspective in my two years in this role, and I’ve come to understand where I add value to WIRED’s creative process. I enjoy having structure applied to our process, because constraint so often leads to better product outcomes. So that’s a bit of what my role looks like: I offer a point of view and establish constraint and then encourage my colleagues to take liberties inside of that established framework. It’s how my favourite bosses treated me, and I try to remember that when working through the decisions we face on a daily basis.

I’d like to talk a little about your early iPad work with Apple and Adobe. It was revolutionary. Looking back, what have you learned about magazine digital editions (tablet and smartphone)… and what advice would you give your 2010 self?

My first meeting with Apple was in August 2009, Adobe just after that. I could write a book about what I’ve learned since then, so it’s tough to distill down to a pat answer. So let me say this: I am proud of what we did, and I am really gratified to see certain creative decisions we made become contemporary UX standards (dual-axis navigation, for one). I love that we created a whole new kind of content engagement platform for readers and that that framework ended up leading to both a new line of business for my company and entirely new creative outlets for journalists and designers. We made plenty of assumptions that proved not to be correct, but in all, I think we charted some important progress for WIRED, and that work injected a lot of money and life into an industry that was facing profound disruption.

You’ve run some world-class, proper grown-up journalism this year. Does WIRED have any competitors on the newsstand? And what are your thoughts on the international editions of WIRED? How do they compare/contrast to the US edition?

I’ll tell you, I don’t really think about newsstand competition, I just don’t. I think about the texture of our covers, our homepage, the movement from topic to topic, the tone and attitudinal shifts, the novelty and surprise that are expected from WIRED. But the newsstand is almost extinct. I was just boarding a flight at JFK and both of the Hudson News outlets I usually stop by have all but stopped carrying magazines. It’s sort of crazy. I focus my time on helping my team make really compelling stories and strive to protect the resources necessary for that storytelling. Then I think about the containers we put those stories into. Sometimes that container happens to be a bunch of pages that we glue together; sometimes that container is a web page served to your phone. My job is to think about the unique position WIRED holds in the world, about realizing the future. Are we peering around the right corners? Are we explaining and giving the right context to technology-enabled progress? I’m competing for our readers’ attention, and my competitors are Facebook, Netflix, Instagram, and messaging — anything that can be done, consumed, played, or created on a device.

Your design style has greatly influenced modern American editorial design. Do you regularly pick up magazines, admire the design, and think, “I’ve seen that before” or “I know where they got that idea?”

All creative people borrow from and are influenced by other creative output. I’ve been influenced by music, art, architecture, apps, and definitely other editorial design, both in print and digital. I wouldn’t be in my current role if I hadn’t taught myself by observing such masters as Fred Woodward, Gael Towey, John Korpics, Janet Froelich, Rem Duplessis, Wyatt Mitchell, Kathy Ryan, DJ Stout, Rocky Harwood, Florian Bachleda, Luke Hayman, Robert Priest, Deb Bishop, and many, many more. Coming up in magazines, I tried to act like a sponge, I just soaked up everything these people did and put my favourite pieces back onto the page in a customised remix. There are no real original moves, and I think if you asked each of the folks I just named, they’d tell you the same thing. Hopefully my work falls into the list of up-and-coming designers today, and I’ll be flattered and happy if that ends up being the case.

Where did you work prior to WIRED? What’s the Scott Dadich backstory?

I started my design career accidentally — by working at a bagel shop in Lubbock, Texas. I redid the menu chalkboards for the owners of our shop one night, and the next morning one of our regular customers — an art director at the city’s best ad agency — came in and asked about who had lettered the new menus. The owners pointed at me baking bagels in the back, and next thing I knew I had an unpaid internship in the design department of the agency. I kept my bagel job, working 3:30 am to noon (six days a week!) and interned until I got a paying job at the agency. I used that gig to pay my way through college and changed my major from mechanical engineering to design communications, then got a job working in the chancellor’s office at Texas Tech. I designed the university’s annual reports and research magazine, VISTAS, which got me noticed by TEXAS MONTHLY a couple of years later. I was hired as Associate Art Director and a year later, at 23, was promoted to lead the art department. I spent six years at TEXAS MONTLY and learned a tonne under then editor Evan Smith, sort of like magazine-making grad school. In January of 2006, I got recruited to join WIRED as Creative Director, and that April I moved out to San Francisco to take the job. I spent five years in that job and moved to New York in the fall of 2010 to lead Condé Nast’s digital innovation efforts in the Editorial Development Group. I was hired as WIRED’s Editor in Chief in November 2012.