On the cover: 4,565 days by Christian Tate
Christian Tate has been the art director of Delayed Gratification since the very first issue and creator of the magazine’s award-winning infographics. He studied graphic design at Manchester Metropolitan University and also has a degree in architecture. He lives and works in Margate with Arthur the dog, easily the most popular member of the Delayed Gratification team.
Marcus Webb: You’ve designed pretty much every page of all 50 issues of Delayed Gratification to date, but this is the first time you’ve taken on the cover. What took you so long?
Christian Tate: Well, we’ve always featured the work of a different artist on the cover and we’ve had some really big names over the years. But when we started talking about who we should approach for the 50th issue I got excited about the prospect of doing it ourselves, using a specially made infographic.
MW: What’s the concept behind the cover art?
CT: We wanted to do something really colourful and we wanted the cover to reflect the passage of time and the period that all 50 issues have covered so far. So we looked at all the stories that have been in the magazine and classified them into different categories – crime and terrorism, popular culture, environment and energy and so on. We then illustrated those on a circular timeline, showing the number of pages they took up in each issue. It’s really interesting to see how stories come in and out. You can see where the war in Ukraine starts, you can see where the American presidential elections fall, where Brexit comes in, the pandemic… It doesn’t cover every single story that we’ve done, but it gives a broad overview of what the world has been like since late 2010. I called it 4,565 days as that’s how long the magazine’s been going so far.
MW: What’s your favourite of the 50 Delayed Gratification covers to date?
CT: The one that comes to mind straight away is by Michael Craig Martin [‘Piano and Metronome’, DG#16]. I think of it as the epitome of a DG cover – bright colours that stand out, quite simple, very beautiful and with a straightforward message. It’s not necessarily my favourite, but it’s definitely the point where I realised that there was such a thing as a ‘DG cover’.
MW: Do you have a favourite article that we’ve run so far in the magazine?
CT: One of them is the piece that we did when Russia annexed Crimea [‘Three months in Ukraine’, DG#14]. It was the first time we’ve done what we call an ‘explainer’, where we mix infographics, photography and text to tell a complicated and deep-rooted story in an accessible way. It was the moment that we realised that we could do something that ambitious and I think since then we’ve really developed them.
MW: You must have illustrated hundreds of people for Delayed Gratification – what’s the key to capturing someone’s likeness?
CT: I don’t think there’s a trick, I wish there was. Sometimes you are just moving the mouth around until suddenly it works. Quite often it’s about capturing their haircut, or their eyebrows or a funny facial expression. The first one that I was happy with was of Maggie Smith for our Downton Abbey infographic [‘Downton Crabby’ in DG#8]. That was a simple caricature and I’ve done much more complicated ones of people like Donald Trump and Boris Johnson, but sometimes the simplest ones are the best ones.
MW: You do an enormous amount of research for the illustrations, such as the time you found out that the first person to build and fly an aluminium plane was accompanied by a cat called Mademoiselle Fifi. You included Fifi in the illustration – but most people won’t get the reference…
CT: I think there’s always someone who might love it, even if it’s just you or [DG co-editor] Rob [Orchard]. It is also fun to make it more intricate or more complicated than it needs to be. I like to give things a lot of meaning, like the Butterfly Effect pieces we create – the illustrations in those are often intricately accurate, but you’d only know that if you looked up what we’re talking about. It makes life less boring, it’s nice to have a bit of a challenge and do something new. There can also be a pay off if we ever want to reuse any illustrations in a different context on a grander scale like we did in our infographics book An Answer For Everything.
MW: What do you remember about issue one of Delayed Gratification?
CT: I was freelancing at Time Out, working on lots of different projects including the student guide with you. We worked quite well together, I think, and you said you and Rob had had an idea for a magazine for a very long time, and you were finally putting it into practice. You explained the magazine to me. I thought, that’s a great idea – but a really awful name! But then I thought it doesn’t really matter what the name is, if you make a go of it. I had no idea how many issues we would last for and how long I’d be doing it for. It’s now the longest job I’ve ever had.
MW: The magazine has always been designed to be a bit different – we didn’t even start including page numbers until issue 30. Do you think that’s wise?
CT: I think it’s always good to try and break the rules. Even if in the end you realise that you do need those rules after all. It’s good to do something different or try and do something different. Even if you fail, there are always lessons to be learned and progress to be made from those mistakes.
Slow Journalism in your inbox, plus infographics, offers and more: sign up for the free DG newsletter. Sign me up
Thanks for signing up.