Johanna Agerman Ross
Swedish publisher and editor Johanna Agerman Ross is the woman behind Disegno. The biannual magazine, with its mix of architecture, fashion and design printed on Fedrigoni stock, burst upon the indie magazine scene late in 2011 and quickly acquired readers, upmarket advertisers and a reputation for innovation. Agerman Ross masterminds Disegno from a cheerfully stylish ground-floor London studio that also accommodates Tack Press, the design and publishing company she runs with her husband Marcus, editor-in-chief of men’s fashion quarterly Jocks & Nerds.
Disegno’s array of design-oriented features and reviews are assembled by Agerman Ross with an idiosyncratic twist. She delights in unexpected elements, whether it’s a bunch of bananas on the cover of no. 4, or the short ‘design erotica’ stories that punctuate no. 3, and she has persuaded an impressive roster of specialists to write for her.
Indie magazines have been a significant area of creative growth in recent years, with grassroots support from small magazine shops and booksellers, blogs such as magCulture.com and international award schemes such as Magpile. Disegno is highly independent, with a leisurely, free-spirited approach to its design-led subject matter.
Agerman Ross was brought up in Småland in Sweden. Her mother trained as an architect and her father was director of the Jönköping County Museum. She was always interested in writing, and studied English literature at school in Sweden and in the UK. Her graduation project at the London College of Fashion was to make a magazine about Swedish fashion, design and architecture called Blonde. Much to her surprise, she discovered that she liked both the commissioning and the ‘wheeling and dealing’ required to create a magazine.
‘I remember that being a really exciting thing,’ she says, ‘contacting paper companies and seeing what deals you could get, calling printers.’ The process revealed a business streak that would be vital when she launched Disegno and then Tack Press.
Then, from 2003-05, came a ‘life changer’: Agerman Ross went to the Royal College of Art to study History of Design, a course located at the Victoria & Albert Museum. ‘All the teachers had a profound effect on me,’ she says. After completing her MA, she imagined working as a curator, but instead landed a job at In London, a magazine distributed through hotels, followed by a stint as deputy editor of monthly design magazine Icon.
Founding Disegno in 2011, a year after the launch of the iPad, was a giant leap of faith. How important was it to Agerman Ross, barely in her thirties, that Disegno was a physical, ink-on-paper object? Wasn’t the printed magazine supposed to be on the way out?
‘I felt that the medium of the monthly magazine was on its way out,’ she says. ‘It felt weird to be held hostage to the publication cycle. This is why I wanted to do something new.’ At Icon, where she worked for two and a half years, she had felt they were always ‘catching up’, only to see the stories they had planned appear online – often using the same photography – before the new issue was ready.
Agerman Ross decided that the pace of a biannual – Spring/Summer followed by Autumn/Winter, like the fashion cycle – would enable her to do something different, with specially commissioned photography and more time for research. ‘A travel budget was important,’ she says, determining that ‘Disegno should be dedicated to getting the writers out there.’