Some of Pentagram Austin’s best editorial design work has been a reaction to a problem. In this case the concept for a magazine’s unique cover direction originated from an attempt to get around a low art budget. The Pentagram design team didn’t know it at the time, but in their determination to create something from nothing they inadvertently provided the stimulus for this handsome new book. The Animal Kingdom, published by Rizzoli Books with a foreword by Dan Winters and designed by Pentagram, is a compilation of photographer Randal Ford’s expertly crafted animal portraits―ten years in the making. Here’s how he started down that road.
In 2008 Pentagram Austin redesigned Dairy Today. It was the second dairy magazine and the sixth agricultural trade publication the Austin office had designed. At the time, Dairy Today was rated last among a group of three dairy industry magazines. The publisher called the Pentagram team with a challenge. He had admired their redesign of a competing title and wondered if they could do the same with his publication. He didn’t have any money and his staff was small. The designers told him they’d give it a shot but given those hurdles, he would need to keep an open mind. Pentagram’s solution was the simple idea of featuring a portrait of a dairy cow on the cover of every issue.
Pentagram contacted Randal Ford, a relative newcomer to Austin’s photography scene, and commissioned him to shoot a series of cow portraits for Dairy Today. The photographer came to mind because of a portrait he had taken of a designer holding one of Pentagram’s office dogs (the Austin office routinely hosts a half-dozen dogs). Ford had the portrait in his portfolio, and it was a fine photograph, but the inclusion of the little dog is what made it special. Prior to the Dairy Today session, the magazine’s editor asked the Pentagram team what they hoped to get out of the shoot. The designers told him they wanted portraits that showed the personalities of the cows. That’s easier said than done.
Pentagram located a breeder who raised a variety of dairy cow types and arranged to do a one-day photo shoot at his farm near Waco, Texas. Ford brought a selection of pastel-colored backdrops and set up a makeshift studio in one of the barns. It was a cold, rainy day and during the photo session the art director jumped up and down, hooting and hollering and clanging on a feed bucket. The massive, docile beasts just stared blankly but Ford skillfully captured their quiet, quirky souls. In the end the photographer shot two years’ worth of covers for a single day’s rate, saving Dairy Today money and providing the magazine with a memorable cover identity. Those covers went viral but more significantly, that dairy cow shoot started Ford down the path to becoming one of the premier animal portraitists today.