Interactive Magazine Class Immerses Students in the World of Digital Pubs


Traditional magazines continue to fold as more people rely on their electronic devices for the stories and images they could once find only in the pages of print publications. To help Academy of Art University students—particularly those pursuing a career in illustration—gain hands-on experience in the growing digital publishing market, instructors David Ball and Haydn Adams merged their separate editorial illustration and interactive magazine classes a couple years ago. Today, with additional support from the School of Advertising’s copywriters, the collaborative class (WNM 498.01/ILL 455) produces Peephole, a biannual digital magazine, each spring and fall.

“The course is primarily illustration focused,” said Ball, who serves as Art Director for Peephole and is the main instructor. “Most of the students are already well versed in Adobe Suite by the time they get here. Combining the two classes provides them with a more realistic training experience they can apply to their careers.”

Adams, an instructor for the School of Web Design & New Media, acts as editor-in-chief for Peephole. In this role, he helps students understand the technical framework required to create the magazine, provides HTML training and gives Adobe Animate tutorials.

“I make sure everything runs, help put out fires, and deal with student and technical issues,” said Adams. “Through the power of collaboration, Peephole has become a really strong digital magazine. The class shows students what it’s like to be involved in the production of a publication.”

At the beginning of each semester’s new session of the interactive magazine class, students work together to decide on a theme for the issue they’ll produce. Next, they write articles related to the theme and develop ideas for ways to visually interpret their stories. Although copywriters do much of the writing, illustration students also have the chance to write stories while honing their skills in a variety of illustration styles.

“Students can create one static image, but they must also design an animated GIF and an interactive illustration,” explained Ball. “The end result is a professional product that not only shows off their artistic talent, but also highlights their intellect and opinions.”

Peephole targets young readers who are progressive thinkers. The latest issue of the magazine focuses on change and how it manifests in our daily lives. It includes stories on fear about the possibility of Donald Trump becoming president, the Syrian refugee crisis, redefining the modern family, the death of print and many others. Each article features compelling illustrations that pull readers in and help bring the story to life.

“The types of projects we did for Peephole not only required me to become proficient in multiple programs such as Adobe Creative Cloud, they also inspired me to create meaningful work that was aesthetically pleasing and had real depth,” said student David Lantz. “The creative requirements of the class were as near to real-world illustration work as any student could hope for, and [Ball’s] expectations as an art director were on par with industry standards.”

Illustration major Mirta Rotondo also found the class fun and educational. Already a professional website and graphic designer, she signed up for the course to improve her illustration skills.

“In addition to drawing images for articles, I got to provide coding and art direction assistance,” said Rotondo. “David Ball created an environment where I felt engaged with every decision we made for the success of the magazine. As an international student, I enjoyed working with a mix of people from different countries. The class also helped me develop better presentation skills.”

Originally designed for the iPad, the latest version of Peephole (2.0) runs on all Apple devices and is available on iTunes. According to Adams, by the end of the year, the magazine app will also be available for Android phones.

“Pretty much every semester, the technology changes,” Adams remarked. “Whatever Adobe does, we teach to our students. It’s just another way to provide them with training for the work world.”

Starting this fall, Peephole students will also benefit from the knowledge of a third teacher, Nancy Juliber. The advertising instructor, who worked with the Peephole team in the past, is now Content Director for the publication. She will guide students during the theme selection and editing phases as they work on the next issue of the magazine. 

Peephole Magazine 2.0 is available now on the App Store.