We were just the wrong people. Lads’ mags aren’t staffed by lads. They’re staffed by middle-class graduates, some from Oxbridge, struggling wildly to guess what will appeal to a 17-year-old squaddie from Solihull. And getting it wrong, again and again. It took us six months to work out that young men liked cars.
— Sex! Girls! Meltdown! Confessions of a baffled lads’ mag editor by Michael Deacon for The Telegraph (via @Suw).
What’s immediately apparent from this quote is that some editors don’t even know anybody in their target audience. Yet, it’s not the problem. The problem is “guessing”. Even when you’re part of your target audience, you should never assume all of your audience is just like you. You should want to do a minimum of research on the side and call for resources to be allocated to more thorough research.
“Offensiveness just seemed to… happen”, writes Michael Deacon about the controversies and problems the magazine has had. Again, research and a strong content strategy may help to avoid that. Erika Hall says it best when she states that “assumptions are insults” in Just Enough Research. Editors just like any type of designers can’t offer appealing solutions or entertainment to people they know only through stereotypes.
It is never easy to point out your team’s blind spots. It might feel like undermining your boss’ grand vision. The pressure is strong to do as you’re told — especially as a young graduate with no work experience. But it is important to ensure the success of your venture. In the particular case of lads’ mags, the author of the column says himself that their circulation do not show the biggest success. No amount of research can tell you what to design or what to publish, of course. Success is never guaranteed. True insights and solid plans can help you make better decisions though.