JASON TREAT, The Atlantic

  1. where are you from and how long have you been an AD?
    I’m kind of from the east coast generally. When I was a kid we moved every three or four years, so I grew up in a number of different places on the east coast: New Jersey, Atlanta, Suburban Maryland (Washington DC), Eastern Ohio (outside Youngstown), outside Hartford, CT. We kept moving back to Maryland, though, and I’ve lived in DC for 12 years and my brothers live in Baltimore and my parents in Annapolis, so I’ll say I’m from Maryland/DC. I’ve been the AD for the magazine since the fall of ‘05, and before that I was the AD for in-house creative services for Atlantic Media Company, which owns The Atlantic, National Journal, Government Executive, The Hotline, and a few other inside-the-beltway publications. I did house ads, media kits, marketing materials, that kind of stuff. I was doing that for three or four years before I got the opportunity to move over to the magazine.

how was your university experience -
did you feel ready for the real world upon graduating?

Uh, not in the slightest. When I was in high school I had this amazing experience the summer before my senior year where it was kind of like 5 weeks of art school with a bunch of super creative people with minimal parental supervision at Wesleyan University. I loved it, but I also realized that if that was what art school was like, I’d never get anything done. So I actually went to school at a small liberal arts college in Virginia, which was about as far from art school as you could imagine. I loved it, but I had no academic training to speak of in terms of design when I graduated, even though I was an art and english major. I regret that decision a little bit, because knowing what I know now I’m sure I would have been great in art school, but I was young, and I loved my college experience, and without it I wouldn’t be where I am now. Life is funny that way.
the Atlantic is such an exciting magazine,
how thrilled are you to be directing its visual identity?

I really love my job. I work with what I consider to be some of the smartest people on the planet, and they happen to also be some of the nicest people around. Each issue is really challenging, in that you have to balance the ideas expressed in the article (which are usually very, very nuanced and complicated) with the legacy of a very old magazine with which readers have a pretty intense relationship. Which is to say everything has to be very well considered. Additionally, there are so many smart people here, and so many good ideas, that you really have to be open to anything and willing to listen, which I enjoy. There’s a lot of collaboration, a lot of discussion, and the best ideas often come from unexpected places around the office. It also doesn’t hurt that I really believe in our content and find it smart and engaging. It’s a dream job, really, at least for me.

what are some of the key responsibilities in your day to day role?
It really depends on where we are in our edit cycle. Because we’re a monthly, we have a ridiculously long lead time which often makes me feel like I’m living in a time warp. For example, today is October 14, and I’m sending my first batch of files to pre-press for our December issue, which won’t hit newsstands until mid-November. So for the past few days I’ve been viewing final color, proofreading pages, kerning headlines, that kind of thing. But three weeks ago I was doing a lot of reading and research, looking at portfolios for possible illustration and photo assignments, and trying to figure out how all the stuff we wanted to get in this issue was going to fit. I guess this is another reason I love my job: every day is different.
you hire illustrators all the time, how does someone get your attention?
The simple answer is: do great work. If it’s good, we’ll see it. The more complicated answer is: it really all depends on what I’m looking for. My job is almost like being a collage artist. I need to combine a lot of different elements together to tell individual stories that make up a more-or-less cohesive whole. Doing that requires certain artists for certain types of illustrations. There are tons of illustrators that I love, and would love to include in our book, but I just haven’t had the right story for them yet. I keep an eye out for them, and I have their work bookmarked and on hand, but the fit just hasn’t been right yet. It doesn’t mean I don’t like their work, or that I won’t hire them. The right opportunity just hasn’t presented itself yet. So to get my attention, I’d say do good work and get it in front of me. I get an absurd amount of spam, and 99% of the time I delete mass mailings that aren’t personally addressed to me. If you like our book and think you fit, write me a personal e-mail. I read those, and look at the work. It might not fit, but at least you’ll know that I looked at it. I like mailers too, and we keep and file stuff that we like. If we really like it, we hang it up in our offices.
what can an illustrator do to really piss you off?
Spam really, really, really sucks. It’s a huge waste of time, and it almost always ensures that I’ll delete it. If you send out a mass mailing, make sure you use BCC, because otherwise we see who else you’ve sent it to, and how many. I know illustrators need to hustle, and I don’t mind that, but making it look like you’re NOT hustling goes a long way. Treat me like a real person, and address me like a real person. Send me a personal e-mail. Spell my name correctly. And don’t send me stuff every other day. One last thing: illustrators that send me snail mail and e-mail when they really don’t fit our magazine (or know anything about it) piss me off. If you know anything about our magazine, you probably know that we don’t do goofy animal illustrations of children’s type stuff. Illustrators that don’t take the time to think about and understand their potential clients definitely piss me off, and I say that with a lot of respect for illustrators and the work they do. It’s tough out there, and you’ve got to get your work in front of a lot of people, but there are smart ways to do it and dumb ways to do it. Don’t be dumb.

what are your thoughts on the current state of the industry?
It’s obviously tough out there, and something has fundamentally changed in the nature of the industry. No one is quite sure how it’s going to shake out, but it will never be the same. So I’d say those that are doing what they were doing 5 years ago probably aren’t going to thrive in this new environment. It’s not going away, it’s just changing, and the roles that have been established based on the old economy are changing with it. So there are a lot of lines being blurred right now, and a lot of experimentation, and no one is sure what publishing will look like quite yet. But I know that there will always be a market for great content. I can’t speak to the economics of it, but I’m fairly confident that people will still be able to make money off of it. Which means that if you make great content, there will be a market for your work. Finding the right marriage between what that content is and where that market is and how big it is, I can’t say. But it will be there somewhere.

what are you loving about design right now?
I love that there is so much out there. It’s pretty intimidating, actually. You can’t keep up with it, which is pretty cool. I try to keep up with We Love Typography, but they post like 25 things a day, and you really only have time to explore one or two of those in depth. That’s a good thing, by the way. Everybody has different stuff that they see and that turns them on, and you can share that with people and they’ll have never heard of what you’re talking about but they’ll show you something that you’ve never seen before. It’s super-democratic, and it’s awesome. It really breaks down that idea of exclusivity built around knowledge, which I think is a good thing. The curatorial powers of the collective is mind-blowing, too. As a culture and a species we have a vast archive of visual material to reference and reflect on. Felix Sockwell turned me on to Eric Baker’s “Today,” and that totally nails what I’m talking about. I find a lot of cool design stuff in places that aren’t necessarily design-tuned also. I love Strange Maps and Awful Library Books for those reasons.
what are you into music wise - what are you listening to?
I’m a musical omnivore, and I go through phases, so it’s pretty random. I also have music on constantly. I’ve been on a pretty big Iron Maiden kick for the last month or so, and I don’t see this infatuation ending anytime soon, much to the chagrin of my wife and co-workers. Stop laughing. I never thought I’d really like them because in a way they are so ridiculous, but they’re so damn sincere, and I’ve really grown to love the epic metal. A lot of it is crap, but the good stuff is oh so good. Powerslave is almost a perfect metal album. I’ve also been listening to a lot of Scratch Perry (I go to the dub reggae well a lot). I keep listening to Tears for Fears a lot, mostly Songs from the Big Chair and The Hurting. Seriously, stop laughing. I’ve only streamed it so far, but the new Flaming Lips album really intrigued me. I’m going to buy that this weekend. Plus, it’s furry. Any and all Tom Waits.what magazines catch your eye / do you just have to pick up?
Good, Wired, New York, New York Times Magazine. I actually like to read magazines as well, so I pick up some magazines that don’t necessarily catch my eye, but I know there’s good stuff in there. Those four, however, do both.
how important is down time, away from the office etc for your creativity?
It’s really important, but it’s so hard to do. I work hard, and I take it seriously, and that means that you can theoretically spend all of your time in the office. So it’s hard to get away. But I know when I’ve been working too hard, and for too long, and my brain will shut down and go on down time whether my body does or not. So it’s best to listen to yourself. When you’re bored, or when things get too rote, it’s time to go somewhere else.
favorite font and why?
I know this is lame, but I’m going to duck this question. I’m a font agnostic, I guess. There are fonts out there that are good solutions for different problems, and to fall in love with a font and to use it because you like it clouds your judgment, and might lead to a design solution that doesn’t work. That said, there are tons of fonts out there that I really love and appreciate aesthetically, but they have to be used in the right context.

any advice for new illustrators just starting out?

Don’t do it half-assed. Think a lot about what you’re good at, who you are, and how that translates visually, and think a lot about places that will value that work. Develop a style, constantly work on it, and make sure it’s yours. Make yourself unique.
any advice for those looking to get into the magazine industry
Just understand what you’re getting into. It’s pretty volatile right now, and things are changing pretty drastically. If you’re still up for it (and from where I sit, it is worth it), make sure you’re approaching it from a content perspective. Know that it’s a content business, not a magazine business, and that your content needs to be accessible a number of ways, from printed paper to the internet to technologies we don’t even know about yet. Experiment.
Thanks Jason!! Everyone go buy The Atlantic, its always a fun read and you can be sure to get inspired by the design and illos inside.


  1. Really really awesome interview. Thanks Pete & Jason!

  2. Very cool blog! Thanks for visiting my site Pete!