Rick Poynor

Mind’s Mental Health Magazine

David King’s designs for City Limits and Crafts magazine are well known. Much less familiar, even to King’s long-standing admirers, is his work on OpenMind magazine for three years in the mid-1980s, overlapping with his time as art director of Crafts by 20 months. OpenMind’s publisher was Mind, the British mental health charity, and the publication carried the subtitle “The Mental Health Magazine” on the cover. 

Published bimonthly, OpenMind was a relatively low-budget title. The issues King worked on ran to just 20 pages, including the saddle-stitched covers. Despite its slender A4 proportions, the debut (February/March 1983) had great impact, leading with searing pictures of children trapped by bombing inside a mental hospital in Beirut, taken by Don McCullin, King’s friend and former colleague at The Sunday Times Magazine. King places McCullin’s pictures on both front and back covers, and more photographs, two of them full-bleeds, occupy the centre pages. McCullin adds a short statement about the suffering he witnessed: “I felt disgust at the rest of humanity. I want people to choke on their breakfast when they see my pictures.”

No. 1, back cover. Photograph: Don McCullin

“People were a bit startled by the first issue,” recalls OpenMind’s editor, Anny Brackx. “But as Mind’s staff and governing body got used to the punchiness of our approach and also realised how many people wanted this type of mental health magazine – especially judging by the increasing subscriptions – OpenMind started to be seen as a valuable Mind asset.”

Brackx had replied to an advertisement in the Guardian for the position. She’d worked on the feminist magazine Spare Rib and the listings magazine Time Out, as well as City Limits, so she knew how to start a magazine from scratch. A friend had severe mental health problems, requiring time in hospital, and this gave her a good understanding of the mental health system in Britain. She knew King from City Limits and approached him to do the design. “I liked David’s stylistic work and agreed with his politics and humanitarian approach.” After talking to him about Mind and its objectives, she gave him “carte blanche on the design, especially regarding the covers”.

No. 7, February/March 1984. Photograph: Ron Lacey
No. 12, Dec. 1984/Jan. 1985. Photograph: Don McCullin

OpenMind was always intended to have a broader remit than its parent charity, although Mind’s initiatives and campaigns naturally received the magazine’s support. In her first editorial, Brackx writes: “Mind is the watchdog, OpenMind its publicity agent. … But OpenMind will be more than Mind’s voice. Apart from printing background material and news stories, it will open its pages to controversial points of view and discussion.” The magazine was also a way to entice people who had a general interest in mental health to become Mind supporters. Brackx recalls that its subscription base rose over time to 4,500. 

Poster by King for the Crafts Council, early 1980s

For the OpenMind name, which locks together like a row of wooden blocks, King deployed the same handmade, sharp-angled typeface he had previously designed for a Crafts Council exhibition poster. In the absence of spacing, the letters depended on alternating colours to set them apart. Inside the magazine, on the editorial page, where “OpenMind” was printed in black, King spaced the letters slightly. From issue 12, this fractionally more legible version was also used on the cover, allowing it to be printed in a single colour, and by issue 17 in October 1985 a single colour was the norm. 

King applied the same characteristic toughness to his page design, which is similar to his style for City Limits. Black slab rules frame and divide up the pages. The headlines are in Franklin Gothic Heavy – Brackx never much liked its harshness – and the text in Times New Roman is set small on a four-column grid. “At the time I didn’t want to change the size as it meant less articles, which I now think was a mistake,” says Brackx. King was insistent that this was how the design should be. “He could be a very stubborn man, but most of the time we sparked off each other.”

No. 1. King’s style for features. Illustration by King, showing the serial killer Peter Sutcliffe’s lower face
No. 1. Style for the news pages. Illustration: Christine Roche

King designed the first issue on his own. From issues 2 to 6, he was joined by Judy Groves, his regular collaborator, as co-designer. Groves knew Brackx from Time Out and City Limits and the trio became a close team. “I loved working with Anny Brackx,” recalls Groves. “There were a lot of discussions to do with content. If I had an idea about how to illustrate the piece she was very receptive. At that time, I had a small flat which I used as a studio, so that’s where we usually worked, though sometimes we worked at David’s house. By then the three of us were great friends. It was very creative and Anny was a terrific editor.”

From issue 7, King designed only the covers and Groves handled page design. “What went on the cover was determined by the importance of the feature and the strength of the image to be used, as in the case of ‘Living with the Bomb’,” says Groves. Brackx suggested which features to highlight and “what political sensitivities to avoid”, since no matter how wide-ranging its brief, the magazine still represented the charity. “Living with the Bomb” explores the psychological mechanisms people use to deny and process the ever-present threat of nuclear annihilation. King fills the cover with an extreme crop of a troubling picture by Yamahata Yosuke of a traumatised child the day after the bombing of Nagasaki in 1945. The orange background, which might seem counterintuitively upbeat, gives the cover an air of radioactive warning and threnody, exacerbated by the discordant red of the title. 

No 18, Dec. 1985/Jan. 1986. Photograph: Yamahata Yosuke

Like the front cover, the back was usually based on a single photograph, turning the covers into a form of diptych. For issue 3, an intense close-up of the “anti-psychiatrist” David Cooper – “health and psychiatry were radically changing,” notes Groves – is paired with a picture of a loving mother and her son with a learning disability. King returns to McCullin for issue 12, “Living on the Breadline”, with indelible images of a homeless man slumped on a filthy sack (see above) and two disadvantaged girls standing in a wasteland. In his most graphically inventive cover, he juxtaposes the brain of a man eating a plum, scanned with nuclear magnetic resonance equipment, and a study by locomotion photography pioneer Eadweard Muybridge of a naked man with locomotor ataxia, often caused by syphilis, which leads to jerky movements when walking. Unexpected colour choices cement the sense of surprise. OpenMind lived up to its name. 

No. 15, June/July 1985. Image: Science Photo Library
No. 15, back cover. Photographs: Eadweard Muybridge

King created the covers until issue 20 in April 1986. His last design shows two agitated women in Newham market, London. He incorporates the cover line, “Female, Asian and Isolated”, into a title plate at the bottom, giving maximum emphasis to the women’s strained faces. A photomontage on the back titled “Will Prisons Become Profitable Business?” captures the oppressive architecture of incarceration. “Although David was very busy with other work at that time, he felt that OpenMind was something very worth doing,” remembers Groves. “It was a campaigning publication and it certainly triggered changes in the care of the mentally ill. A lot of the magazine was very affecting.” Groves took over all aspects of the design after King left and continued to work with Brackx until around 1990. 

No. 20, April/May 1986. Photograph: Michael Ann Mullen
No. 20, back cover. Photomontage: King (uncredited)