Designer Rob Vargas’ home is something out of a bibliophile’s dream. A large, bright window in the back of his room casts a spotlight on stacks of eclectic books, housing everything from design magazines to literary fiction. As a designer, Rob has a similarly impressive and eclectic background: he’s been the art director of Blender, a designer at New York Magazine, and most recently the Creative Director of Bloomberg Businessweek. He’s also won what Businessweek’s editor Josh Tyangiel refers to in his introductory letter of Rob as the magazine’s Creative Director in May 2014 as “lots of confusingly named awards” — SPDs, DNADs, ADCs, and more. But despite the recognition that Rob has received, this isn’t the driving force behind his work. “I don’t care about institutional merit,” he says. “I just want to have fun and be proud of what I make.”
From a young age, Rob always had an interest in art and design — a passion that pushed him to pursue it as a full-time career. After studying graphic design at the School of Visual Arts, Rob cold-called dozens of magazines to get his foot in the door, landing him as a designer at Details Magazine. It was there that he began to hone his craft. “The younger you learns the rules about right and wrong, and you try to adhere to those rules,” Rob told us when we asked him what had changed for him in design over the years. “But once you’re older, you’re able to do something ugly in a powerful way. You can really own right and wrong once you experience the difference between the two.” It was his role soon thereafter as the art director at Blender Magazine that Rob started to get attention from the design world. Motivated by the challenge of redesigning Blender’s print magazine, Rob was struck by the way he could “collaborate on a project and discover things that I didn’t know I could do — or be possible.”
After working freelance at T Magazine and New York Times Magazine, Rob was called upon to be a part of the dramatic image overhaul of Businessweek after it was bought up by Bloomberg. Now known for its quirky and eccentric covers, Bloomberg Businessweek continues to do so under Rob’s direction. “The spirit of the magazine is to keep evolving and pushing what they do. I feel a responsibility of the magazine’s integrity and philosophy, because anything less will feel like failure,” he says. The magazine has a keen ability to transform the newsworthy into the poster-worthy, from its recreation of a Marvel comic for its feature on Kevin Feige (president of Marvel Studios) to its depiction of Steve Ballmer (owner of the Clippers) in a Clippers jersey clutching a basketball, gaudily photoshopped to appear as if he were zooming forward, the apt title Basket Ballmer sprawled across the cover. Despite the diverse body of covers and features Rob has helped produce, the spirit of the magazine is always the same: take risks, never be complacent, and always be playful with content — especially when it comes to things that people wouldn’t expect.
Rob’s challenge is always to deliver something dynamic and attention-grabbing even to the most austere audiences. It’s Rob’s bright and playful designs — the Snapchat ghost licking its CEO, Evan Spiegel, or a naked old man donning Abercrombie jeans — that stop people in their tracks. Ultimately, when it comes to exercising his craft, Rob knows that it’s important not to take it too seriously: “I remind myself it’s just design,” he says, “It’s just a magazine. I should be having fun and I try to do that.”