So long for now

I need to take a few moments to make formal what should already have been apparent—UMagazinology has been put on hiatus. Actually, I’m moving it from simple neglect to hiatus status. Two reasons. One, it has become increasingly hard for me to find the time to devote to doing the job properly. Second, I think I’ve said just about everything I have to say. If you’ve been a reader here, and read my posts on CUE over the years, and heard me speak at conferences like the Editors Forum…well, you’ve heard it. Heard it multiple times, I fear. I’m keen on not boring you and I’ve started to bore myself.

So I’m going to mothball this project for a bit while I ponder a way forward that does justice to all of your magazines and your work and is also feasible for me. If I find a method for continuing, I’ll resume the blog; nothing here will disappear, we’re not shuttering the place, but we are spreading sheets on the furniture and turning off the water so the pipes don’t corrode. Thank you for reading all these years, thank you for your contributions, and thank you for the good work you do. Bye for now.

Best letter ever

We at Johns Hopkins Magazine have begun to receive reader responses to our theme issue. To refresh your memory, that would be The Fun Issue. Best letter so far, and I can’t imagine receiving a better one in the days ahead:

To the editor,

I would like to say that the Johns Hopkins Magazine “The Fun Issue” was very funny. I have said that because usually I do not pick up or read any magazine even the monthly “Highlights.” I liked the uncertified gender snowman, the 21 banjo players, and the men in the pool suspected to be running away from the banjo club. There are a few more things that are a tiny bit funny, but those are the main ones.


Eric _______, age 8

We’re going to send that kid a T shirt, and an application for early admission.

Great minds think alike, Pt. 2

If you recall, a few weeks ago I lamented Notre Dame Magazine arriving in my mailbox with this coloring book cover:


The basis of my lament was that Johns Hopkins Magazine, which I edit, was in the midst of a theme issue on fun—stop that chortling right now—and our art director, Pam Li, had been mocking up a similar concept:


Okay. Now you’re brought up to date. Which brings me to this, new in my mailbox from Denison:


Open this one up and you find six more pages of Denison scenes for your coloring pleasure. Who’s next?

Oh, just so you know, after she abandoned the coloring book idea, Pam Li cooked up something way different for the Johns Hopkins Magazine summer issue. A click on the image will make the cover lines legible.




zagGonzaga, from the Spokane school with the excellent basketball program and the funny name—what, you think Johns Hopkins is a funny name? well, do you? hey, I’m looking at you—did a couple of things out of the ordinary with its newest issue. For one, it published an essay by another umag editor. Brian Doyle, editor to the southwest of Spokane at Portland, writes frequently on matters of faith. He does that sort of thing rather well. Gonzaga, in its spring issue, published his “Weapons Against the Dark” on its back page and inside back cover. It begins with a Doylesque 186-word sentence:

I did not attend the Catholic university where I write these words, but I have worked here for 25 years, and there are days when I think I see something of the place and its people and poetry and possibilities maybe even more than students do; students are so thoroughly involved with growing up (or not), and thrashing after love and careers, and tiptoeing out from behind their masks and disguises, and cautiously (or not) trying to discover who they are, beyond where and who they are from, that I am not sure they have the time to see the college as an idea, a verb, a time machine, an imagination factory, a very profitable corporation, a cultural phenomenon, an evangelizing energy, a major employer, a farm for harvesting innovation, a vast verdant park, a tourist destination, an entertainment venue, and an extraordinary example of a company that sells something no one can see, smell, touch, or properly account for in other than generally ephemeral ways, if you steer away from such hard outcome data as jobs attained, marriages transacted, or acceptance rates to graduate schools.

The magazine also did a split run on the press, producing four different covers (below is the card editor Kate Vanskike sent along with my copy).


The cheeky Vanskike offered a multiple-choice explanation:

  1. We kept arguing about the best color.
  2. Our president told us to.
  3. We’re just indecisive, okay?!
  4. We thought it would be fun.

Turns out the answer is #4, says Vanskike): “Initially when we planned a coffee cover, I hoped to do a scratch-n-sniff paper that smelled like coffee; that was nixed when the sample we received had a hideous chemical odor. No one likes crappy-smelling coffee OR paper, but people do love color, and we thought having four bright color options would be a conversation piece if nothing else, for those times and places where piles of the magazine are on display.”

While I’l lauding Gonzaga, I think “To be continued” is a great name for a final-page essay. I like the sense of it—this individual issue may be over, but the story continues on and on and we’ll bring you more of it next time.

Eight questions for Margot Grisar

Margot Grisar is design director for a half-dozen magazines at Tufts University. Which does not explain how she had time to respond to the UMagazinology designer questionnaire. Just one more person more productive than me.

tuftspigHow long have you been in your present job?

I’ve been at Tufts for almost 16 years, and have worked exclusively on the university’s six alumni magazines for almost 10.

What has proven to be the most significant thing you had to learn to do that job?

Being the lead designer was new to me when I came to Tufts. I had to create the vision for the magazines as well as guide other designers in the expression of that vision. I had wise design mentors and studied other magazines. For me it became about telling Tufts’ story. Creating a visual experience that gets across the tone and mood of each article, as well as creating an overall connection to the university are my principal goals.

What has proven to be your biggest frustration?

It’s been challenging working with minimal budgets, a lean staff and shifting timelines.

Is there a cover or story spread that you are particularly proud of?

beeI’m the most proud of the recent redesign of our family of magazines. (I collaborated with Kelly McMurray and her team at 2communiqué). A few examples are: The pig plate cover about sustainable cuisine is still my favorite cover of Tufts Magazine. This was the inaugural cover (Fall 1014), created by 2communiqué. This cover started a trend of creating stand-alone iconic, quirky, bright, and compelling images on Tufts Magazine covers. Another standout is the bee cover for the urban bee-keeping story. spreadThe concept came from Laura McFadden, illustration by Neil Webb. We also teased an animated version of the cover on social media. I’d also include the Tufts Magazine feature opener for a stunning profile about poet Patrick Mahoney coming back from a near fatal bicycle accident. Bay area photographer Timothy Archibald captured Patrick’s personality beautifully. The soda grenade cover on the latest issue of Tufts Nutrition magazine was a true collaboration among design, editorial and photography. The cover story, about the dangers of sugary beverages, generated many ideas.grenade Designer Betsy Hayes’ concept—a grenade made of sugar cubes—is the one we landed on. Editor-in-chief John Wolfson suggested changing it to a soda can grenade to emphasize consuming sugar in a drink. I worked closely with photographer Christopher Harting to bring our vision to life.

As a designer, what part of your magazine are you never quite satisfied with?

The back of the book gets filled with institutional news. Sometimes the section can get text heavy, interrupted only occasionally with rather staid images. It’s hard to keep it visually dynamic. I encourage the addition of lively short pieces and introduce white space and graphic elements when possible.

What other magazine, alumni or otherwise, do you admire for its design?

Nautilus is my new favorite science magazine. I am a longtime admirer of The New York Times Magazine, Texas Monthly, Uppercase, Vanity Fair, More . . . I could go on and on!

If you could hire for a story any illustrator in the world, who would it be? And photographer?

I am continually thrilled that I get to work with such bright, creative illustrators and photographers. A couple of illustrators I haven’t had the chance to work with yet are Eric Drooker and photo-illustrator Dan Saelinger.

If you were not a magazine art director, what would be your dream job?

As a lifelong book devourer, I find designing and art directing well-crafted prose to be a pretty sweet gig. But I’d love to be an illustrator, painter, or fabric designer. I studied printmaking and painting in art school and fell into design as a way to make a living.