Category: Design


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.

Today’s university magazine nerdistry

Don’t ask me to explain why I did it, but I recently surveyed my alumni magazine library and called the roll for perfect-bound magazines that appear to employ school colors on their spines. No need to thank me.

  • Dartmouth Alumni Magazine
  • Fordham (maybe…Fordham’s colors are maroon and white, and this spine is awfully red, but the back cover is more maroonish…so maybe the printer was off on the color)
  • Georgia Tech Alumni Magazine
  • Iowa Alumni Magazine
  • Johns Hopkins Magazine (actually a compromise with the powers-that-be, who, for a time, were pushing for the university logo to appear on either the front or back cover; we counter-offered to make the spine blue)
  • The Michigan Engineer
  • Mountains & Minds (Montana State University)
  • New York University Alumni Magazine
  • NC State
  • Occidental
  • State (Oklahoma State University, school colors orange and black, and man, you’ve never seen as much orange in a magazine until you page through an issue of this one)
  • Purdue Alumnus
  • Stanford
  • Swarthmore College Bulletin

Just when you thought the emerging discipline of umagazinology could not get any nerdier.

While on the subject of perfect binding and magazine spines, the magazine of the Rhode Island School of Design does the coolest thing. The magazine’s name is RISD xyz, and look what they do with that (click the image):


Great minds think alike, damn it

coverimageThere I am at my office mailbox, innocently sorting the new issues of university magazines that have just come in, when Notre Dame Magazine catches my eye with a black-and-white, pen-and-ink cover of some sort. Closer inspection reveals that it’s a special, peel-away cover that’s meant to be colored. (Underneath is the same cover art on the magazine’s standard glossy cover stock.) What could be the occasion, I asked myself. Why, Notre Dame has devoted its spring issue to fun. It’s a theme issue, The Fun Issue!

jhmAt which point I began cursing because the forthcoming issue of Johns Hopkins Magazine, which goes to press in 15 working days, will be a theme issue. Uh-huh. The Fun Issue. And the cover concept that the art director favors? Yep. That’s a concept composite on the right.

Damn you, Kerry Temple.

bisonAnd that’s not all. I peruse the spring edition of Bucknell Magazine, and there, between pages 32 and 33, is a perfed, tear-ou,t color-it-yourself drawing of a bison (Bucknell sports teams are the bison, don’t you know), for the magazine’s coloring contest. Entries due May 11.

What is it with you people? Now my art director needs a new cover concept, and I have to prove that Johns Hopkins is more fun than Notre Dame. Jeesh. Making my life more difficult for no damn reason…

A Guy Can Dream

Issue_6_Cover_wideThis may be odd for an avid photographer, but I am far more interested in magazine illustration than magazine photography. Probably because of the sameness of so much editorial photography, especially in university magazines that can’t afford the more creative shooters out there. For years I have harbored a dream of an all-illustration magazine — no photographs. It won’t happen at Johns Hopkins Magazine, where the art director would probably walk off the job, and if she didn’t shoot me, any one of a dozen Baltimore photographers would. Even the ones I consider friends.

But thanks to that smart bunch at Dog Ear Consultants, also known as Mo Harmon, Dan Morell, and Patrick Kirchner, I can indulge my illophilic fantasies on the website of Herself, a fashion magazine with no photography. Nada, zilch, bupkus. No pics, only illustrations. I think what they’re doing is fabulous.

I’m not sure which of the dogeared is responsible for the post on Dog Ear’s Dogblog, but the author points toward Herself to make a point:

The magazine as a form has existed for hundreds of years and has been wildly successful. And some magazines have kept that same form for hundreds of years and been wildly successful. Why do we need to reinvent the wheel?

Because there’s value in creating unique products. And not only because, as creative professionals, we’re all special little snowflakes and we need to be seen as such, but because being unique has value to our readership. Your schools have a distinct ethos to them. Your alumni are makers, problem-solvers, healers, or aesthetes. You need to make a magazine with content and structure that speak to those things that make your institution what it is.

But, again, that’s the hardest part. The big ideas aren’t easy. But if you are sitting there thinking, “Great, but there are no new ideas left in magazine publishing—we’re all simply refining the past,” then we’d say, “You can’t smoke those clove cigarettes indoors, bub,” and then we’d have you take a look at this.

And then they link to the fashion mag.

Product_View_1__72456.1405373880.1280.1280Stanford Medicine used to do this thing I always wanted to imitate. They’d dedicate much of their feature well to a theme, with two or three linked stories, and turn the whole package over to a single illustrator to do the art for all the stories. I loved it. The science quarterly Nautilus comes close to my dream, with minimal use of photography.

Someday. When I have my own magazine, maybe.

Clever images, good words

Clever work by the designers at Research, an annual published by Michigan Technological University. The opening spread for “The Healing Stent,” a story about using zinc in coronary artery stents, superbly conveys the size of the technology by setting an example of the life-saving arterial technology next to some red Life Savers. Too good. (Click on image to appreciate it.)

Screenshot 2015-04-20 10.31.28

The University of Texas has a clever and talented physics doctoral student named Frank Lee who likes to leave sketches on chalkboards in the physics grad student lounge. Alcalde, the UT mag, devoted a spread to some examples. My favorite is this one, derived from The Big Lebowski. The Dale abides.


Alcalde also has a worthy profile of Jake Silverstein, former editor of Texas Monthly and current editor of that hallowed scribsheet The New York Times Magazine. Writer Chris O’Connell starts out with a nifty bit of indirection:

Barbecue?” Jake Silverstein asks playfully, as he leans back in his chair inside his glass-walled office.

The 14th or so word out of his mouth, after pleasantries and a welcoming, familiar smile, is oddly pertinent. In the northeast, where we are presently, barbecue used to mean frozen hamburgers on a cheap charcoal grill. Not anymore, and partial credit goes to Silverstein. Barbecue is now familiar. It is wholly American. It’s fad-proof cuisine, the opposite of fondue or cronuts.

Do I want to ask him, a newly minted captain of New York’s media elite, from his perch on the sixth floor of the most famous newspaper and magazine building in the world, about barbecue? It hadn’t occurred to me, but yes. Yes I do.

Silverstein, MFA ’06, took over as the editor-in-chief of The New York Times Magazine in May 2014 after nearly six years at the helm of Texas Monthly, and his legacy at that hallowed institution is already defined—beyond a profound emphasis on longform journalism—by a predilection for the ever-growing culture of slow-cooked meats.

One part of the story gave me chills. O’Connell spoke to Texas Monthly executive editor Pamela Colloff about working with Silverstein on her piece “The Innocent Man,” which won a National Magazine Award.

Executive editor Pamela Colloff had the same nurturing experience while writing “The Innocent Man,” the epic story of Michael Morton, who spent nearly 25 years in prison after being falsely accused of murdering his wife. As her story ballooned to almost 16,000 words—vying for serious print real estate at that point—she panicked.

“He said, ‘Just keep going, just keep writing,'” Colloff remembers. “That’s not what you typically hear from an editor after the 16,000-word mark. He was not hemming me in, or urging, ‘You’ve got to finish this story.'”

Silverstein also made the unorthodox decision to split the story into two parts over consecutive issues, as it landed at a novella-esque 27,000 words when the dust settled.

An editor encouraging a writer to produce a 27,000-word piece? Oh, be still my fluttering heart.

As you’ll see if you follow the link, Alcalde did their usual exemplary job of applying HTML-5 to their online treatment of the story. Damn them.