Category: Design

Editors Forum Bulletin #2

The first day of the formal conference kicked off with more Sree Sreenivasan. His emphasis was that magazines have to make use of every platform there is: Facebook, Twitter, mobile platforms, Tumblr, Weibo (that’s more or less the Chinese Facebook, or something along those lines), Pinterest, Instagram, YouTube. Take every opportunity to connect and get your content out on every available platform. Other of his more interesting points:

— The scarcest resource of the 21st century is human attention.

— Think of how many people have never heard of you, but would be glad for encountering your work if you found some way to connect them to it.

— If you want to get something done at a big, unwieldy institution, call it “a pilot program” and just do it.

— Do more with Instagram and LinkedIn, two underutilized content platforms.

— Put social media addresses everywhere. Make yourself easy to follow.

— People love a peek behind the scenes. Build anticipation for forthcoming stories by alerting audiences that they are in the works and posting tantalizing glimpses of what’s coming up.

— Create hashtags for your important stories and find a way to get those into the magazine, to kickstart online discussions.

— Your social media content needs to be helpful, useful, timely, informative, relevant, practical, actionable, generous, credible, brief, entertaining, fun, occasionally funny. Or at least several of those things.

The second session featured, from New York magazine, the design director, Thomas Alberty, and the editor, Jared Hohlt, talking about cover design. I suspect they are older than they look, because they looked like roommates from sophomore year of college. (Everyone under 30 has started looking that way to me.) They displayed a lot of provocative and well-designed covers, but convergence with what university magazine editors and designers have to do was limited. For example, New York sometimes mocks up 20 versions of a cover to select the best one. None of us has the resources to do that. The presentation was more of a slideshow than a professional discussion of how alumni magazines might produce better covers.

Now there is rumor of a cocktail party. I’m off.

Redo at NYU


NYU Alumni Magazine has had some work done. For a start, it is no longer NYU; now it’s New York University Alumni Magazine. New creative director Nathaniel Kilcer led the redesign. Editor Robin Sayers says, “Nathaniel did new cover treatments, and in some he used NYU, and others New York University. We just kept gravitating toward the longer version for eye and ear reasons: We liked the look of it and liked the sound of it. Much here, naturally, is branded as NYU, and it’s obviously easier to say three letters as opposed to three words. I think we just liked that in a sea of stuff featuring the abbreviation, that the magazine would go to the trouble of spelling it out, and that a reader would sound it out in his or her head.”

Sayers reports that Kilcer did the entire redesign himself evenings and weekends. “He’s a morning person and a night owl and in fact I don’t think he sleeps,” she says.

In the briefest of editor’s notes—five lines!—there is this: “We lengthened our name and shortened most stories.” Says Sayers, “In general we all thought that most FOB and BOB pieces would be as good, or stronger, at a shorter length. What really sealed the deal though was our desire to highlight all of the university’s schools and institutes at least once in the front and once in the back. There are, depending on how you count, about 20 schools now. So in order to showcase each at least twice in the magazine, the pieces needed to come down in word count. This approach though can only succeed if the features are allowed to go on as long as necessary.” In the first of the new issues, the story “MCMXIV” (that’s “1914” for those who do not have the Roman Numeral iPhone app) subsumes the entire XIV-page feature well.

nyumapOkay, okay, but here’s the coolest move. Near and dear to the NYU campus is Washington Square Park. In addition to bad musicians and Allen Ginsburg lookalikes, the park is populated by an array of furry and feathered creatures. Sayers commissioned from Eric Chase Anderson a hand-drawn map of the park dominated by portraits of 14 of the wild and not-so-wild animal denizens, including the Norway rat, the rock dove (that’s a pigeon to you and me), the downy woodpecker, the cedar waxwing, the domestic dog (some kind of black terrier, I think—I’m a cat guy), and Homo sapiens. The latter a female of the species in black jeans, ankle boots, and fashionable scarf, clutching a soda can and looking harried. Or repelled by the rat. (Or the terrier.) The map has been folded in fourths and glued into the magazine just inside the cover, where it can be folded out or detached. (Click on the image to have a good look.)

Explains Sayers, “I’m a huge fan of Eric’s work, and for years I’ve been wanting to do a truly special project with him. The redesign seemed like the ideal opportunity, and because of his passion for mapmaking (he wrote and illustrated a book called Chuck Dugan Is AWOL: A Novel — with Maps and he created a map of the Rushmore Academy when Criterion released their special edition of the film Rushmore), that seemed like a good fit. A happy coincidence was that Nathaniel is friends with Eric. The three of us brainstormed our way to the final map, and thanks to Jason [Hollander, the magazine’s previous editor, now editorial director at NYU] we were able to pull the trigger money-wise. The entire endeavor started in April and didn’t end until early December.

“Next time, it’ll be much, much easier, but none of us had ever done something quite like that. Every time we’d figure one part out, another detail would come along to try to thwart our efforts. Every spec seemed to affect every other spec: paper quality, postal charges, glue weight. Our printer doesn’t do this sort of thing, so they had to work with an outside vendor, which added another wrinkle. So yes, it was a pain in the ass, but only because it was—as the Russians like to say—a ‘first pancake.’ If we did it again, it’d be a relative cakewalk. I only had one day where I said, “Screw it, we’re not doing it.” But Nathaniel convinced me that the idea needed more than a mere spread and that we’d figure everything out, and I’m glad he did because I’m very happy with the way it turned out. In a perfect world, the paper would be thicker and glossier, and the placement would have been opposite the feature-well opener. But the compromises we needed to make were insignificant in the end when compared to what I hope others find a fun, but truly beautiful and informative, keepsake.”

rubinThere’s one last great bit in the magazine. NYU alum Rick Rubin, the record producer, figures in the editorial content. Rubin has a distinctive visage, mostly due to grey hair and a beard that make him look like an aging veteran of Antietam. The inside back cover is given over to a hand-drawn portrait of Rubin by Elizabeth Carpenter—to see it bigger click Rick—and in the portrait Rubin’s hair and beard form a maze. Also embedded there is a hidden message (hint: it refers to Rubin’s class and graduation year). And…and…the musical notation that forms the portrait’s border is from the Rubin-produced Aerosmith-Run DMC version of “Walk This Way.”

Now, try to get that song out of your ear.

Big change. No, really big.

I could probably devote UMagazinology to documenting design changes and have enough material for a couple of posts a week. I could turn the blog into a journal of alumni magazine plastic surgery. University magazines sometimes appear in my office mailbox 10 at a time, and when that sort of bulk-mail event occurs, chances are good at least one of those publications will have at least tweaked its look, if not gone through a complete tear-down and rebuild.

Sometimes the changes are big. In the last few weeks, I’ve received magazines in which the change is really big. As in moving from a doublewide in one of those tornado-bait trailer parks to a 4,000-square-foot manse on five acres.

First, I have to concede something unflattering. Last year . . . I think it was last year, or the year before . . . Johns Hopkins Magazine entered its redesign in the CASE medal judging for most improved. We were thrilled with our new look, courtesy of Abbott Miller and Kim Walker at Pentagram, and thought we had a real shot at a medal. When I learned that the gold medal had gone to Pegasus, the magazine at the University of Central Florida, I was, discretely within the confines of my own mind, less than gracious, shall we say?  You could say snarky, along the lines of well, yeah, if you start from a low enough base, you can show big improvement all right.

That was adolescent of me. Downright pissy, in fact. But in my defense, my only contact with Pegasus before that had been an issue or two in 2010. I wrote about the magazine here—more on that in a moment—but did not say then what I feel I can say now, which is that I thought the magazine was dreadful. Poorly designed and shallow in content, with some of that content suggested and paid for by advertisers, a practice touted by the then-editor as “a better way to blend revenue generation with good content.” At UMagazinology, we try not to ruin editors’ days by holding them up for criticism or ridicule, so when I wrote about these “partnerships” I held back from saying what I thought, which was jeesh, how could that be more wrong as an editorial practice?

pegasuscoverOK, let’s move ahead to late December 2013, when a seriously fat envelope lands on my desk. Inside are five issues of the new, CASE medal–winning Pegasus, and after paging through a few issues, I concede that the Circle of Excellence judges had  reason to confer a medal on UCF’s magazine. Pegasus is now a much smarter and graphically striking periodical with trim size of 10 x 13 that feels even bigger in your hands.

The masthead lists Terry Helms as editor in chief. Helms is associate vice president for marketing at the university, so as you might expect he sees Pegasus less like Harper’s and more of a marketing tool. Helms told UMagazinology, “I have an unabashed marketing bias and believe that everything UCF says and does and how UCF says and does it is a marketing opportunity. There is no more powerful marketing tool than a happy customer (alumni, faculty, staff, student). Pegasus helps.”

The magazine’s first incarnation began 19 years ago as venture by a pair of UCF alumni who had founded Knight Images to produce the magazine under contract with the school. A few years ago, the university decided it need something more. “UCF President John Hitt tasked UCF Marketing with the responsibility to design, develop, and deliver a restyled Pegasus,” Helms said. “With his support the alumni magazine became a university magazine. The publication was entering its 19th year but we started from scratch. We simplified the magazine mission to remind readers what they love about UCF. We established an editorial and design process, corrected tens of thousands of mailing addresses, changed magazine size, updated the paper, and developed a website, iPad app, social media plan etc. UCF opened its doors 45 years ago and must reach out to accelerate connections. We don’t have the luxury of 100-plus years. Recognizing this, the university made a financial investment in Pegasus to connect with 200,000 readers. The colleges and other departments contribute story ideas, and UCF Marketing devotes about 1,000 hours per issue.”

As a devotee of long, meaty journalism in alumni magazines, I’d like to see more emphasis on story and less on images and infographics, but it’s not my magazine. And there’s no question that it’s a vast improvement for UCF. Pegasus strikes me as designed for the internet age, with lots of graphic content, text boxes, quick-hit stories, and factoids. I asked Helms what he thinks works in the new magazine and what could be better. “We made it through our first year but we also know that everything must improve, from design to writing and from the quality of story suggestions to the helpfulness of feedback,” he replied. “Our photography is OK and we can write a pretty good caption. We’re getting better at aligning the right illustrator with the right story. But readers read what interests them. We have to do a better job finding story ideas that are interesting for the reader. Pursue story ideas that reflect mutual aspirations versus writing one that simply confirms reality—a shared vision versus an informed reflection.”

Bulletin-cover-thumb-nov13-254x300While we’re on big-ass redesigns—sorry, I should have resisted but just couldn’t—Colorado College Bulletin has been supersized, from 8 ½ x 11 to its new 10 ¼ x 12 ¼. Once a quarterly, it now appears three times a year.

OK, the challenge is out there—who’s going to go even bigger?

I’m in deadline hell, so enjoy this post of mostly pictures

Weinberg, the magazine of Northwestern University’s college of arts and sciences, just completed a long-overdue redesign. The magazine formerly known as Crosscurrents had not revamped in 14 years, according to editor Rebecca Lindell. Out with the old:

Crosscurrents-2012-2013  Crosscurrents-2012

In with the new:

weinbergcovernew copy


I am a type nerd, so I’m particularly taken with some of what Landesberg Design (which has worked on DickinsonPittLaw, and Oberlin, as well)  is doing with typography:



I particularly like this spread, with the type sinking below the watery horizon:



sttcoverThe eponymous St. Thomas (Brian C. Brown, editor) stole a bit from Denison by starting the cover story on the first inside spread. That story pertains to the odd fact—maybe it’s not statistically odd, but still…—that St. Thomas currently has 32 sets of twins enrolled as undergraduates.


Art director Sara Klomp cleverly carried the pairing theme throughout the magazine’s photography. (I apologize for the crooked scan below. I told you I was in deadline hell.):




Finally , just when I thought I might have seen my last word cloud:


I detest word clouds. But the more I studied Georgetown Law‘s cover, the more clever it became. Take a minute and look at how the type elements are paired. The basic device is a cliche, but I still like this as a cover. Anne Cassidy edits, Brent Futrell directs the design.

UMag inbox: Lots of pictures

swatcoverA couple of terrific covers in my inbox. The first is from Swarthmore, a photo of Jackie Morgen, founder of the Swat Circus at the college, by Laurence Kesterson. The “cover story” is about seven inches in the front of the book, which strikes me as odd. I’m still not quite on board with the thinking that the cover story need not be a feature. But the counter-argument is that your cover works if it gets people to pick up and open the magazine, and this one works in that regard. (Sherri Kimmel edits the magazine.)

tuftscoverThe second cover, which I really love, comes courtesy of Tufts. For those of you who can’t place the school, Tufts is in Boston. In the wake of the bombing of this year’s Boston Marathon, editor David Brittan ran a tribute to Tufts marathoners, including former student Bobbi Gibb, who in 1966 defied a ban on female runners in the marathon, snuck into the field disguised as a man, and as far as anyone knows became the first woman to complete the race, running the 26.2 miles in 3:21. Photographer Kathleen Dooher was assigned the job of creating a striking cover image of a Gibb, and man oh man did she succeed.

Dartmouth Medicine has updated its design package. Editor is Amos Esty; design by Bates Creative. Below are covers from before and after. (Click on all of these if you want to see them honkin’ big.)

dmcover1   dmcover2


ricecoverWhile we’re asking various magazines “have you done something different with your hair?” I have to note a redesign I love, at Rice. It was executed by the magazine’s newish (as of November 2012) art director Erick Delgado. I’d point you to an electronic version or PDF edition so you could admire more of it, but the magazine does not seem to be online. Lynn Gosnell edits.

vettatsFinally, LMU out of Loyola Marymount has a great six-page spread on memorial tattoos. Written by editor Joseph Wakelee-Lynch, “Ink Tank” describes and samples the Memorial Ink project by Andrew Ranson. Ranson finds veterans who bear tattoos that memorialize comrades who were killed in action, then interviews them and photographs their memorials. The magazine’s website has created a gallery of the Jon Rou photos that accompanied the story.