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.


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):


UMag inbox

Denison Magazine opens its spring issue with an eight-page art show (which I’d sample were it online yet). For the school’s annual TUTTI Original Works Festival, students of printmaking created art to accompany new music compositions. Denison reproduced some of the prints with comments from the printmaking students and the composers. All of this appears before the TOC, as has been the magazine’s custom for a while now. Nice.

Other magazines have stolen picked up on Denison‘s idea of placing the cover story in the very front of the book, starting on the inside front cover. Looking at you, Pomona College Magazine

cover   face2   face3

And while I’m amusing myself at Pomona‘s expense, look at this picture, from the same issue, of campus. Who would not want to go to school there?



If you’re looking for a way to give a VP for Communications the jitters, propose a straightforward story about the lack of progress your school has made in dealing with racism. I don’t know what sort of conversation editor Norman Boucher might have had prior to starting work on Brown Alumni Magazine‘s cover story, but he must have gotten the right people to sign off. “‘We’re Supposed to Be Better Than This,’” coauthored by Boucher and Louise Sloan, examines in detail the Brown president’s new action plan to deal with problems first brought to the fore in 1968. The piece includes a timeline, sprawled across two pages, that lists all the demonstrations and protests over the years, the statements from senior administration about how they recognize the problem and are taking action, and then more protests when too little changes. I give credit to both the magazine and the university. And I love the bold cover line: “Diversity Now: After nearly 50 years of student protests and half-met promises, will the University get it right this time?”

brewThe craze for beer stories continues unabated. Newest entry: “Brewing for Success” from Lift, the magazine of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

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…

Spring 2016 Quarterly Report

Time for another quarterly report. Here are some of my favorite things from magazines that landed in my mailbox between January 1 and April 1.

Favorite stories

lopateIn part it’s because I was drawn to a favorite subject, but I liked “Phillip Lopate Celebrates the Personal Essay” by Lorraine Glennon, in Columbia Magazine. I particularly liked the sidebars on six of Lopate’s recommended essayists and the art that went with them (illustrations by Dimitrios Psillos. Since the sidebars took up five pages and the story only three, the story/sidebar relationship was inverted.

“Clear Solution” by Chris Carroll (link is to a PDF; best I could do), in Terp from the University of Maryland. Carroll’s story is a rare sort of piece to find in a university magazine — the story of a public health invention that has demonstrated its effectiveness, yet been largely ignored by the public health community. Our magazines usually find a way to avoid writing about things that are not big successes. This piece performs a valuable service in getting word out about something that might save lives.

Favorite covers


Harvard Medicine goes pulp. I am especially enamored of the 5 cent cover price. Good job, illustrator Lou Brooks and design director Paul DiMattia. (You really need to check out Brooks’ website.) This was the magazine’s “adventure issue,” and that cartoon figure of the medical researcher racing out the door, beaker in hand, recurs throughout the magazine.


GW Magazine, pitching socks designed by an alum. It’s hard to see in the scan, but there’s a tiny arrow pointing to the feet that says “alumni feet,” and another that says “alumni socks, pg. 34. Clever. Art directors are Dominic Abbate and John McGlasson.


George R.R. Martin, photographed for the cover of Northwestern by Anoush Abrar.

Favorite photo


I love this picture of Jenny Brown, who runs the Woodstock Farm Sanctuary. Says it all. Photo uncredited, from the Fall/Winter 2015 issue of DEMO, from Columbia College Chicago.

Favorite TOC


From Harvard Business School’s HBS Alumni Bulletin. Design by EmDash.

Favorite headline and deck cliches that need to be abolished

Alumni who “seek the truth.” Popular movie titles used as headlines. Stories about astronauts headed “The Right Stuff.” Yes, the last two are redundant.

And, slightly off topic…can we please stop writing about school colors? It’s just not that interesting. Never was, never will be.

Favorite trends

Beer stories. First the beer columnist in New Trail (University of Alberta), then “The Craft” in College of Charleston Magazine, and coming soon a craft brewer profile in Johns Hopkins Magazine. Yeah, that last one’s self-aggrandizing cheating for a Spring quarterly report. Sue me.

Dog covers. Further down you’ll see I take a shot at a dog cover. That was pretty much so I could use an image of a dog cover.

Favorite campaign donation envelope


That’s the back side of the envelope bound into Cummings Veterinary Medicine from the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts. Who’s a pretty boy? You are! You are!

Favorite reason to curse Brian Doyle, again

The last two issues of Portland have included pieces by Ian Frazier and Tim Egan. Jerk.

And finally…


Cheating, Williams! Babies are cheating! I’ll let you off with a warning this time, Amy Lovett, because of this great spread on the Sol LeWitt wall drawing in the schools museum of art:



Oh, and Caroline Alumni Review? Shameless. Just shameless.