Tagged: denison

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Baylor Line, magazine of the Baylor Alumni Association (Todd Copeland, editor), takes good advantage of the wonderful photography of Baylor alumna Martha Swope. For 40 years, Swope shot dancers and actors with uncommon skill and instinct, and Baylor Line devotes its cover and eight pages to images of Leonard Bernstein, Mikhail Baryshnikov, a very young Sarah Jessica Parker in the lead role of Annie, and Betty Buckley.

A couple of issues of Bonaventure Magazine (Beth Eberth edits), from St. Bonaventure University in New York, found their way to my mailbox, and the Spring/Summer 2010 edition features on its cover rollergirl Jennifer Eskin. When I perused the Fall 2010 issue of Denison, I found an alumni note on Amy Spears (right) who, it so happens, also is a rollergirl. That’s two alumni rollergirls—one more and we officially have a trend.

While I’m on the subject of Denison, it has a tremendous cover story by Steve Nery about American combat veterans who suffer from PTSD, “Home is Where the Heartbreak Is.” On the cover and the magazine’s first eight pages are wrenching photographs by Erin Trieb of vets back from Afghanistan, the funeral of a soldier who committed suicide shortly after his return to the States, and the grieving fiancee of a soldier who, the day after his return from the Afghan war, beat her up and later died of what was first thought to be suicide, but later determined to be pneumonia. To me, this is university magazine work at its best. Editor at Denison is Maureen Harmon.

Guest blogger Claude Skelton on typography

Designer Claude Skelton has been casting his eye on type. Casting . . . type . . . typecasting . . . all right, look, it has been a tough week trying to get a winter issue out the door and on press, so cut me some slack. Better yet, let me turn this space over to Claude while I look for the martini shaker:

Thanks to all the UMag editors who have kindly included me on their mailing lists. A corner of my office is piling up with your publications—I hope they are fairly representative of what’s out there. In previous posts, I’ve talked about the quality of photography, and I can’t overstate the importance of great images on editorial impact. However, there’s another aspect of good magazine design that is just as important and too often overlooked: typography. Using type well is a skill that can be learned through observation and experience; using type creatively is an art form.

Legibility is not a problem in most university magazines these days. Vast expanses of unbroken nine-point text is becoming a thing of the past as editors and designers understand the importance of “entry points” for readers (subheads, callouts, quotes, captions, sidebars, etc). Font choices for body text are, for the most part, just fine. Maybe it’s a matter of taste, but for my money, classic serif fonts like Garamond, Caslon, and Baskerville (and their derivatives such as Hoefler and Mrs. Eaves) are hard to beat. Speaking as someone who’s been working with type for more than 30 years, these classics are still more attractive and easier to read than most “modern” serif families (actually, there are legibility studies, but I won’t get into that). As a rule of thumb, sans serif text is best used in small amounts or for contrast and, with few exceptions these magazines seem to understand that.

Similarly, many UMags are doing a good job with typography that’s used to organize and distinguish departments. News sections are the most difficult pages to design, requiring juggling of multiple stories, images, sidebars and graphics. Dartmouth, for one, maintains a distinctive look in their “Notebook” and “Alumni News” sections largely due to an appealingly chunky display font that’s also used in the cover nameplate. Along with a carefully balanced mix of contrasting serif and sans-serif text fonts, the overall effect is smart and professional. Auburn Magazine’s news sections and departments are masterfully designed with contrasting fonts, consistent type treatments, and varied column widths—not easy to achieve. Kenyon does some fun things up front—a “hot sheet” of short “things we love about Kenyon,” a box of “in & out” trends, a page of quotes, a few student profiles—all handled with typographic flair that remains faithful to the overall graphic brand of the magazine.

The main problem I’m having with many of the magazines I’m seeing is that too many designers are throwing the magazine’s typographic identity out the window when it comes to feature stories. The prevailing rule seems to be “anything goes” for display type in features. Many designers are attempting to use type to “interpret” the story. Once in a while this approach works (Denison manages to pull it off pretty consistently). Most of the time it doesn’t. Massimo Vignelli said it best: “I can write the word ‘dog’ with any typeface and it doesn’t have to look like a dog. But there are people that [think that] when they write ‘dog’ it should bark.” True, some consumer magazines use typography as art, and when it’s done well it can restore your faith in print all over again—but those publications have world-class creative staffs and budgets to match. There are just as many consumer magazines that have a strong, consistent typographic identity and they manage to use it creatively throughout, even in features. My suggestion to alumni magazine designers is simply to use what you’ve got, but use it creatively. Play with scale, experiment with color, pair type with images, turn it sideways, but don’t stray too far from the integrity and spirit of your magazine’s visual identity. For inspiration, take a look at Cambridge Alumni Magazine (this year’s CASE Sibley Magazine of the Year), Bostonia, LMU Magazine, and Auburn—all produce dynamic, original feature design without sacrificing the brand.

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Laura Barlament, editor of Wagner Magazine, knew a juicy opportunity when she saw it. Robert Mazur, a finance major from the Wagner Class of 1972, had recently published a memoir of his career. How could a finance major’s career be the stuff of memoir? Well, after Wagner, Mazur became an undercover government agent who penetrated the brutal Colombian Medellín drug cartel. Barlament had the good sense to excerpt Mazur’s book, The Infiltrator, and the added good sense to commission Lou Brooks to illustrate the story and the cover. Brooks does wonderful work, much of which you’ve seen whether you knew it or not. I’ll bet anybody that The Infiltrator is the only finance major’s memoir ever to include these sentences: “At this point, a surveillance team wasn’t going to be able to save our lives. They’d only be able to find our bodies quickly.” C’mon, take the bet…

The July/August issue of Duke (Bob Bliwise, editor) has my favorite sentence of the week: “Duke is late to the sport of intercollegiate bass fishing.” Probably because they’ve wasted so much time and energy on that silly basketball stuff. Then there’s this one, from Bridget Booher’s “The Collectors“: “I told them I was late because I’d bought the Magna Carta. They didn’t believe me.”

Goddam Mo Harmon. I mean, she’s a lovely woman and all, but I’m getting a little tired of her creativity at Denison Magazine. The new issue has a great saturated-color photograph by Matt Wright-Steel of a cow on the cover, with the lines “Bessie’s Coming to Dinner: How Our Food Makes it to Our Mouths.” Okay, cover story, right? Turn the page, and that cover story, “From Farm to Table,” begins not in the feature well, not after the table of contents or letters or campus news, but right there on the inside front cover. The next 11 pages feature photographs shot by students in Abram Kaplan’s class on farmland preservation. The TOC doesn’t show up until pg. 12. Many of the pictures are great, and the spread includes recipes for southern peach cobbler, bronco burgers, Mom’s apple pie, and grilled corn on the cob. Paging through, I kept having the same inescapable thought: I’d have never thought to do this in this way. Bravo. The rest of the issue looks great, too. Damn it.

Update: Maureen Harmon is gracious, too, one more thing to hold against her. She says that credit for creative use of her magazine’s opening pages should go to former editor Paul Pegher and current art director Erin Mayes. Please make the correction in your hand-written notes.

There was a batch of good covers, this time. Washington State Magazine got from Robin Moline an homage to Grant Wood for its feature spread “Cultivated Land-scapes.” The issue includes an awfully good story by editor Tim Steury titled “The Kinder, Gentler Orchard.”

Repeating ourselves, repeating ourselves

The 2010 CASE Editors Forum in Boston got off to a fine start yesterday with an opening address by Samir Husni. Husni is the director of the Magazine Innovation Center at the University of Mississippi, and he bills himself as Mr. Magazine. He told me that he spends about 150 days each year on the road delivering addresses like the one he delivered to the conference, which means he’s got the timing of his punch lines well calibrated.

He also has some interesting points to make to people in our business. One of his tenets is that magazines succeed by making their readers feel part of a relationship, part of the those who read The New Yorker or Simple or The Penn Stater. Each issue is another meeting of friends, in a sense. This is important in what he aptly called our age of isolated connectivity. Those magazines that foster this sense of community are more likely to succeed. He then pointed out how some of the most successful consumer magazines like Cosmopolitan and Men’s Health slavishly repeat themselves issue after issue after issue.

He noted, correctly I think, that people in our business often feel that repetition is the enemy of creativity. Yet, for a magazine there is real value in a measure of predictability. Readers want at least some repetition in a periodical. It’s part of the relationship that the magazine wants to nurture with its readers.

Mr. Magazine did not convince me that the predictability and slavish repetition of Cosmo is something that university magazines ought to embrace. But he did make me aware, again, of how easily editors slip into evaluating their magazines only through the lenses of media professionals, not of their readers. I have found myself questioning whether Johns Hopkins Magazine should run a certain feature story because we wrote a similar story seven years ago. That matters to me. But can I name one reader who would open the magazine, see that story, and think Boy, the spark sure has gone out of these guys. They just ran that story seven years ago!

We’ve had similar discussions over paper. As I write this, copies of Denison, Auburn Magazine, and the Sibley-winning Kenyon College Alumni Bulletin are beside me on my hotel desk. Damn I hate them for the quality of their stock. Our art director would kill for paper like that. But as Hopkins Magazine’s editor Catherine Pierre once observed, all the magazines we most admire and read with devotion year after year print on crappy paper. Do our readers care? Some of them surely do. But they don’t care in the same way that we in the business care. And they benefit whenever we can step away from editorthink and see our magazines as readers see them.