Tagged: dj stout

Pentagram spiffs up Middlebury

The Summer 2012 edition of Middlebury debuted that magazine’s new look, courtesy of D.J. Stout and Barrett Fry of Pentagram Design. I think it looks great, page after page. Editor Matt Jennings and art director Pamela Fogg discussed their reset in an email interview.

UMag: This sort of thing is a big project. When did you start?

Matt Jennings: It was a huge project. Far more stressful and exhausting than I anticipated. To say that I’m not comfortable with messiness is a massive understatement, and a redesign is an inherently messy process, to a degree that I didn’t fully comprehend until I was ready to have a nervous breakdown. But I’ve learned that it has to be this way to get the result you want. And we couldn’t be happier. Now, to answer your question (thanks for listening, Dr. Keiger) . . . We started almost exactly a year ago, late August 2011. We held a retreat with the magazine stuff to just talk magazines—what makes a good one, what defines a successful redesign? We came up with enough ideas to probably make three or four different books. I then sketched out a very rough issue map of what I thought we should consider, and then Pam and I travelled over two mountain ranges in the days after Hurricane Irene ravaged the state’s roads to spend a day with the mag guru that is Jay Heinrichs. Time well spent. We came out of that meeting with a more refined issue map, and more importantly, a way forward. Jay was invaluable. We contracted with D.J. and his team in the Austin office of Pentagram in late November, brought them to campus for a kickoff meeting in December, saw initial concepts in February, batted those around for at least a month. And then we were off and running, really beginning in earnest in the spring.

UMag: Why do it at all? The existing Midd Mag looked pretty good to me.

MJ: We certainly were not unhappy with the magazine before we redesigned, but there were some things that we were itching to do that wouldn’t have worked as well with the old design. We’ve been wanting to switch to a paper that “felt” more like Middlebury, that featured a higher recycled content that was more in tune with the college’s sustainability mission. But the biggest thing, to me anyway, was that the college has changed so much during the past decade (the last time the magazine was refreshed, much less redesigned), and we needed a magazine that reflected those changes. We needed a structure, an architecture that would allow us to cover the college in a comprehensive and seamless way. At the same time, we want folks to feel like this is still “their” Middlebury. I think of Middlebury as a place that has roots in Vermont but is also forward thinking and global in its outlook. We wanted the magazine to reflect that, as well.

UMag: In addition to a graphics refurbishing, was this regarded as an opportunity to think about the whole book—content, structure, audience, history?

MJ: Yes, absolutely. The redesign was as much about creating the best architecture possible as the best look possible. We spent a lot of time talking about how to structure the magazine, how to approach the new book, well in advance of thinking about how it should look. One of the first things I said to our staff was there are no sacred cows here. Anything can go. Let’s think about what makes the best possible magazine for us.

UMag: Was the pg. 1 essay related to the cover story a one-timer, or will that be a recurring feature of the magazine?

MJ: A recurring feature. I loved the idea of opening the book with an essay that speaks to what you just saw on the cover. It’s unexpected. And I like being able to establish additional context and tone for the package that appears in the feature well. It gives you a substantive taste for what is to come. It can stand alone, but it also works in concert with the feature package.

UMag: OK, what’s up on the letters spread with the smidgen of Russian on pg. 13? And the other cameo appearances by foreign tongues? This is America, ya know.

Pam Fogg: Last I knew the United States is not an island. Language learning is essential to understanding other cultures and is part of a well-rounded person’s education. Middlebury teaches 10 languages and has study abroad programs in 38 sites in 16 countries . . . makes sense to engage directly to the folks who participate in these programs, eh? (That’s my Canadian . . .)

MJ: I was intrigued with including marginalia in the new book, and it was D.J. who came up with what he called the “secret codes.” Everything that is written is germane to Middlebury. I’ll leave it at that. And it will have to be left at that if you don’t speak the languages included because we forgot to include a box with the translations in the back of the book! That was our intention, to reveal the translations there, but in the chaos of closing this issue, we forgot! Next time.

UMag: Talk to me about the paper.

PF: We adopted an environmental paper policy at Middlebury about four or five years ago and this was the last, and biggest, project to fall into line with that policy. The text sheet is Rolland Enviro 100, which is 100 percent recycled and the cover is Rolland Opaque, which is 50 percent recycled, and both are FSC and Process Chlorine Free.

MJ: I should add, I have yet to hear from anyone—good, bad, or indifferent—who has not remarked on how much they like the paper. My favorite might be “the paper is softer than a baby panther’s fur.”

PF: You didn’t ask about the size but I’m going to tell you about that anyway. We have always loved Garden & Gun and at our retreat that was a clear frontrunner for format. So when D.J. brought that up as a size he thought was appropriate for us, we were all in agreement. It’s the same height (10 7/8 inches) but 1/2 inch wider at 9 inches. Makes for yummy double page photo spreads.

UMag: Old front-of-the-book features out, new front-of-the-book features in. Your thinking?

MJ: I always loved our front-of-the-book, but it wasn’t allowing us to cover the college as broadly as I wanted. It didn’t allow us to seamless integrate Middlebury and Monterey (our graduate school in California) the way we could with our new “Dialogue” department, for instance. And as creative as we could be with the old front of the book, it could feel a la carte, sometimes. I saw this as upgraded our toolbox, adding some new tools while refurbishing some older ones.

UMag: “The Observer” is a clever idea. Whose idea was it? (Please don’t tell me it was Jennings’.)

MJ: Ah, I take great pleasure in letting you know that it was my idea. Several years ago I read Robert Boynton’s collection of conversations with narrative journalists titled The New New Journalism, and in his introduction he wrote about the progenitors of literary journalism—not Wolfe and Talese and Didion, but Charles Dickens and Daniel Defoe and Stephen Crane, who all wrote marvelous nonfiction sketches before they each turned to fiction and novels. In particular, I was struck by the description of Crane’s work, who, Boynton wrote, perfected the “closely observed sketch of city life . . . Crane writes not as a social commentator or a polemical, muckraking journalist but rather as a detailed observer.” As soon as I read that, I knew this could be a great narrative department, exchanging “city life” for Middlebury life. The ultimate in showing and not telling. So I just held on to this idea until it we decided to redesign.

PF: How pretentious.

MJ: [ignoring Pam] As far as the anonymity of “The Observer,” I like the air of mystery, the intrigue. Who is the person? The idea is not original by any means—one of my favorite things about the Dartmouth magazine when Jay Heinrichs edited it was a column he ran under the pen of Eleazar Wheelock, the founder of Dartmouth. This particular “Observer” is under contract for one year. I already have some ideas for the Observer 2.0, though I hope folks will be clamoring for the assignment, as well.

PF: Pam, could you describe the experience of having another design team work up your new design template?

PF: I think it’s a good idea to solicit the ideas of the people on your staff and then work with an outside agency to take those even further. The in-house staff knows the institution and what will fly better than anyone. But an outside agency can push you a little further. Then we have to reign in the agency or push them in different way, and they do it back to us and over and over. Its all a good, necessary and, sometimes, messy process. (Can you tell we thought this was a messy process?) Getting as much brainpower as possible in the room makes for a better piece. A lot of the structure of this magazine came out of our team brainstorm session, but D.J. and his crew came up with some of the department names and a few of the other goodies like the “secret codes.” Plus who has time to redesign a magazine while doing the myriad other things one has to do?! For the love of Pete you need help and you need separation. Having said that, I would love to clear the decks and do this in-house if it were even possible. What’s wrong with me?!

Loyola Marymount hits the reset button

Last July witnessed the debut of LMU, from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. The school’s previous magazine, Vistas, had not been redesigned since 1999, and when the Loyola publications crew, led by editor Joseph Wakelee-Lynch, decided they were past due for an overhaul, they elected to completely start over: The first issue of LMU is listed as Vol. 1, No. 1.

Wakelee-Lynch engaged designers D.J. Stout and Daniella Floeter at Pentagram to retool not only the print magazine but the website and the monthly electronic alumni newsletter. He says Vistas had become what felt like a half-university, half-alumni magazine, in that it strove for serious journalistic content in its feature well, but also had, in each issue, campaign and alumni news sections that were boring and probably unread. His editorial board concurred, and from the university he got the resources to  engage in the 14-month process of not just redesigning the book, but rethinking it cover to cover.

Wakelee-Lynch says that in figuring out what they wanted LMU to become, they were guided by admiration for Portland and Notre Dame, as well as the need to embrace digital media. “We were aware of monumental changes in communications and technology and that readers and consumers were adapting to electronic communication innovations. We were aware that university magazine readers still want their print magazines, and more and more of them also like getting information electronically. They want both. Our redesign process gave us the opportunity to produce a magazine and website that would be complementary and maximize the technologies available to us.” He sings Pentagram’s praise: “One thing that I came to appreciate the most about Pentagram, and particularly D.J. Stout, is that along with [bringing] a wealth of creative ideas, he and they are very good listeners. They came to campus for several days early in the process and listened extensively to our staff and key stakeholder groups.”

As an unrepentant printnista, I turned to the new paper product first, giving the premier issue a good long look. The magazine uses an unconventional 11.5 x 9 trim size. The cover and feature well both look great, as you’d expect from Pentragram. (The cover photograph is of the LMU surf club. Johns Hopkins doesn’t have one of those, perhaps because here The Beach refers to a large expanse of grass in front of the library where undergraduate males ogle sunbathing undergraduate females.) The cover is uncluttered, distinctive, and bold. The feature spreads make good use of some fine photography (so does the back cover), and the magazine wisely commissioned editorial cartoonist Mike Smith to illustrate the four-page Q&A with . . . Mike Smith. (The story’s deck describes Smith as “an opinionated malcontent.” I think I’ll put that on my next business card.) For my taste, the news section in the front of the book is overstuffed with a gazillion storylets, but I like the full-page photo that displays what associate professor of English John Reilly has on the shelves opposite his desk in his faculty office, including a trophy won in a spa fitness contest.

Those of us struggling to figure out how to integrate print and digital should pay attention to the LMU website. Says Wakelee-Lynch: “We use the website to tell parts of stories that cannot be told in print as well as original stories that have no print referent. We use video, slideshows, opportunities for interaction to participate immediately in conversations generated by content. The website is not designed to duplicate at one’s computer the reading experience that one has when reading a print magazine. Instead it’s designed to tell stories and provide information in ways that maximize the strengths of Internet communications.” The website leads not with the magazine’s contents, but with video tied to the magazine’s stories, which is a smart move. Navigating to the stories is easy, and the stories look great on a computer screen, especially the large photos. The features are not all that long, an advantage online because the reader doesn’t have to keep scrolling through one screen after another to read the whole story.

Turn to the first feature in the print magazine, a piece about the 1950 LMU football team titled “No One Left Behind,” and you’ll see in the upper left corner of the first page a discrete box informing you that on the website you’ll find video of the 1950 homecoming parade (which is worth watching just for the marching band’s uniforms and the crowning of the homecoming queen). There’s also a scrapbook compiled by one of the football players. Elsewhere on the site is a slide show of Mike Smith’s work, tied to the magazine’s feature spread, and a video of the aforementioned surf club, which makes me wonder why I went to school in Ohio. (Less surfing, unless you count riding cafeteria trays down an icy, brick-paved hill in the winter.) There’s video of the photo shoot of water polo goalie Andy Stevens, who graces the opening of the magazine’s sports spread. The photos, by staff photographer Jon Rou, are pure beefcake, but probably because I’m a guy, and a nerd, what I found most fascinating was not Mr. Stevens but how the photographer’s camera was tethered to a computer, which immediately downloaded each shot, which went to the laptop of some other guy in the studio, who scrolled through and selected photos that he then sent to the computer of art director Maureen Pacino, who, on the spot,  began positioning them in the layout. When I began in this business, we waxed and pasted up columns of type by hand. Hard to believe the pace of change.

Also interesting, I think, is the website’s left-hand column, a long string of feeds to online creative work by alumni: videos, photographs, writing, paintings, blogs. It’s a terrific idea and I’m mad that LMU thought of it before I did.

No part of this project—Pentagram, the new print format, the website video, the photography—comes cheap, of course, and Loyola Marymount had to cut an issue to afford everything. That’s a trade I’d hate to make, but at least LMU readers are getting a better publication out of it.

While they were at it, LMU created an iPad app as well. I’ll be posting more about uMags on iPads just as soon as I get my hands on one of those babies. Meanwhile, check out LMU.