Texas, the biannual magazine of the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas, is no more, replaced by a redesigned, rethought publication titled Open, or OPEN if you’re a stickler for following typographic treat-ments.
Editor Cory Leahy reports that the 10-year-old design of Texas—OK, OK, TEXAS—had become inflexible. “As we were pushing our envelope with story ideas and formats, the design wasn’t keeping up,” she says. “It felt stale and limiting. We had done some brainstorming exercises to clarify the magazine’s vision and personality, and the old design didn’t match what we came up with. We also wanted to visually emphasize that the publication seeks to be as much an objective, credible, interesting, and compelling magazine as any it’s competing with on the reader’s night table. In other words, banish any notion that it’s a glorified brochure in its look and feel.”
Leahy had always contracted out the design. For the redesign, she decided the magazine needed new eyes and new thinking. “It was a great opportunity for us to get some new perspective on our challenges. We’d worked with the same art director for a decade, and it was time for a change.” The job went to Austin-based Erin Mayes and Kate Iltis of EmDash LLC—EmDash did the great Denison revamp—who came up with the new name. Says Leahy, “The plan was for the magazine to be called McCombs Today, like our school news site. TEXAS never made sense to me. We’re not the alumni magazine for the entire university, just the business school. When the designers were sharing the initial round of cover concepts, OPEN was their curveball idea. They liked the idea of being ‘open for business’ as a key symbol for success in business. The idea is to have a different kind of ‘open’ sign on [the cover of] each issue. It’s visually interesting, familiar but in a fresh context. Also, our school has only been named McCombs for 10 years, so that as a name doesn’t necessarily have deep impact for most of our alumni.”
A redesign presents opportunity for more than a new suit of clothes. “We rethought everything: department names, story buckets, purpose, personality, story mix, even mission. Because we were creating two new online sites—a school news site, McCombs Today, and a business knowledge/research site, Texas Enterprise—at roughly the same time (oy vey!), we had new opportunities to imagine how content could work across different platforms. For example, we had always included months-old news briefs in the front of the book . . . yawn. With our revamped news site, we felt more confident that those news bits would get more attention online and wouldn’t need to be in the magazine. Instead, the new front-of-book could include things like infographics and big images and service journalism that used to be a challenge to fit in among the briefs.”
As any editor who has gone through this knows, the inaugural issue of a new design tells you a lot. “Overall we’re very happy with the first issue,” Leahy says. “But we’re still struggling a bit with how best to use the new buckets. For instance, the designers added some new callouts (‘Aha! Moment’ and ‘Takeaways’) based on our departments brainstorm. These are meant to provide a nugget that gets underneath the story, perhaps giving a bit of background or a tidbit about the story behind the story. It’s a fantastic idea, but it’s totally new to our way of thinking, so we’re looking forward to our sophomore issue (which has a much longer lead time) to play with these new content types. We also still need to get better at creating some less text-heavy stories, and we’re not convinced the layout of the cover lines is the best it can be. But, again, it’s a wonderful new set of challenges to confront.”
So, Ms. Leahy, with the hindsight of experience, which is worse? Redoing your magazine or redoing your kitchen? “Magazine. While we were incredibly lucky in not having hordes of people/administrators/higher-ups that needed to weigh in, the whole endeavor still felt to me like we were preparing to run naked through campus, leaving ourselves open to pointing, laughing, and ridicule. This place can be a surprising mix of super stodgy and remarkably progressive. It’s just hard to know who’s going to exhibit which traits on which day. Happily, the feedback we’ve received has been all positive.”