Tagged: redesign

UMag inbox, cosmetic surgery edition

Cascading into the inbox this time, a trio of magazines that ended 2012 or began 2013 with new looks. In alphabetical order:

American University Magazine did not have so much a bad design as a dated, cautious one. That is, it was not unattractive. But it had not been redesigned in more than a decade and it just did not do much to convey anything with vigor or energy. The front of the book was stodgy. The feature well was better, but still uninspired, and the magazine seemed to have capped its font library at three. Of added concern to editor Linda McHugh was a steady drop-off over the last few years in reader response. It was time to make a move, though it was also not a great time to make a move. McHugh explains: “We did the redesign in-house, amidst a department reorganization that resulted in the loss of my managing editor and one staff writer. I also had two staffers, including my new managing editor–in training, on maternity leave. After an eight-week consultation with an outside designer, hired to look primarily at process and staffing, we began the redesign, while still working on the winter and spring 2011 issues of American.” Heavy lifting on the new look was done by American art director Maria Jackson.

The new edition has gained width—all the cool kids in the alumni magazine lunchroom are 9 x 10 7/8 now, don’t you know—and better paper, but more importantly it has gained what I can only call zest. Bolder, more creative typography, bigger and better art, more inspired layouts, some new recurring features. “We devoured every CASE award winning magazine as well as newsstand magazines we loved for design inspiration,” McHugh says. “We developed 25 ideas for ‘go-to pages’ and tested each one to ensure that we could feed them for at least two years. The new magazine features more than a dozen of these go-to pages, scattered throughout the book. One of our biggest editorial and design challenges was making certain that these pages infused the book with a taste of Washington (‘Metrocentered,’ ‘POV’), while emphasizing AU’s national (‘AU’s Stake In…’) and international feel. The go-to pages not only help us to streamline our process, but allowed us to integrate alumni content throughout the book (one of the development/alumni VP’s mandates).

I am a sucker for things like “Unpacked,” the magazine’s back page that shows what one member of the university community has in his bag:

Plus I love what American has done with its back cover—turned it into a quiz, which McHugh says has generated 50 responses already as of today:

McHugh says, “We’re especially proud that the back of the book is no longer a ghetto. We were required to keep several donor pages, so I personally tackled two problems that no one else wanted to touch: how to breath life and dignity into the VP letter and donor ads. The result is something akin to a ‘thank you’ card with a cover illustration (the original art is given to the donor) and two pages of letter and facts about an AU need.”

While I have you here, the new issue of American has a fine story on synesthesia by David Reich. I could not link to the story because American uses Issuu and that format will not permit me to link to a specific story. Click on the magazine link at the top of this post and go to page 18.

The University of South Carolina’s Carolinian (edited by Chris Horn) went all in on a new design package. “Our guiding aesthetic was to make the magazine less dense, more reader friendly and more engaging as well as more visually appealing with vibrant photography,” Horn reports. “We also wanted to make the short items much briefer and to the point. I practiced by taking old copy and experimenting with how short I could rewrite it while still retaining the kernel of what made the item interesting/important.” (Not a bad exercise for any of us, I suspect. I plan to take my next 4,000-word feature and see if I can rewrite it in 3,950.)

Talk about an upgrade. The old cover was bad in so many respects. Inside, the old magazine’s design was the dog’s breakfast, with color bars and distracting devices overlaid on pedestrian photographs and uninspired typography. The new design parallels American‘s in many respects, with bolder type, bigger and much better photos, and far less clutter. (Below is a screen grab from the magazine’s website; ignore that red text box in the upper right.)

Horn says, “We took a hybrid approach with the redesign by paying for 50 hours of consulting with Shane Shanks and his crew at Zehno. Our chief magazine designer, Michelle Riley, led the effort on our end with contributions and brainstorming from our other designers. We conducted a creative brief, shared that with Zehno, and together we looked at dozens of magazines—academic and popular—in search of ideas. All of our joint sessions were conducted with conference calls and lengthy followup emails to save time and expense. A mood board followed, and our designer started creating prototype spreads, first with greeking, then with real copy. Zehno provided some critiquing and suggestions and, by then, our 50 hours were shot.

“It was a difficult process, but it almost had to be. Shorter, tighter copy was part of it, but that’s pretty basic. The really hard part was just getting out of the rut of magazine production since taking over as editor in 1998. The key thing I learned is that you can go much faster when you’re working by yourself or with a small group—but you go much farther when you include more people in the whole process. It’s messier, but more out-of-the-box ideas get generated that way. That’s probably the biggest takeaway for next time. We’ll soon begin redesigning our research magazine and hope to apply what we’ve learned from the Carolinian redesign.”

No less dramatic a change came to Momentum, out of Mississippi State’s Bagley College of Engineering.

The design work was done by Heather Row, Bagley’s publications manager. “The redesign came about kind of quickly,” says Susan Lassetter, publications editor. “Basically, I went to the Editors Forum last year and geeked out. I came back with all kinds of ideas, lots of notes, our peer review, and as many different university magazines as I could get my hands on. Our team evaluated everything and decided we liked the approach of making an alumni mag more like a commercial publication. With that in mind we established departments (something we’d never had) and some recurring columns like ‘Places and Spaces,’ ‘On the Clock,’ and ‘Semi-Important Questions.’ We also wanted to put a larger focus on photography. We are really lucky to have fantastic university photographers who work closely with us even though we are college specific. In each issue only one or two images, if any, are from outside sources. Heather says those two ideas—departments and photo emphasis—really shaped how she approached the new design. The goal wasn’t so much to ‘make it pretty’ but to make it accessible and easier to navigate. She said she let the content/departments set the tone and worked from there to establish the new grid layout and font package that will be used for the foreseeable future. Plus, there’s only so much you can do to make engineering ‘pretty.’ We decided to increase the dimensions”—9 1/2 x 11, hah! bigger than you, Carolinian!—”and paper stock to help our magazine stand out from other mail and to give it a quality feel.”

Says Lassetter, “Looking back, the changes that needed to be made were kind of obvious. Once we got going, coming up with ideas and a plan was relatively easy—just a lot of brainstorming. Since it is an in-house publication, and it’s just part of what our office does, I think the most difficult thing was trying to find time to execute everything—and that’s why we’ve allowed ourselves through the spring issue to really finesse and finalize everything. One thing we are looking forward to, now that we’ve launched the redesign, is being able to plan better. Having departments is really going to help us fill in stories and keep a balance to the type of content we include.”

She notes something I think we all learn in the aftermath of a redesign: How the first new issue teaches you what to do with the second one. “There are some production things we will want to be aware of moving forward, like page-cut issues that came from moving to a larger and thicker format and the fact that the new paper stock really soaks up ink. We wanted the issue to have a rich feel and matte look, but we still want our photos to stand out. Heather said this first issue is a real guide for how to handle photo editing—color/hue/saturation—for the next issue.”

Look at these and other redesigns from the last year or two and you will notice that periodical designers are working from a current aesthetic of big art, bold type, spacious and airy layouts, fewer imposing dense columns of grey body type. It is a great look, though it will have a lifespan, like everything else in graphic design. I could not say if any of the designers at our publications have had this in mind, but it seems to me much of this design looks like a response to the ecosystem of distraction that you encounter at most websites. The pages produced by many of these new designs present fewer elements that compete for your attention. Your eye knows where to go, your attention is not diverted. I am not so enthused by the accompanying pressure to cut the lengths of stories, but that’s an idea for another post. This one’s already approaching epic dimensions, for a blog. Time to print it, bind it, ship it.

UMag inbox

The current Oberlin Alumni Magazine (Jeff Hagan, editor) contains an excellent essay, “Poetry is Dangerous,” by Oberlin associate professor Kazim Ali. Ali, of Indian descent, left a box of discarded poetry manuscripts beside a trash can on the campus of the Pennsylvania school that employed him in 2007. Someone in the ROTC office, which is located in the building fronting the trash can, called the police because what else could a foreign-looking, dark-skinned man who leaves a box in front of a building be but a terrorist? The police overreacted, evacuating buildings and canceling classes. Here is the last paragraph, which reflects the elegance and thoughtfulness of the whole essay:

My body exists politically in a way I cannot prevent. For a moment that day, without even knowing it, driving away from campus in my little Beetle, exhausted after a day of teaching, listening to Justin Timberlake on the radio, i ceased to be a person when a man I had never met looked straight through me and saw the violence in his own heart.

A new look for Temple, or The Magazine Formerly Known as Temple Review. Executed by Greatest Creative Factor in Baltimore, the new design, above left, is cleaner, more contemporary, and more adventurous in its typography. Plus it’s got some 50-foot numbers, so you know it’s good. (There are also hilarious photographs of a lizard running, and how often can you say that?) I can’t tell from the masthead who is most responsible for editing, either Betsy Winter Hall or Maria Raha, so I’ll give them both credit.

Virginia Tech Magazine (Jesse Tuel, editor) sports its own new look. Again, new is on the left, old on the right.

Finally Harvard Medicine has issued a video trailer promoting its forthcoming spring issue. This may not be a first for a university magazine, but it’s the first one that’s come to my attention. Many of us are producing video extras for magazine websites and iPad editions, but I haven’t seen a trailer before. Good idea, if you have the resources. Ann Marie Menting is editor. (Oh, clicking on the image below will not play the video. Sorry—I haven’t figured out how to embed video yet. Remember, I’m an old print guy.)

UMag inbox—The White Album

Hi there. Were you to look, you would note that this is the first post to UMagazinology since September 22. There is good reason for that. September 22 is also the date that my 90-year-old father, who lives by himself 500 miles away in Cincinnati, fell and broke his hip. A few days later, Johns Hopkins Magazine editor Catherine Pierre gave birth to her second child (welcome to the world, Baby Olive), which meant I became interim editor of the magazine. So, shuttling back and forth to Ohio, working to care for my pop, and taking the helm of the magazine have left me more than a little dazed and confused. To work in a gratuitous Led Zeppelin reference.

Meanwhile, all of you just kept churning out magazines, damn you, creating a dangerously canted stack of neglected issues on my desk. Really, you might have been more considerate.

A quick sift of those issues reveals that the autumn of 2011 may go down in the annals of alumni magazine publishing as The Time of the White Cover. You’ve got Auburn Magazine:

You’ve got Georgetown Law:

And Rochester Review:

Plus Smith Alumnae Quarterly:

A few words about those last two. First, Rochester. Around the friendly confines of Hopkins Magazine, we like to say, “Babies are cheating.” That is, putting an infant cutie on your cover is just way too easy. C’mon, where’s the challenge? On the other hand, just look at that kid. Hell, I want to hug the magazine, much less the child. But—and I’m looking at you, editor Scott Hauser—Rochester Review really did cheat by posting four alternate covers online. Totally shameless. I would never resort to such a ploy on, say, an alumni magazine blog.

Go ahead, click on the tykes to see larger cover images. I’ll wait. (The children, by the way, are fraternal twins Oliver and Clara Bender, age 11 months.)

Regarding Smith, editor John MacMillan’s latest offering shows off the magazine’s design overhaul. The most striking change is to the cover, as you can see (that’s the last of the old design, at right). The design of the inside pages opens them up with a bit more white space and some new type treatments, but is not a radical departure from what the magazine had been doing. MacMillan has had some out-of-town responsibilities in the last day or so and could not respond to questions about his magazine’s new look, but he can add comments next week, particularly about how budget cuts factored into the redesign.


My god, it has spread to Middlebury:

And more! Williams:

Texas reset: McCombs redesigns and renames

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.”

Binghamton’s new do

The Fall 2010 issue of Binghamton University Magazine debuted a new look. Editor Diana Bean explains, “When I became editor of the magazine in July 2009, it had been about four years since the previous redesign, so it was starting to look dated. After I did three issues of the old design and got to better know my job and constituents, I felt I understood what I wanted from a redesign.”

The old look, based on the Summer ’10 issue, was far from an affront to the eyes. But it was, as Bean says, dated. She saw several things she didn’t like. “The most vexing problems with the old design were the department labels: Discoveries, Outlooks, Innovations and Connections—which I found confusing and restrictive. (Discoveries had to be stories about students, Outlooks about philanthropy, Innovations about faculty.) Headlines and photos were too small. And each department had a color-coded deck head and drop cap. Because the website had been built to the specs of the magazine, each story had to be coded for a different color depending on which ‘department’ it was part of. It was more work than it needed to be.”

The problems extended well beyond departments, in my view. Overall, the design was static. Most spreads had this peculiar stacked feel; turning the pages felt like going from room to room in a house and finding stacked cartons everywhere, as if someone was moving out. Most images were rectangular. There was a lot of boxed text. Feature-story heads and decks were literally stacked, with center-justified text seven or eight lines deep in a boring and, yes, static typeface that resembled Helvetica with serifs, if you can picture that. The layout for Gary E. Frank’s profile of choreographer Bill T. Jones had a striking image of the choreographer with an arm extended, but even that worked against any sense of momentum, because Jones’ upraised arm pointed left—back the way readers had just come. Flip that photo so that Jones is gesturing toward a headline on the right page and you propel readers toward the next spread. The old design just sat there.

Bean interviewed four design companies for a redo. “We chose a very small design company called Studio 630 out of St. Petersburg, Florida. Owner Simone Tieber is decisive, creative and detail-oriented. While she had no university magazines in her portfolio, the style of her other products matched what we were looking for. Our instructions to her were to put an emphasis on photography—both the quality of what gets shot and how it is displayed. We asked for a revamped color palate, more creative opening spreads, and a reworking of our very difficult-to-read class notes. I provided many pages of design ideas, which helped her understand our niche.”

The new design makes significant improvements. Gone is the stodgy primary typeface. The redesign imparts energy to the magazine starting with the table of contents. The front of the book still employs a lot of rectangles and grid lines—whose doesn’t?—but there’s much better use of varied type design and images. Feature spreads look great, with lots of white space, big photos and illustrations, creative use of type, and much-improved photography. Says Bean, accurately, “What I like best about the new design is that each page looks different; the layouts have gone from utilitarian to lively. What I like least is the ad on the inside front cover; the design doesn’t match the look of the magazine (someone else designed the ad.) This will be remedied in the next issue.”

“What did I learn?” Bean says. “Know what you and other decision-makers like and don’t like about a product and be able to articulate it before interviews with designers start. Listen carefully to the designer: Is she talking about YOUR publication or is she talking in generalities? Trust your gut: Can you work with this person? I think editors and designers need to be able to comfortably tell each other ‘this doesn’t work’—whether it’s story length, headline, layout or photography—and then find a solution. Finally, think about the Web! One of the first decisions we made was how we would signal to print readers that there is unique online content. We kept in mind that the print design needed to be a useful template for the next phase of redesign: Replacing the ‘magazine on the web’ (a regurgitation of the print version with some related content) with a web magazine that has the best of the print edition but features unique content, interactive features and timely updates.”

Me? I’d say Binghamton got real return on its investment.