Tagged: redesign

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.

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.