Margot Grisar is design director for a half-dozen magazines at Tufts University. Which does not explain how she had time to respond to the UMagazinology designer questionnaire. Just one more person more productive than me.
I’ve been at Tufts for almost 16 years, and have worked exclusively on the university’s six alumni magazines for almost 10.
What has proven to be the most significant thing you had to learn to do that job?
Being the lead designer was new to me when I came to Tufts. I had to create the vision for the magazines as well as guide other designers in the expression of that vision. I had wise design mentors and studied other magazines. For me it became about telling Tufts’ story. Creating a visual experience that gets across the tone and mood of each article, as well as creating an overall connection to the university are my principal goals.
What has proven to be your biggest frustration?
It’s been challenging working with minimal budgets, a lean staff and shifting timelines.
Is there a cover or story spread that you are particularly proud of?
I’m the most proud of the recent redesign of our family of magazines. (I collaborated with Kelly McMurray and her team at 2communiqué). A few examples are: The pig plate cover about sustainable cuisine is still my favorite cover of Tufts Magazine. This was the inaugural cover (Fall 1014), created by 2communiqué. This cover started a trend of creating stand-alone iconic, quirky, bright, and compelling images on Tufts Magazine covers. Another standout is the bee cover for the urban bee-keeping story. The concept came from Laura McFadden, illustration by Neil Webb. We also teased an animated version of the cover on social media. I’d also include the Tufts Magazine feature opener for a stunning profile about poet Patrick Mahoney coming back from a near fatal bicycle accident. Bay area photographer Timothy Archibald captured Patrick’s personality beautifully. The soda grenade cover on the latest issue of Tufts Nutrition magazine was a true collaboration among design, editorial and photography. The cover story, about the dangers of sugary beverages, generated many ideas. Designer Betsy Hayes’ concept—a grenade made of sugar cubes—is the one we landed on. Editor-in-chief John Wolfson suggested changing it to a soda can grenade to emphasize consuming sugar in a drink. I worked closely with photographer Christopher Harting to bring our vision to life.
As a designer, what part of your magazine are you never quite satisfied with?
The back of the book gets filled with institutional news. Sometimes the section can get text heavy, interrupted only occasionally with rather staid images. It’s hard to keep it visually dynamic. I encourage the addition of lively short pieces and introduce white space and graphic elements when possible.
What other magazine, alumni or otherwise, do you admire for its design?
Nautilus is my new favorite science magazine. I am a longtime admirer of The New York Times Magazine, Texas Monthly, Uppercase, Vanity Fair, More . . . I could go on and on!
If you could hire for a story any illustrator in the world, who would it be? And photographer?
I am continually thrilled that I get to work with such bright, creative illustrators and photographers. A couple of illustrators I haven’t had the chance to work with yet are Eric Drooker and photo-illustrator Dan Saelinger.
If you were not a magazine art director, what would be your dream job?
As a lifelong book devourer, I find designing and art directing well-crafted prose to be a pretty sweet gig. But I’d love to be an illustrator, painter, or fabric designer. I studied printmaking and painting in art school and fell into design as a way to make a living.