Tagged: ucla

UMag inbox, pre-Nor’easter edition

Weather forecasters—I am looking at you, Jim Cantore—are getting all excited about the possibility of a big-ass whammeroo of a storm hitting the I-95 corridor Wednesday night and Thursday. Just in time to put the whammy on our efforts to get Johns Hopkins Magazine out the door to the printer on Friday. Yo, weather gods, we’re in the middle of something here . . .

An examination of my teetering stack of alumni magazines turned up some nifty covers. UCLA was in a blue mood:

Jan14CoverFinal3_0

Dickinson fully embraced white space:

dickinson

The more you look at the cover of Carolinian (out of the University of South Carolina) the more remarkable it gets. Put this one next to the recent Notre Dame cover and try to imagine the work that went into executing the portraits in the cover images:

carolinian

Finally, we’ve got this guy, on the cover of LMU out of Loyola Marymount. I love this guy.

COVER

The Carolinian story on cover artist Kirkland Smith is nicely written and worth reading—and you have to see Smith’s Steve Jobs portrait—but unless I’m missing something you can’t access the magazine’s content online if you’re not a member of the alumni association. (Also, I would credit the writer of the piece, but the story is without a byline, which puzzles me.)

The LMU cover boy is alumnus Van Partible, who created the Hanna-Barbera cartoon character Johnny Bravo. There’s a fun bit of video of the cover photo shoot, which conveys the disappointing fact that in the cover image he is wearing a wig. I so wanted that to be his real hair.

UMag inbox

A quick sift of the inbox revealed chief executives incoming and outgoing at Western Carolina and the College of New Rochelle, respectively. Western Carolina‘s cover story on new chancellor David O. Belcher is notable for its evidence that high on the list of qualifications for the job is a willingness to don purple garments. Belcher is pictured in at least three different purple neckties, and wife Susan Belcher appears in an all-purple ensemble. While we’re on this subject, the summer issue of the magazine runs 44 pages, and purple appears on all but six. That’s a lot of purple. (The cover of the previous issue of WC was devoted to outgoing chancellor John Bardo, who in the cover portrait wears—yeah—a purple tie.) Bill Studenc edits the magazine.

Quarterly, the magazine from New Rochelle (editor Lenore Boytim Carpinelli), has surely set some kind of record for bestowing print-love on a departing senior administrator. Every page of the spring issue—every single page—is about Stephen J. Sweeney, the outgoing president. His visage appears on the cover and all but one page, by my count an astonishing 87 photos in a 36-page magazine. (By the way . . . at left? That’s Sweeney. You can tell he’s not the Western Carolina guy because he’s not wearing purple.)

While we’re on the subject of covers, from California to New Hampshire, great minds think alike:

Guest blogger: Claude Skelton

I have known designer Claude Skelton for nearly 20 years. My first job upon moving to Baltimore was with a local business magazine, and Claude was the art director. He has his own firm, Skelton Design, that has done work for many colleges and universities, including Colgate, Ball State, and Dickinson. (He designed an earlier incarnation of Johns Hopkins Magazine.) I invited Claude to examine a carton of university magazines and write a post about what he saw, as a designer. Mr. Skelton, you have the stage:

Over the weekend I perused a stack of 36 alumni magazines, hoping to end up with some kind of useful design critique. Needless to say, the quality of design and writing varied immensely as did the size and nature of the represented institutions. I started to wonder if there’s a correlation between good design and good content. It’s true, some of the best-looking magazines—from Drew, Kenyon, Dartmouth—are also well-written, but it’s also true that there are some good, compelling stories hidden in bland packaging. Some of this can be blamed on poor or mediocre graphic design, but there also seems to be reluctance—budget driven?—to allow stories or sections to breathe, as if white space or big images are a waste of precious space. If a designer, no matter how talented, is told to squeeze every word of a feature story into six pages when it deserves eight or 10 for maximum legibility and contrast with (also packed) news and notes sections, it’s tough to make an impact. After paging through issue after issue of wall-to-wall text, I came across NDSU Magazine (from North Dakota State) and it was a breath of fresh air. True, they don’t deal with ads or, for that matter, news sections or class notes. But the stories are well written, the photography and illustration is professional and well printed on dull-coated stock, design is understated and clean, and there’s an abundance of white space. It’s not perfect but it stands out in a crowd of alumni publications that are tending toward sameness.

The majority of university magazines are designed using the tried-and-true layout conventions of consumer magazines. Some of those design practices are useful, some are unnecessary since most alumni magazines are not sold on newsstands. There is evidence, however, that a hybrid style is evolving that better suits the unique nature and audiences of alumni magazines. None of the magazines I reviewed have achieved the perfect balance for what I’d consider the prototypical university or college magazine, but the one that comes closest may be Kenyon’s Alumni Bulletin. Although Kenyon borrows some useful devices from consumer publications—lots of “entry points” (callouts, short sidebars, punchy subheads, etc.) and feature story treatments that don’t always work with the magazine’s overall look—it still can’t be confused with a glossy commercial publication (it’s beautifully printed on heavy uncoated stock). I’ve noted below some things I’d like to see changed—in the interest of good design and the continuing evolution of alumni magazines.

Covers—Consumer magazines require the nameplate to be as large as possible and always placed at the top edge across the cover for maximum visibility on newsstands. With few exceptions (like UCLA, NDSU, Dartmouth) alumni magazines still adhere to this rule. I’d like to see more covers break the rules—maybe showcasing story titles or great art without having to compete for attention with the nameplate.

Features—Lots of consumer magazines spend big budgets on great photography and illustration and use bold, innovative typography-as-illustration to get maximum attention and compete with full page ads and departments. Lots of university magazines try to mimic this style, but are unsuccessful either because the editorial content simply isn’t appropriate for glitzy design or because designers are trying too hard with limited resources. The most successful magazines (at least in this batch) tend to have a consistent house style and stick to it—clean simplicity rather than over-designed, over-decorated clutter.

Photography—Sure, universities can’t afford to hire Annie Leibovitz, but there are lots of great photographers out there who, when they aren’t busy, will sometimes work within a limited editorial budget. It takes planning, and can even lead to an affordable contractual arrangement, and it’s always worth the investment. Too many alumni magazines are obviously making photography and illustration the lowest budget priority and assigning everything to staff photographers who specialize in event coverage, not creativity. Great images make just as much, if not more, impact as great writing. If the aim is to attract readers, visuals should be a bigger priority. And an important note—there are way too many smiling head shots in most of these magazines, usually a default solution to lack of artwork. It’s almost always better to find another way to illustrate the topic—spot illustration, object photography, even iStock. Keep those head shots to a minimum—and when they’re absolutely necessary make them small. I’m talking postage-stamp size.

Overall, it looks as if tight budgets are driving a lot of design decisions (understandably), but with a little creativity and planning—and possibly a slight reallocation of dollars—there’s room for improvement. It’s hard work to produce every one of these issues, and it takes a very specific kind of talent and discipline to pull it off successfully. Maybe an outsider’s perspective can help push some of these babies to the next level. Here’s to the next generation of UMags!

UMag inbox

Consistently one of the best-designed university periodicals, 2010 CASE gold medalist Drew Magazine, from Drew University in New Jersey, does well again with its spring issue. Art director Margaret M. Kiernan has mastered the ability to throw a slew of graphic elements onto a spread yet keep it clean, coherent, and attractive. Particularly nice (and clever) is “The Drewid’s Guide to How to Do Everything Better.” The idea of collecting snippets of expert advice from faculty and alumni is not new—Dartmouth Alumni Magazine did it in the January/February 2009 issue, as just one example—but the various how-to’s are fun and the layout, featuring Leigh Wells’ illustrations, is exemplary. (Try to grab a copy of the magazine; the web version does not do the graphics justice.) Renée Olson edits the magazine.

I am an inveterate reader of notes on contributors. The July 2010 UCLA Magazine has five, including, “Jan Sonnenmair, who hit the road to photograph our tour of Bruin wineries . . .” Man, there’s a job I want someday. Deeper in the magazine, where they keep the long stories, Alison Hewitt asks around campus if digital technology is ruining human minds. From the answers I learned that UCLA students fight over a certain corner of a lecture hall because it has the strongest WiFi signal, UCLA professors have come across undergraduates who have never hunted down a book on a library shelf, students these days seem unable to focus on a single topic, and computers appear to stunt frontal-lobe development. OK, that’s it, stop reading this and go read a book. That you found at the library. Wendy Soderburg is managing editor.

The latest edition of The Penn Stater (c’mon, guys, get a magazine website, it looks like this whole Internet thing might catch on) is most notable for its photography. For the cover story . . . cover spread, it’s not really a story . . . editor Tina Hay and undergraduate photographer  Andy Colwell ascended in a helicopter to snap some striking aerial photos of campus. I’m sure Hay, who is a shutterbug on the side, has a cogent editorial rationale, but she’s not fooling anybody. She just wanted to grab her Nikon and get airborne in a chopper. The second set of featured pictures are stunners from the recent eruption of Eyjafjallajökul in Iceland. (Yeah, I can pronounce it, I just don’t feel like it right now.) The writer of the accompanying text, Penn State alum Nancy Marie Brown, recounts riding in a jeep over a glacier to a spot west of the volcano’s crater for look at the initial, comparatively mild eruption. What Brown did not know was that her driver had parked directly over the underground lava pool. Ten days later, reports Brown, “the spot I’d been standing on was blasted 35,000 feet in the air.”