Redesigning to sell, not extra copies,
but the publication itself

Shortly after adopting a spiffy new design and spirit, these newspaper titles were sold.

Shortly after adopting a smarter new design and spirit, these newspaper titles were sold.

“Is it worth committing to a redesign if we’re thinking about putting our newspaper or magazine up for sale?” I’ve fielded this inquiry a few times in recent months and thought it would make a good blog post.

Particularly if your publication hasn’t been refreshed in a long while, redesign is something to seriously consider. I’ve come to view the proposition as staging a house for sale – replacing out-of-date carpet, balky kitchen appliances, dirty bathroom grout. Just about everybody concerned will tell you it’s a good investment. Especially if there’s proof that readers and advertisers have reconnected with the publication, as was the case with the Chicago Reader, redesign pays off.   Read the full post »

Designing a new weekly newspaper
for Chicago’s Lincoln Park

DNAinfo Chicago weekly newspaper for Lincoln Park

These two front pages were among prototypes I created for DNAinfo. (The nameplate on the left was chosen.) 

[Jan. 26, 2014] “There aren’t too many media companies starting print publications these days but, by the same token, there aren’t too many media companies like” Such begins the letter from the editors to readers in the debut edition of DNAinfo, a new weekly newspaper I was asked to design for the creators of the hyperlocal news website, DNAinfo. Initial designs were presented in downtown Chicago in November 2013 and the solutions were adopted in record time – the first edition was mailed to residents of Lincoln Park, one of Chicago’s most affluent neighborhoods, the weekend of Dec. 8 for a “soft launch,” with the formal rollout this month. Read the full post »

AWNA: Who needs an artist? Tips for using Google maps for news stories


In a review of more than a hundred news pages produced by the members of the Alberta Weekly Newspapers Association, at whose conference I was invited to speak this weekend, I noticed more than a few stories that would greatly have benefitted from a map placing the reader at the scene of the news. Stories about the most dangerous intersections in town … six sites chosen for possible community garden … town budget identifies $36 million in projects.

All of these headlines immediately suggest graphic possibilities, but none as published contained a graphic. I remade several of the layouts very quickly to illustrate how even a reporter or editor could help create a graphic for the newspaper – you don’t always need an artist on staff to tell these kinds of stories in visual ways. Here’s a look inside one of the remakes presented, and the ins and outs of using Google Maps to create these visuals: Read the full post »

AWNA: Tips for making news pages smarter, at-a-glance


Sometimes it’s good to revisit the basics, as I had a chance to do this weekend as a speaker invited by the Alberta Weekly Newspapers Association in Calgary. I am reminded that there are still many, many weekly newspapers out there, they are doing fine (thank you very much), and are working hard to engage their communities and improve their products week by week.

The tough thing about presenting to community weeklies is I can’t really rely on past presentations where I showcase larger urban papers I have redesigned, nor international titles, nor the magazines that increasingly take up my work day. I could but it’s not so helpful. I have to get back to the basics of what makes a fundamentally engaging news page. Routine stories, partial inside pages often cluttered (thank God!) with ads … how do you take these to the next level? How do you do so with particularly limited resources?

Among the hundreds of pages I reviewed in advance of my visit, from the dozens of papers that make up the AWNA, I saw many, many “okay” stories that were presented by rote: town council meetings, personality profiles, annual festivals, presented in 10-14 paragraphs of text, a headline, maybe a photo – often a handout, a file photo or a quick shot at a press conference. But rarely anything more.

One of my presentations detailed how, with very little effort, the staffs could create a second level of information via an “at a glance” box that could connect with and serve readers in new ways. (Stop here if you’re one of the many who’ve sat through my lectures on the topic before, or endured similar training at the many papers who have gone this route.)

How does this work? Read the full post »

2013 in Review: Busy Year, Challenging Projects

In a completely unscientific look at how the media landscape is moving forward, here’s a recap of the challenging, exciting projects I’ve been engaged in this year:

  • February: I created the design for GRID, the print edition of a new business news venture for the Chicago Sun-Times. A glossy weekly inserted into select copies of the Sunday newspaper, it never quite found its advertising footing, and lives on as a slate of digital products.
  • March: the Cincinnati Enquirer debuted our new design in the Super Compact format, along with lots of new philosophy for organizing information for print readers. When last I checked, the paper was still in business, and reports from the editor and publisher are that the new format has been a hit.
  • June: the University of Chicago unveiled my redesign for Capital Ideas, the quarterly magazine of research and ideas produced by the Booth School of Business. The changes were tantamount to the launch of a new product, with a dramatic refocusing of editorial philosophy.
  • August-December: In a new offering, I contributed design and art direction for the summer, fall and winter editions of Capital Ideas, and will do so in 2014.
  • October: Crain Communications’ Modern Healthcare debuted my front-to-back redesign. The weekly magazine, one of the group’s most profitable, became the 12th publication I’ve designed or redesigned for the Crain stable around the world.

Read the full post »

On the road to a magazine redesign, covers get a jump-start



Read the full post »

Magazine redesign: Exploring display typography during prototyping

DisplayType copy

One of my favorite things about working on magazine redesigns is exploring the possibility of display type to create energy and excitement throughout the pages. I learned long ago not to be put off by potentially dry or academic content – every story has potential to be made more visually inviting with display type.

Read the full post »

For U of Chicago’s biz research magazine, a sharper editorial focus

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[Summer 2013] Capital Ideas, the magazine of ideas and analysis from the Booth School of Business at University of Chicago, has redesigned to adopt a sharper editorial focus, with a new look that emphasizes information rather than decoration.

I have been working for several months with editors Hal Weitzman and Emily Lambert, in the school’s new department of Intellectual Capital, on a redesign / rethinking, and the results arrive with the quarterly’s summer edition. In addition to having created the new look via several months of prototyping earlier this spring, I’m also providing ongoing, live design direction and layout, as on this first issue.

The new design strategy: Above all, SMART, like the subject matter and faculty and grad students whose work is covered. Informative. Clean. Authoritative. Easily navigated. Graphically rich. Read the full post »

Print magazines: What does the near future hold?

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[Samples of my magazine redesign clients. Click for more inspiring client work.]

[Aug. 1, 2013] A provocative question from the audience after my presentation today to the Florida Magazine Association, “The Road to Revamp: Inside the Magazine Redesign Process.” What do I think the near future holds for print magazines? My reply: That despite lots of early enthusiasm for digital offerings (which are still an important area to explore), devotion to the print product remains quite high, among readers and equally important, among premium advertisers (i.e. those willing to pay top dollar for the exposure that a print ad brings). My own consulting work is thriving in the area of magazine redesign, live/ongoing design direction and production, newsroom training, and brand consulting. New titles are still being launched. While some titles are indeed folding (RIP, Newsweek), this strikes me as natural evolution, perhaps accelerated as certain types of titles, such as the general interest news weekly, just don’t resonate in the way that they did in an earlier era. It’s time to reassess, reinvent, and redesign, for many.

Here is a compendium of resources mentioned in my presentation that may help you move forward: Read the full post »

Follow Bloomberg’s “cover trail,”
chatty new TOC page

1covers2If you’re a design nerd (and face it, if you’re here, you are), you may be interested in checking out a few things cooking at Bloomberg Businessweek.

Bloomberg’s covers (such as this week’s and last’s, shown above) have really drawn a cult following. They are surprising, often witty solutions that run counter to the traditional approach of most business magazine covers. And now, via a new feature on the mag’s second index page called “Cover Trail,” you can listen in as the staff debates the design decisions that led to the final product.

Excerpt from Bloomberg's "Cover Trail" feature. Click to enlarge. (See image below for full feature.)

Excerpt from Bloomberg’s “Cover Trail” feature. Click to enlarge. (See image below for full feature.)

Through outtakes of photos, type and other design decisions that didn’t make the final cut – annotated with comments (often snarky) uttered during the review process – you can relive the excitement of how these covers were born and brought to market.

Two weeks of the "Cover Trails" features, on the secondary index page of Bloomberg Businessweek. Click to see full size.

Two weeks of the “Cover Trails” features, on the secondary index page of Bloomberg Businessweek. Click to see full size.

It’s like a 30-second dose of an SPD conference each week! How fun.

Coincidentally this week, Advertising Age (a former redesign client) also takes us inside the cover process, publishing a cover that resulted from their annual competition among young creatives. You can view the finalists here and check out the winner here, and learn how they made a very cool pixelated head.

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Also noted: the mag has been experimenting with a “chattier” version of it’s Contents page, using quotes only rather than headlines parroted from the inside pages. (Samples below, click to enlarge.) This is of particular interest to me, as I find many contents pages (not necessarily Bloomberg’s) to be boring and pointlessRead the full post »