The redesign client weighs in: On working with a consultant

The following article is republished with permission from the Spring 2011 issue of Signature, the flagship magazine of Association Media & Publishing that provides practical information and news about the association publishing industry, addresses current issues and technology, and keeps members abreast of new developments. It was written by Carla Kalogeridis, editorial director of Association Media & Publishing.

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For Catholic Health World (CHW) Editor Judy VandeWater, last year’s redesign was her first. “Going into the project, we knew we wanted a design with a contemporary feel and more points of entry for our busy readers,” she says. “If an executive didn’t have time to read CHW cover-to-cover, we wanted to give him or her a reason to turn our pages to find a story or even a nugget of interest.”

VandeWater said she and the staff of four (two of whom are shared with a sister publication, Health Progress) had thought about what they didn’t like in their old design. For example, they felt very boxed in by its four-column grid, and they wanted a design that would simplify production. “Our front page layouts were repetitive,” she explains. “And the fonts we used felt old-style and tired to us. We wanted fonts that would be easy to read, give us more visual punch with headlines, and differentiate features from news content.”

At the first face-to-face meeting at the CHW offices in St. Louis, VandeWater says Reason presented the team with three design concepts. CHW’s vice president of communications and marketing, Ed Giganti, has a design background, an artist’s aesthetic, and an eagle eye for detail, VandeWater says. And Les Stock, CHW’s graphic/production designer, has a strong design aesthetic and is an expert in production. The group studied the designs very carefully.

“They were all modular, but differed in the selection of fonts and grid width,” she recalls. “We liked what we saw and were particularly struck by how fresh and bold the new designs looked next to the design we were retiring. We identified elements we liked, rejected others, did some mixing and matching and asked for some modifications.”

After the initial meeting, Reason asked VandeWater for a comprehensive list of all the types of stories and content typically run in CHW, so he could develop styles for each element. Reason and the CHW publishing team held a group conference call to share notes on the next round of page mock-ups. Once they finalized the second design round, the publishing team was ready to set a launch date.

Reason returned to CHW’s St. Louis office to direct the redesign launch. “That really was helpful,” says VandeWater. “While he was onsite, he put together a stylebook and started a style sheet in Adobe InDesign. Les Stock has added to that over the months since the launch. The style sheet speeds production by minimizing the need for hand coding, and it keeps our style consistent.”

VandeWater enjoyed her first redesign experience and walked away with some important lessons learned. “One of Ron Reason’s strengths is his pragmatism,” she says. “We needed something that would work for us, a design dictated by content, but one that would help us break through the publication clutter on our readers’ desks. And that is what he delivered.”

And her advice to an association or nonprofit publisher about to undergo a redesign? “Choose your designer carefully and work collaboratively with him or her, and involve your staff in the process,” she says. “Remember, you’ll have to live with the design, so don’t abdicate all the style decisions. If you won’t know what you want until you see it, at least know what isn’t working in your current design.”

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