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A Fresh New Look

Northwestern magazine redesign reflects classic traditions, forward-looking vision

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September 2, 2010 | by Pat Vaughan Tremmel
Slide show produced by Matt Paolelli
EVANSTON, Ill. --- Go ahead and look a little closer. The inviting cup of tea on the magazine’s cover that sits below the simple words “Welcome to Qatar” refers to Northwestern’s thriving three-year-old Persian Gulf campus.

Yes, the latest issue of Northwestern magazine, arriving in the mail now, has a dramatic new look. The soothing graphic dominating the cover offers the first peek at the inaugural issue of the redesigned magazine. A quick flip through the pages further reveals a newsier, more sophisticated look in which images play a much bigger role in driving a reader to the words that, though much reduced, still reign supreme.

“Words are the reason the magazine was created for alumni in the first place,” stressed Stephanie Russell, the Northwestern editor. “Words -- and stories -- are still king in the redesign. But today more than ever it is excellent photography and illustration that carry the reader through the magazine to the stories that also need to do the critical job of attracting readers.”  

Chosen from three prominent design firms in the running, Pentagram, a firm with offices in London and Berlin as well as New York and Austin, did the redesign. “We were attracted to Pentagram’s D.J. Stout and his background in designing both commercial and alumni magazines, his up-to-date, almost irreverent treatment of news and features, his ability to make them entertaining, attractive and topical,” Russell said. 

Reflecting the University’s classic traditions as well as its forward-looking vision, the elegant new design will lean more toward candid shots and photojournalism rather than art-directed photos in which every hair is in place.

“We’re using photos to not only help guide our alumni readers through the magazine, but also to connect with them on a visceral level,” Russell said. “The images should say ‘This is your University, come back and take a look.’”

She pointed to the archival materials -- photos, images, graphic art and posters – that were played up in the feature on Wolfgang’s Vault, a website featuring memorabilia of rock music’s greatest age. “We’ve got this unbelievable opening photo of rock musician Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin and a complete gallery of rock concert posters featuring such rock greats as Pink Floyd, the Grateful Dead, The Doors, The Who and Cream.”

The Qatar cover story also brings home the beauty of the new design. “We put almost no text on the opening spread, except the headlines,” Russell said. “It’s this lovely, almost mythical view of the desert with the headline, ‘The Road to Qatar: Northwestern’s New Home in the Middle East.’ It captures a reader’s imagination, and we hold off with text until the next couple of spreads.”

The magazine certainly has changed with the times, from its 1988 launching, when it was called Northwestern Perspective, a thin, mostly black-and-white publication, with features that ran 5,000 to 6,000 words, to the next design in 1999, with the new name, more color and the move toward shorter stories, to Pentagram’s clever new design in 2010.   

Russell was first introduced to Stout, who had been the art director of Texas Monthly magazine for many years, during his talk at a forum for editors of alumni magazines. “He has this wonderful take on magazines and does outstanding work on covers,” she said. “At Texas Monthly, he even wrote most of the headlines for the stories, which is a real art in itself.”

During a trip to Northwestern in November, Stout jogged along the lakefront on the Evanston campus, afterward becoming more convinced than ever that the look of the magazine needed to match the traditional campus and the highly literate alumni who read it. So he decided to go with a classic, elegant redesign.

The redesign process has re-energized the magazine staff. “I think that our alumni readers and the parents of undergraduates who also get the magazine will share our excitement about the redesign,” Russell said. “The design should go a long way in carrying people back to their days at Northwestern and also carrying them forward as they learn about our remarkable students and accomplished alumni.”
Topics: University News