Magazine Redesigns: When, How and Why

Thinking about revitalizing your tried-and-true publication but not sure how to get started? We think freshening up your publication can be a fantastic way to inspire current readership and gain new.

Here are some reasons publications and magazines consider a redesign:

  • If the look and feel is dated (if you’re stuck in the 80’s, you might be a trend-setter now!)
  • If the circulation is stagnant or numbers are decreasing
  • If the competition has a leading edge in design or look
  • If your magazine or publication is trying to attract a new audience

But before you start tearing apart the old look, review what elements of the existing look are working, and which ones have to go. To start you off in the right direction, you must first determine if this publication facelift is the right move given the current condition and reception of the publication. Let’s take a look at 5 key elements that can help us determine if your publication needs a new look:

  1. Does your magazine clearly state who publishes it, what it does and whom it serves? Does it clearly define its mission and identity?Your publication is probably one of the most important aspects of your organization. However, because you and your team are so close to it, you may be missing out on important insight that a fresh pair of eyes can provide.

    Seek out a first-time reader and have them give you their first impressions of the publication. Ask them the questions above. If the answers are unclear, the fundamental design and communication elements of your publication are off point and could use some tweaking.

    Your magazine should tell a first-time reader who publishes it, and whom it serves, within the first 3-5 seconds of being viewed. If it doesn’t, you may lose a potential reader who wasn’t able to identify with it!

  2. Let’s talk first impressions.You’ve heard it before. First impressions can make or break a deal; the same goes for your publication. When you look at the cover of your magazine, does it catch your eye? Does is stand out from competitors on the racks or in the mailbox? Try using an expert designer, illustrator or photographer to create a new innovative and attractive cover design for your publication. The goal is to draw your customers in with a cover design that stops them in their tracks, engages them with teaser lines and calls-to-action that draw them into the publication, and supports the overall key editorial messaging/theme.
  3. Does your logo make a big impact?The top two inches is critical design space for publications and it is generally home to the most consistent and recognizable aspect of your publication, your logo/masthead.

    Is your design memorable, easy to identify and functional?

  4. Organization is key!The layout of your publication should be intuitive and easily direct readers to the content they are looking for. How are your features and departments differentiated within the publication? Create a visual hierarchy that can increase the ease-of-use of your publication and the speed in which your readers can find the articles and content that is important to them.
  5. What’s your call-to-action and where is it located?If your publication’s call-to-action isn’t front and center, you’re missing out on crucial interaction with your customers. All of your readers, including those that skim your magazine, should be able to see and clearly identify your call-to-action. The placement of your call-to-action should be unambiguous and fit seamlessly into your layout design, including the cover.

You’ve now gone through the review process, and answered critical questions to help you determine if a redesign is right for your magazine or publication. Now you’re ready to begin the process. Here are some pointers to help you stay on the straight and narrow when doing your redesign:

  • Make your redesign big, visible and distinct.
    Make all of your design changes in one issue. Don’t update different sections per issue.
  • Set a deadline and stick to it. Make it during a period where magazine or publication sales and subscriptions tend to go up.
  • Timing could be a big player. If your publication caters toward outdoor sports, pick the date for the launch of the new look at the start of the new season.
  • Keep your focus. Redesigns don’t happen over night, but they also can’t drag on for a year.
  • Brainstorm with your team, but make sure there are 1-2 primary decision makers who can determine what ideas are to be incorporated into the new look.
  • Make a list of the design changes that you are hoping to make. Do you want to change the grid, typography, color palette? Do you want to change the masthead? Meet with your team to decide on what changes will have everyone’s support and approval. Make sure to take time to consider and think about the positive or negative impact the changes will make on the magazine.
  • Make your new look big by incorporating call-to-actions in your marketing of the new look.

Words of Wisdom from Dr. Mario Garcia

Dr. Mario Garcia is the driving force behind the redesign of well-known publications such as The Wall Street Journal, The Miami Herald, The Philadelphia Inquirer, and Paris Match. The following are his tips to performing a publication redesign based on his many years of experience:

  • Not every redesign is the same. Customize your work to make it appropriate for the specific product.
  • Get a full briefing of expectations, target audience and extent of change. Some redesigns are just a face wash, while others are a full bath.
  • Rethink the publication around four major story structures: typography, page architecture, structure of publication and color.
  • Story structure should be the first step. How can the hierarchy be emphasized?
  • Typographically, test at least three font combinations of serif and sans serif type and choose the most appropriate one.
  • For page architecture, develop at least two grid patterns with various columns and perhaps include both in the final design.
  • Play with the color palette that starts with two-dozen combinations, from dark to light and in-between. Create the sample palette of no more than ten shades.
  • Emphasize navigation because readers are used to Internet and its navigation and they can express impatience if they see no clear navigation in print.
  • Review the order in which the content will appear. Will you be moving elements in or out or will you change the order of things.
  • Work closely with editors and reporters, as they will bring the necessary journalistic ingredient to the process of visually changing a publication.

Resources: Magazine, Bate’s Creative Magazine Redesign Evaluation