Do the last 12 covers of your organization's monthly magazine blend together? Is your readership on the decline? Is the layout and content growing tired with each passing issue? Perhaps it's time to consider a magazine redesign.

“Magazines should be making small tweaks to their design as needed and pushing major overhauls every four to five years,” says Anthony Flott, director of communications for the University of Nebraska at Omaha Alumni Association and managing editor of UNO Magazine. “Readers might start to get bored with the look of a magazine over time, so organizations should think of a redesign like a person might think of getting a new hairdo.”

Flott was part of a major redesign of UNO's alumni magazine in the mid-1990s, which updated a two-color, newsprint style magazine into a more modern, glossy format. “People didn't like the newsprint feel, and they certainly didn't like the ink smudging on their fingers,” Flott says. The process of updating the magazine led to the creation of a new alumni publication from scratch, which has featured award-winning covers and garnered better readership than previous designs. Here Flott offers his tips for executing an effective redesign.

  1. Conduct frequent reader surveys. “The designer might like how something looks, but that doesn't mean the readers will,” Flott says. “The opinion of readers should shine through first when selecting content and design.” Taking time to survey your readers will inform the design and content included in your publication, and it will be better tailored to suit the needs of your current readership.
  2. Make sure your publication reflects your organization. Think of your publication as another face for your organization. “Rolling Stone is going to look different from Forbes in the same way a hospital's magazine design will differ from that of a university,” Flott says.
  3. Remember: Your design is your message. “Ask yourself, ‘Is my publication relevant, useful and entertaining?’” Flott says. “Just because you want to send a message to your constituents doesn't necessarily mean it's what they want to hear.” Use your design to properly deliver the look and content that really resonates with your readers.
  4. Make your cover stand out. The staff at UNO Magazine uses commissioned artwork for every cover, a design choice that differs drastically from most educational institutions who use single headshots of people and campus scenery for cover art. This choice has not only engaged readers who have asked for access to the artwork but has also won the publication a “gold” recognition at the American Institute of Graphic Arts awards.
  5. Look at for-profit magazines and archives for inspiration. “For-profit magazines are often able to hire the best designers, so they know what's new and current in terms of design,” Flott says. “Also be sure to look at your archives, because you'll never know if there is something old that can be revisited to fit today's trends.”

Source: Anthony Flott, Director of Communications, University of Nebraska at Omaha Alumni Association, Omaha, NE. Phone (402) 504-3341. E-mail: aflott@unoalumni.org. Website: www.unoalumni.org