Before diving into a new design, make sure your whole staff is on board, and team collaboration is at an all-time high.
By Ben Berkey
Eric Cárdenas knew his publication needed an overhaul. Cárdenas, director of public information and publications at the University of Tampa, saw that his alumni magazine, the UT Journal, had a busy design that had grown stale. The members of Cárdenas’s small but motivated publication team were being pushed to their creative limits, and contributing departments weren’t meeting their deadlines. Cárdenas also had to convince a skeptical university president with a marketing background that the UT Journal needed a redesign at all.
Cárdenas recognized that he had to get his entire staff working in tandem for the redesign to succeed. He needed a fresh perspective, so he enlisted help from Kelly McMurray, creative director at 2communiqué. Together, Cárdenas’s staff and McMurray began a two-year process of research, education, and collaboration.
The in-house designer of the UT Journal visited the 2communiqué studio to develop new skills, and McMurray studied the University of Tampa to prepare for a final presentation to the university president. The finished product was an update of the UT Journal’s original design, with fewer fonts, better use of white space, and more dynamic photos (check out before and after editions of the UT Journal online). Most importantly, the UT Journal’s entire staff supported the redesign effort, and the team continues to meet production deadlines.
Cárdenas and McMurray charted out a roadmap for a successful redesign (see flow chart). Even one dissenting staff member can break a redesign effort, so fostering a collaborative approach is crucial. In this interview, the two explore their process more deeply and offer pointers for redesign-hopefuls.
AM&P: Why did the UT Journal need a redesign?
Cárdenas: First, I wanted to make it more appealing through better art and a more modern design. Second, we had to completely rework the production schedule, which was unrealistic and led to chronic missed deadlines.
AM&P: You have said that you thought of this project as a design "update.” How does that differ from a full redesign?
Cárdenas: There were certain elements of the magazine that we knew, from an administrative standpoint, that we couldn't redesign—such as the size, the paper stock, the sections—so we felt that calling it an "update” was a more accurate description than a redesign. However, today we call it a redesign since it turned out to be such a complete overhaul, except for those few elements.
AM&P: The in-house designer at the University of Tampa actually went to the 2communiqué studio to learn and collaborate on the redesign. How did this improve the success of the project?
Cárdenas: Our designer was on board with the redesign and was excited by the prospects of working with the design firm. Our in-house designer has tremendous institutional knowledge, so she could help the design firm understand what design elements might work and not work within our institutional culture. Secondly, the design firm was able to do the redesign at a reduced cost since they knew that our in-house designer would be doing much of the nuts-and-bolts work.
McMurray: This was a crucial step in the process. By having the art director leave the office and come to our studio, she was able to really take time to work on the redesign without distraction. And for me, I was able to have a designer working with me who was very familiar with the culture of the organization so we could fluidly bounce ideas off of each other. In the end, the creation of the new logo and identity of the publication was a collaboration that the art director continues to develop.
AM&P: What should publishing staff do when all team members are not on board for the redesign?
McMurray: It is important that internal team members understand the bigger picture of a redesign—it is not just about color or type—but about how the publication aligns with the organization's business and communication strategies. When a redesign is approached strategically, decisions have to be backed by goals, not personal choices, making the process objective versus subjective.With that said, one of the reasons UT Journal was so successful was because, while at the end of the day Eric had the final call, he made sure his team was part of the process at every step, from meeting me to presenting to the university president.
AM&P: What advice do you have for publishers getting ready to undertake a redesign?
Cárdenas: It's incredibly important to be transparent with the team about the goals of the redesign. Having the whole team vested in the redesign project was important and remains critical as we continue production of the redesigned magazine.
McMurray: Take time to review your business and communication strategies and look at the magazine as part of the big picture. Don't look at it as a standalone item. Many times, we hear from people that they want to redesign their website only to find that they have already started a redesign of their website or identity. It isn't a la carte, but an integrated system that needs to be addressed right at the start.
Ben Berkey is copy editor at the Oncology Nursing Society and contributed this article as a volunteer of the Association Media & Publishing Content Creation Committee.