The magazine redesign process can feel a bit like a
balancing act. Here’s some advice from the Masons of California on how to
strike just the right cord with current members and future generations.
By Cecily Walters
It may have undergone its second significant redesign since
1954 not too long ago, but the Masons of California’s California Freemason
magazine has kept its design looking current and fresh. At the recent 2011
Association Media & Publishing Annual Meeting, Angel Alvarez-Mapp, creative
editor, California Freemason, and Joshua C. Chen, principal and creative
director, Chen Design Associates, shared some tips and best practices they
picked up throughout the publication redesign process in their session titled, "Balancing Act: Redesigning the Member Experience."
Alvarez-Mapp began by explaining the history of the magazine
and providing an overview of the Masons. Freemasons belong to the world’s
largest fraternal organization. Membership is secret and open to men only, with
more than 50,000 members in California, 2 million in the United States and 5
California Freemason, which is not supported by advertising,
went through minor redesigns in 1974 and 1983 before moving to its current
format and incorporating color throughout in subsequent years. "About one year
ago, we wrote a new five-year plan for the organization,” explained
Alvarez-Mapp. "We decided that the magazine needed to show our relevance to the
world and that we needed to reach members of all ages.”
To begin the redesign process, the magazine staff
participated in a half-day in-house branding workshop, where they discussed audience
expectations, Chen said. They chose not to have members involved for this
session because "We wanted the magazine to have a new personality and look, and
we didn’t want members to feel tied to the old look or persona,” he detailed.
(The staff conducted a reader survey one year before the redesign.)
The branding workshop revealed that the staff of California
Freemason felt that it was important to creatively inform (through such techniques
as using graphics) and to strike a balance "with the typography and approach for
a range of ages,” Chen said. (Most members are between ages 38 and 60, while
most new members are between ages 38 and 45.) The team also wanted to focus on
world issues and expand the publication’s coverage beyond California.
They looked at the range of other publications that their
audience members read, such as The Economist, GQ and Sports Illustrated. While
reviewing these other magazines, they clipped out images that they felt defined
the personality of California Freemason. Similarly, Chen’s firm collected
visually inspiring images to use as ideas for elements of the redesign.
Chen noted that the team had the freedom to consider a
variety of ways to express the brand using the masthead because the publication
is not sold on the newsstand. Staff members chose an overall color palette that
remains consistent from issue-to-issue and experiment with layering effects and
textures in layouts.
Usually original photos are used, but the remainder of the
time, the team uses stock art that they work on altering to look more like
original images. Since the redesign, California Freemason’s staff has worked on
presenting data in a more infographic way. In addition, the paper itself is now
different. The magazine is now printed on a more matte, 30 percent recycled
To choose what colors to use in a particular issue, the team
reads the articles to determine what they evoke. Each issue of the bimonthly
magazine has a theme, which the staff determines by considering the overall
balance of the year to figure out how to reach the most members. They also take
care to consider the demographics for the cover.
When it comes to best practices for publications looking to
begin a similar redesign process, "Don’t just change everything because you
can,” advised Alvarez-Mapp. "Make a change because you need it, your readers
will get it and it has a purpose.”
Cecily Walters is assistant editor for School Nutrition
magazine at the School Nutrition Association in National Harbor, Md. Association Media & Publishing thanks her for volunteering to cover this annual meeting session for our members who were unable to attend.