After two-plus years of planning, strategizing, brainstorming, surveying, and focus grouping, the Swarthmore College Bulletin’s latest redesign is finally complete and is receiving a thumbs-up from readers, who are commenting on the magazine’s fresh look and enlivened editorial content.
“I am thrilled by the reader reaction to both the print and Web redesigns,” says Bulletin editor Sherri Kimmel. “We’ve already seen increased comments and reader traffic to the website, suggesting that our goal of increasing reader engagement is being realized.”
Redesigns are a necessary process in the ever-changing dynamics of the publications world, and the Bulletin’s last redesign was in 2008, the same year the magazine website was created.
At the outset of the project, the College’s redesign consultants, Zehno Cross Media Communication, noted, “You have a good magazine already—with high readership and a trusted voice. Our shared goal is to make your magazine and website great.”
From the start, the redesign process has been collaborative—Kimmel toured wide swaths of the country gathering alumni feedback through focus groups, and many more alumni were surveyed via U.S. mail and email, adding another 700-plus voices to help steer the redesign effort.
And of course, the job has been an ongoing journey for Bulletin staffers. Armed with the opinions of readers collected from the focus groups and surveys, the magazine’s five-person editorial team gathered at the Swarthmore home of Associate Editor Carol Brévart-Demm last October to pour over mountainous piles of alumni and commercial magazines, gathering inspiration for the Bulletin’s new look and feel. Once the magazine staff had a rough sketch of its new editorial vision, it was time to choose consultants to help bring the plan to life.
After reviewing proposals and presentations by several nationally prominent design firms, the New Orleans–based Zehno rose to the fore.
An entire year of collaboration followed—consultations with the campus community, collaborations with Swarthmore’s Information Technology Department, and almost-daily conversations with the editorial staff—as the new magazine and its website took shape. The new Bulletin, which mailed last week, has been amply praised by readers. Here are some of the comments:
- The crisp redesign looks wonderful and inviting.
- I love the new design—very clear without being stodgy/boring! I really like that Class Notes are on a different colored paper—really makes it easy to navigate the mag. The pullout Class Note briefs really pulled me in too! Brava!!!!
- I love the website! It is terrific and very accessible—it makes you want to explore it!
- I am one of the alumni to visit the Bulletin website for the first time, and the good news is that I really like the layout, found it engaging and that there was more there than I had time to read, so I made it a “favorite.”
Among some of the most significant changes from the old format, says Kimmel, are the reduced carbon footprint created by the magazine’s new more highly recycled paper and switch to a local printer as well as the new website’s compatibility with smartphones and tablets. New features like Caption This! where readers provide punch lines to Swarthmore-inspired sketches by former New Yorker cartoonist Peter Steiner, and online extras like alumni-submitted photo galleries and Web-exclusive stories and videos were developed to boost reader participation.
In response to many requests from surveyed alumni, the magazine now flows more logically and spotlights off-the-radar alumni in a new feature called Liberal Arts Lives. Other interactive Web components like Ask the Author and Speak Up! are among the new additions, but according to Kimmel, the best way to get used to all of the new online goodies is to jump on the site and go for a spin.