The Process: Boston Magazine's Recent Redesign

The Process: Boston Magazine's Recent Redesign Boston magazine debuted a redesign with it's November issue, and Design Director Brian Struble was kind enough to give us the backstory to the whole process:

SPD:  What was the original impetus for the redesign?
BRIAN:  The magazine knew they wanted a redesign before I was even hired. When I was interviewing for the job, they asked me what my plan would be. I submitted an outline for where I wanted to take the redesign and the magazine as a whole, and they hired me with the idea that we would work together on making it a reality...


After I was hired I was itching to start the redesign right away, but my editor first wanted to get the editorial side figured out. Plus, the parting advice I got from Esquire DD David Curcurito was to take my time with it. It was a slower process than any of us thought, with the marathon chaos in April and a total renovation of our office, we were really set back. But as much as I wanted to do it right away, I think the slower process gave us a better outcome.


SPD:  Redesigns are such huge endeavors, how did you get started?
BRIAN:  I had a redesign meeting week one when I arrived in Boston and then met with the editors of each section individually to figure out where we wanted to go. We started introducing new story ideas and continuing rubrics in my first few issues.  
      On the design side, the magazine when I arrived was a jumble of about three different redesigns and refreshes from years past. Each section had a different display font or different fonts for drop caps. Being so numerous and unmemorable, the fonts were failing to give the magazine a voice. The problem was intensified with all the fractional advertising that regional magazines deal with. It was pretty difficult to distinguish edit from advertising.  
      So I started cleaning it up with a little refresh of my own. I stripped it down to its two core fonts, and tried to unify some of the structural elements. I hired a new batch of illustrators and brought in new photographers and stylists from all over the country.
      I was changing everything gradually, and my editor had this running joke that by the time the redesign was over, it would just be a font change and no one would even notice.


SPD:  How did it affect your usual duties of getting the magazine out and who was involved in the process?
BRIAN:  On top of our monthly magazine, we also put four issues of Boston Home and two issues of Boston Weddings a year. All using our four-person art team. I am lucky enough to work with a great team, two of them I had the pleasure of hiring and I am eternally grateful for their weekends and late nights. But yeah, this redesign was done on weekends and between issues. 


SPD:  Take us through some of the redesign process. Was the content "redesigned" as well, or just the visual approach? 
BRIAN:  I felt the most important part of this redesign was going to be in its department pages. We had already started refreshing the content and as we worked it was clear that our section names were outdated as well. Culture was not being presented the right way in the FOB, our Style section was not just about fashion but about interior design as well, and the Menu section had evolved away from restaurant reviews and more towards the lifestyle of food plus an added drink section. Each section editor had their own take on what their section should be called, but I kept fighting to keep them unified. I put these section names together for dummy layouts and they ended up sticking. I love when that happens. 

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So "Insider," "Style," and "Menu" became "News & Culture," "Style & Home," and "Food & Drink."

What I liked about those section names besides their masthead-like type, was that they meshed with where I was trying to go design-wise. I wanted the redesign to get down to New England's puritanical roots. Stripped down, clean, and straightforward. Qualities you can still see in Bostonians today.



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The new Food & Drink section had the most changes. Before, it sat last, behind the well jump and special advertising sections. It was our strongest section and was getting lost. I moved it up to just after the well and asked for a double spread to break out one of the stories. It is shaping up to continually be my favorite spread in the issue. 


SPD:  Can you walk us through some of the main changes in the look of the magazine? 
BRIAN:  I kept the Chronicle typeface by Hoefler & Frere-Jones which was already being used for column heads. It was serious enough but still really beautiful. I knew I was on to something when I was presenting redesign pages and my editor kept saying how much he liked the font, he had no idea that he had been using it for the past few years. 
      For a sans serif. I added the font Founders Grotesk by Kris Sowersby. I love the narrow aperture of the C and G, it reminds me of early German Grotesks that I collected samples of when I was abroad. 
      With these swaths of dense advertising, I wanted simple yet strong page layouts that helped distinguish advertising from editorial. To help that, I added a graphic double rule on the inside gutter for single pages. Continuing the stripped down theme, I went from a five-column grid to a traditional three and four. I kept all photos within that grid as well, so no more bleeding photos into advertising or even off the page. 

SPD:  How about the well?
BRIAN:  For our annual Best Restaurants package, I wanted to do something different than the traditional list of restaurants followed by blurbs. So we treated it as a field guide of where to eat now. I have been collecting field guides for years and it was great to use them as inspiration. 

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SPD:  We see you had the great Jim Parkinson work on a new masthead/logo, and it's fun seeing the logo's evolution through the years. Can you share a little of that process?
BRIAN:  Before the process began, I went through our archive and pulled every logo that Boston Magazine had in its 75-odd-year history. Even from way back when the Chamber of Commerce owned the magazine. The logo from the early-'70s was a favorite but this short-lived logo from '76-'78 really felt timeless and not too stretched, an obvious problem with a six-letter logo. 

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I also went through my type specimens, and Jim went through what I can assume is his vast archive, then came back to me with about 45 different sketches. When that first round came in I was amazed at how tight they were. He created them as EPS files so we could try them out on covers. 

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After all the beautiful sketches from Jim, we decided on the idea of going back to our roots and having Jim update the logo.

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One idea I couldn't let go of was the idea of an italic logo. So when we decided on redrawing the the version from '76-'78, I had him try it in italic as well. My editor made the final call on the roman version and I think it was the right choice. Thrilled with the final outcome and to have worked with Jim!


SPD:  Before coming to Boston this year, you spent a number of years in Germany working on Vanity Fair and FHM. How has that experience changed your design style/perspective, if any? 
BRIAN:  Oh totally, Berlin is such a creative city, and an Easyjet away from everywhere. The flea markets alone! I have boxes and boxes of inspiration that I brought back. But in general, stepping away from the American design vernacular, living in another, and then coming back allowed me to work with a new perspective.  
      I am happy to be back in the States, but I do miss my Saturday routine of going to Do You Read ME looking at all of these obscure titles you just can't find here. If I had one complaint about Boston it would be its lack of magazine shops. Barnes and Noble just doesn't cut it for me.

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A huge thanks to Brian for sharing such great details with us!
Find more of Brian's Boston Magazine work and other work on his portfolio site here and on his Tumblr.

COVER CREDITS
Design Director: Brian Struble
Sr Photo Editor: Scott M. Lacey
Photographer: Bruce Peterson

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