The Process: Chicago Magazine Redesign

The Process: Chicago Magazine Redesign CHICAGO magazine debuted their recent redesign back with the November 2013 issue, but now that the dust has settled and they've gotten into the routine of the new, we get a sneak peek into their process from Design Director Bryan Erickson. From the logo through to the website, they reconsidered every aspect...
  • November 2013 cover, redesign debuts
    November 2013 cover, redesign debuts
  • December 2013 cover
    December 2013 cover
  • February 2014 cover
    February 2014 cover
  • March 2014 cover.
    March 2014 cover.
  • February 2014 feature
    February 2014 feature
  • January 2014 feature
    January 2014 feature
  • December 2013 feature
    December 2013 feature
  • March 2014 feature. See more images below.
    March 2014 feature.  See more images below.

About nine months after my arrival at CHICAGO magazine the timing seemed right to give serious thoughts to a redesign. For us this was not only an opportunity to refresh the print magazine, but also a chance to reinvent our website while also exploring the biggest logo update the brand had seen in several decades. 

First there was the question of a new logo. Deciding to explore a new logo was not a decision made lightly. After all, we were talking about several decades of history. However, we had great support to let the exploration begin. 

I knew the person to enlist was the great Jim Parkinson, who I had worked with on projects before. I sent him copies of the logo and its versions over the years. I knew we wanted to abandon the upper and lower case (it seemed a bit too delicate for a city that is anything but) and with that wanted to lose the large tumor 'C' that had spent the better part of the last 30 years trying to eat the rest of the logo. 

The desire was to land on something that commanded the space it occupied better, had clean lines and steered clear of anything that felt too precious. In short, something that felt like it embodied the character of the city more closely. Some sixty sketches later, we narrowed to four top contenders. From there landed on something that truly hit the mark. 

Click on images below to enlarge.

For the print magazine, it had been about 7 years since the last major redesign, and while the design was not necessarily broken it definitely felt like it was time for a fresh look at things.  With the great support of my partner in crime, Editor in Chief Beth Fenner, I took some time away from the monthly to begin exploring ideas.  

On a purely visual level there were some initial goals; a bolder typographic mix, FOB sections with more surprise and impact, section openers that felt more like real destinations, and overall a design toolbox with more options in it. More importantly we were looking at content as a whole; thinking of new ways to tell stories, and more ways to delight, surprise and inspire. 

In the end our exploration yielded a new approach for FOB sections, a greater emphasis on graphics, renewed passion for photography, and bigger changes such as the creation of a new section to open up the magazine (the much more fun '312'). For us to get there it meant wonderful involvement of everyone on staff; not the least of which were editors that fully embraced change and an amazing art team that put in countless extra hours along the way.

For the web redesign, we partnered with Simplify, Advance to help us build our new online universe. The core of the project's success was our in-house digital design genius Luke Seemann (whose amazing attention to details, clever problem solving and patience with my constant type tinkering I am most grateful for) along with digital editor Jennifer Tanaka

The old site had become greatly fractured (like a house that had had one too many additions) and from a branding perspective felt disconnected from its counterparts. We knew we wanted something that first and foremost was a better experience for readers (and nicer to look at!), felt like a more organic extension of the brand and, very importantly, was a responsive design. In the end, I think that's exactly what we got.

Having been through several redesigns before I know the real adventure comes after the launch, where you can see it grow and evolve. Prototypes are one thing. The proof is always in making it happen everyday. It's the amazing art team here (deputy design director Nicole Dudka and photo director Megan Lovejoy in particular, along with Alan Boccadoro and Ratko Radojcic) that really have been instrumental in bringing it to life.

A huge thanks to Bryan and his team for sharing their redesign process with us! 

Have a redesign or other design/art/photo process story you want to share? Send us a jpeg of your work with credit info and background details to
  • I think the redesign looks great Bryan. Say hello to Beth Fenner for me (we worked together at Money) I'm not surprised the two of you did something smart and engaging.

  • {heart} Love the inline section openers and new logo! Props to my old NU classmate Luke Seemann. You and Sandy Weisz are the two biggest reasons I fell into design instead of writing. /applause

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