Inside 5280's Redesign

Inside 5280's Redesign
Since 1993, 5280 has provided coverage on Denver, Colorado to locals and visitors alike. This city magazine, which is named after Denver's elevation of 5,280 feet, has just finished their latest redesign with their most recent July issue.  We spoke with 5280 Art Director, Dave McKenna, about the team's process and how 5280 has evolved on both the editorial and design side.

Read on for Dave's answers and images from the redesign after the jump!

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What prompted 5280's redesign? 

Our editor Geoff Van Dyke, in a new role as editorial director kicked off the redesign by hoping to create a more "lean back" experience to better reflect Denver's laid-back lifestyle. Initially it was more of a "refresh" but with new section names and structure, it felt like it really warranted a complete overhaul. We started having monthly brainstorm meetings to discuss, research, present new ideas and build look-books. An exciting time when everything was "on the table" including our Conversation/letters page and the editor's note--both reimagined. 

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What were the big changes in the redesign? 

As a city magazine, 5280's mission is to reflect what is unique about Denver and the people who live here (Denverites for anyone playing along at home). Right away we knew we wanted to highlight what sets Denver apart from other cities: our connection to the outdoors; we regularly refer to the Rockies as "Denver's backyard." That connection served as inspiration for a design concept as well. "Sophisticated field guide" became our mantra and informed the evolution of our typefaces, palette, photography and illustration styles. Though the magazine is very much about serving the reader we wanted to deliver that information in a way that is friendly not frenetic. Per our "Dialogue" page in the relaunch issue, we want 5280 to be "an engaging, entertaining experience."

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Stable of typefaces:
Our new front-of-book section names display is Dala Floda, a stencil font from Christian Schwartz, which was pitch perfect for our "sophisticated field guide" concept, at once "how to" yet elegant. The font is so beautiful that we kept our "badge" icons illustrating our Compass (news), Adventure (outdoor gear and travel), Culture, and Eat & Drink sections very simple--two color and flat. Quarto, which echoed a lot of the curves and weight of Dala Floda is our new display serif. Our new sans display is Tungsten; its great angles and lots of weights added some sorely needed texture. After doing lots of typeface trials we switched to a classic standby, Caslon, for our body text but added a little more size and leading. The new body sans serif is Avenir, which is cleaner and more modern than what we had but not too cold or angular. 

White space: 

Ah, yes the pricey-per-square-foot, yet all important, white space had all but evaporated since our last redesign. This was key to keeping our pages less frenetic and dense and show off our great paper stock. One way we helped carve out more and create a spot for at-a-glance info is the channel built into a new six column grid. Cyan rules help define the space but sit back a bit to keep the pages light and a little sporty. 

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Color palette: 

Our new color palette is limited to earthy colors in light tints and used sparingly. To raise the sophistication level, we kept color type to a minimum (before, full top to bottom sidebars were in color text) and removed most tint panels which were weighing down some pre-redesign pages. 


With the redesign issue, we gained an extra full page opener so we've raised the bar; shooting, styling, propping more than we had (not easy with tight budgets) to feel more authentically Denver. One fun thing, and a nod to naturalist-era field guides, was using the wet plate process for our editor's portrait. 

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We asked logo designer extraordinaire, Jim Parkinson to tweak our existing logo
and within minutes of my request, Jim came back with: "I would add a little width to the 5 and put some weight and a little zest into the top horizontal and make the tail a little more lively. The 2 wants a little me action in the top curl and a nice fat wiggly tail instead of the straight one. The 8 wants a little more width and a little more grace where the thin strokes intersect the thick. I would add a touch of weight to all the thick strokes and shave a hair from the thins without letting them get too thin." Needless to say, we were sold and thrilled with this new incarnation of the 5280 logo. 

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Any major challenges in revamping the magazine? 

Of course when you are working on a redesign in-house there are challenges juggling
it along with the monthly issue day-to-day, so our timeline stretched to about 7 working months--with once-a week meetings after each regular close. That said, redesigns are inspiring, creatively satisfying and a lot of fun (OK, there I said it). You don't often get an opportunity--for editorial and art staffers to collaborate in this unique way. For a magazine about a city that is changing so rapidly (recently voted both "best place to live" and thus fastest-growing) the magazine and its design need to keep evolving. 

Art Director: Dave McKenna 
Associate Art Director: Amanda Croy
Assistant Art Director: Sean Parsons
Assistant Photo Editor: Sarah Boyum

Editorial Director: Geoff Van Dyke
Deputy Editor: Lindsey Koehler
Senior Editor: Kasey Cordell

July Cover Illustrator: Halftone Def Studios

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  • Hey Dave McKenna ,
    Really very exceptional job you have done with your team and shared on public . Feeling awesome .

  • drizzie

    What a beautiful magazine!

  • alese pickering

    Late to the table, but: Go Dave! So fun to watch 5280 evolve. Great work!

  • Dave McKenna

    Just saw this note, Thx Alese!

  • Really awesome template. Your team is very strong.

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