Sam Winslow

Modernizing a Magazine

Nov. 9, 2019

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In Fall 2017, I joined Baedeker, the student-published NYU travel magazine, starting as a layout designer. Given content and a set of instructions, I churned out packaged InDesign files for two semesters. In Spring 2018, the end of my freshman year, I started showing up to meetings with the executive board to edit copy and check proofs. In these meetings, I had some questions.

  • Why are we using Open Sans, designed for screens, for body text in a print publication?
  • Why are the left and right pages of a spread designed by different people?
  • Why do we manually move files around on a Google Drive folder to manage content?

Maybe it wasn't my place to ask these questions. Maybe there was some secret logic behind these choices that I couldn't understand as a mere freshman. But more often than not, I was met with "Well, we've always done it this way," which, in all honesty, is not much of an answer. Luckily, my willingness to rock the boat did not push people away—in fact, I was chosen to take over as creative director for Fall 2018.

Breaking, then making, the rules

I overhauled the magazine's style guide, starting with the typography. Tiempos Text and Founders Grotesk, two modern faces inspired by classic newsprint, would be central to the new style. The style guide (PDF) explained not just how things should look, but also how I arrived at these conclusions.

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One designer would always be assigned a spread, not just a page, so gone were the days of mismatched color palettes and discordant layouts. This is not to say Fall 2018 was universally well received—many on the team thought that photo-centric layouts with generous whitespace were creatively stifling, even boring to design. In my first semester as creative director, I was so focused on asserting a new, consistent style that the individual designers' feeling of making an impact was greatly diminished.

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A spread in the Fall 2018 issue. Read the digital edition →

It took me a while to realize this, but my job was no longer to design these pages, but rather to encourage and provide support to younger designers who were itching to take risks. Yes, you can submit 5 variations of your spread. Yes, you can set this article's one-word title in 300pt. font. Yes, yes, yes.

At the end of the semester, I sensed there was still much I had to learn in order to manage this team effectively. I had been working closely with Kristina, now my co-Editor-in-Chief, to get our budget approved, our website updated, and our events publicized. Yet there was an underlying feeling of disconnectedness among the team of designers and editors.

Learning to delegate contributions, not just tasks

The #1 critique reported on an end-of-year survey I sent out was that we lacked an in-person community. To address this culture issue, I first created a shared Google Calendar with the year's events. It seems obvious now, but until I did this, events and meetings were sent out via email only to those who would "need to know." I flattened our hierarchy and made it clear that anyone could come to any meeting. Certain meetings would be focused around editorial work, design, or club management/finances, but transparency would help each member understand how their work added value to a larger system. This is critical because my Baedeker tenure has an end date: whenever I graduate or otherwise leave NYU. For the magazine to stay afloat, we need someone capable to take over, and they'll demonstrate their outsized commitment to the magazine if given the freedom to do so.

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Some members of the team and I after the Fall 2018 release party

I also wanted to recognize the individual skills of members of this team. Beverly, for instance, had a penchant for poetry, and when the photo we chose for the cover didn't quite fit, why not put a poem on the cover?

let’s pack up our books and run away
to a place that we can’t call our own.
read the stories of others, meet others
living out their stories, become stories
ourselves, and maybe one day be lucky
enough to share them.

After doing this for the first time in Spring 2019, we had half a dozen people submit poems to be published in Fall 2019, with a captivating romantic energy. On the other end of the spectrum, Bianca, one of the designers, was heavily plugged into bizarre memes and digital culture. So, I had her design promotional assets for Club Fest, our biggest recruiting event of the year. Edgy, bold, and attention-catching, her style worked better than something self-important and austere.

Automation makes time for creativity

Lastly, I put into place a number of technical changes to minimize busywork and give people more time to provide creative and strategic input. Previously, we would collect submitted content from authors via email, and forward them to one Gmail account. There was no standard for submission format, so we'd get shared Docs, PDFs, and Word docs. Standardizing all this manually was crazy-making: Kristina, or I, or a managing editor would manually copy content over to Google Docs and then tabulate them in a Sheet. It took hours and felt like getting a tooth pulled.

zapier

Having become a superfan of Zapier over the summer, I set up an automation that would:

  1. organize content from a submission form into nicely named files, a master spreadsheet, and folders split by section;
  2. email the appropriate section editor (Africa, Asia, etc.) with the full submission and author's contact info;
  3. add the author to our Mailchimp list, notifying them that their submission had been received and providing ways to engage with our website and social media.

With the time saved on admin work, we can go above and beyond, giving authors more personalized feedback, building partnerships with other clubs and NYU departments, and expanding our digital presence.

I am so excited for another semester and the sheer privilege of working with a talented, explorative team. Join us on this adventure—check out our Instagram and digital edition.