5 Ways to Make Your Custom Publication Way Better

We recently launched a redesign for a university magazine (finally!) and thought we’d pass along some of our favorite tips for making your own custom publication better.

1) Rethink your magazine architecture

BEFORE A front of book section that didn’t evolve with the magazine’s needs. Too many new sections had been added over the years, and the naming convention was starting to not make sense.

AFTER Help readers hold their place by redesigning the flow of the entire reading experience. For example, we converted several choppy sections into one umbrella FOB section that encapsulates the university’s mission. We gave the client a menu of various columns/formats that can be rotated in and out of this section from issue to issue.

This new format also creates a stronger branded magazine that a) is not re-invented each issue and b) begins to build recognition with readers.

2) Kill the “Wall of Words”

BEFORE Each page had one story and an average of 550 words. There were excessively long narratives about a single source. An earlier attempt to break up this text with subheads was ineffective because subheads were the same size/style as the body text.

AFTER Chunky, colorful, big and juicy. Get away from a traditional narrative style—there are a million ways to tell a story. Put two or three stories on a spread and let stories cross the gutter (which also means you’ll greatly increase the number of voices in each issue). Make numbers and subheds stand out from body text. Update your fonts.

Even better, ask yourself if your story could be more quickly communicated in a chart or graphic. For inspiration, start collecting “charticles” from New YorkEsquire and Good. Think those publications don’t apply to your trade pub? Check out what Inc. has been up to lately. Bring some much-needed inspiration to your weekly status meetings by sharing examples from Information Is Beautiful.

3) Don’t tell a life story in every story. Or any story for that matter.

BEFORE A 150-word piece about an award recipient, once in the hands of marketing and product stakeholders, morphed into a 600-word monstrosity.

AFTER Focus on a tiny sliver of the story. Do this by establishing very clear column descriptions and criteria (complete with word counts!) in your redesign. For example, one of the goals of this particular magazine is to get alumni to re-enroll. So we created a column called “How it Paid Off” which essentially demonstrates the “ROI” of spending thousands of dollars on an advanced degree. This could easily eat up 1,500 words. Instead, we created a list format:


Job title before degree
Job title after degree
How my degree helps me make a bigger impact
Biggest benefit of earning my degree at x university.

We captured this in 102 words. In and out.

4) Use better art (without necessarily spending more)

BEFORE Stale headshots, outdated stock illustration styles, far too many “grip and grin” photos

AFTER Instead of sending distant sources to their local mall photo studio (shudder!), we worked with the same art budget and hired photographers across the U.S. who could capture environmental portraits (hint: get your sources outside). We also pushed sources for submitted images and gave them ideas on what we wanted to see. When we got good images, we ran them big. We saved the standard headshots for thumbnails (or not at all).

5) Remember: What’s important to your administration is probably not what’s important to your readers

BEFORE Too much real estate given to university news, and placed where the university thought it belonged—right up front. Long articles covering university events that already happened.

AFTER With a 2x/year frequency, news is not a primary purpose of this magazine. So we moved news section to back of book and capped the word count for each “brief.” (Again, build this criteria into your redesign. The more “rules” you can establish up front, the better chance you have against word creep.) Each news piece ran with a call to action to get the full story online (interested to see the metrics on those redirects).

For event coverage, which used to eat up spreads at a time, we offered up one 1/3 column where we ran big, chunky sound bites. Outcome? We were able to “cover” four events in 139 words.

What would have made this project even better?

A print-to-web integration, which is something all clients should include as a mandatory line-item on their publication budget.

Check out some great examples from min online.

Ready to launch your own redesign or improve your print-to-web integration?  Give us a shout.


  • Filed under Branded Content, Content Creation + Mgmt, Content Strategy   /  

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