How to Redesign Your Corporate Magazine in 5 Steps

To us, building a magazine is like building a house. Here’s how to go from vision to finished product in 5 (not necessarily easy) steps.

Step 1. Survey the landscape

The very first step in any redesign is discovery: collecting everything you can get your hands on about the existing magazine, the audience and your competitors.

This includes:

  • Competitive review: What are other magazines in your space doing well? What about magazines who aren’t direct competitors but who serve a similar audience?
  • Research: Gather all info your company has (from focus groups, surveys, interviews, reader feedback, your most tenured employees, etc.) and begin to put together the “redesign story.”
  • Audience: Define the audience and what they want from your magazine. What do they love about the existing magazine? What are its biggest limitations from their pov? Hopefully you have some solid data to work with. If not, you should be signing up for SurveyMonkey pronto. Remember to question everything: is your key audience really who your marketing director says it is?  Is it statistically possible that 90% of your 20,000 readers are CEOs of Fortune 500 companies? Hmm…
  • Gameplan: Define objectives, get everyone to agree on these objectives, and build a strategy to meet those objectives. Since we’re talking about corporate magazines here, be sure you’re clued in to any other big campaigns, upcoming redesigns, etc. that may be happening currently with your launch date.

Look, we know you’re in a rush, but this is one of the most important steps to launching a successful redesign. Anybody can make a pretty magazine. Doing it with strategy and intention requires research.

Step 2. Sketch out your blueprint
Create content departments + magazine architecture

Based on what you learn from Step 1, you can now begin to build content departments (i.e. recurring sections and columns…think of your favorite sections in the magazines you read regularly) and plot out the overall flow of the magazine. The goal is to be meaningful—and determining what will be meaningful to readers will come partly from your discovery, and partly from trial and error.

Tip: Plan to survey your audience after the redesign launches, and again after 2 or 3 issues depending on your frequency. Readers are notoriously resistant to change, which is why you want to survey them twice before you even think about redesigning your redesign. Remember all the backlash that happens any time Facebook launches a redesign? Most of those protesters probably can’t even remember what their beloved older Facebook site looked like.

Another tip: If you are under the gun to produce an issue before the redesign is complete, you can begin the editorial phase of your next issue once step 2 is completed. With all your new content departments in place and the space allotted for each piece of content, your editor can begin assigning stories. Hooray!

Step 3. Break out the colored pencils
Design concepting

Ideally, your designer will present three unique design directions. For a magazine, each design direction will typically include:

  • A cover treatment
  • Table of contents
  • A department or two
  • And possibly a sample feature spread

From here, the team selects one design direction (typically with some tweaks) and you are able to move to the next phase.

Tip: If you’re the kind of organization (you know who you are) who gets hung up on the microscopic details, by all means give your designer images and sample text from an earlier issue to work with. Or use all lorem ipsum. Because the last thing you need is a marketing manager or CEO getting hung up on the incorrect treatment of a product name when you are only supposed to be looking at design concepts.

Step 4. Hammers and nails—construction begins
Design fine-tuning and building interior pages

Once the selected design direction is fine-tuned to everyone and their second cousin’s happiness, you can begin building interior pages (with “dummy,” or stand-in, copy). These pages will act as a template for the production designer once you are working with “live” (real) copy and images.

Several style guide details are worked out in this important phase, such as how footers are handled, what the rules are for headline and subhed treatments, whether photo captions are italicized or bolded, how you are handling calls to action, etc. These are all the hundreds of little details that will make your magazine polished and professional. Most readers won’t notice these details—unless they are sloppy and inconsistent.

Step 5. Certificate of Occupancy: You are now ready to move in
Deliver print template and style guide

This is when the art director tidies up their design files and hands them off to a production designer (the person who will actually be producing each issue of the magazine). If your art director is a freelancer, you’ll want to make sure he/she reviews the files with your production designer and editor, and is available for questions as issues pop up during production.

You, the client, will want to expect some deviation from the templates, since story structures and lengths may change once you’re working with live, edited text. Also, you may not get the dream photography the art director envisioned on a particular column, and your production designer will need to adjust the layout according to reality.

All caveats aside, you are now ready to begin laying out a real issue. Take your team out for a beer.