When Bryn Mawr College teamed with Zehno, the goal was to redesign the magazine and its companion website to be unapologetically Bryn Mawr.
The new magazine delivers smart content for serious readers. With an atypical literary-magazine-meets-academic-journal vibe, the magazine isn’t just an ideal match for intellectual readers. It’s also a reflection — and celebration — of the school’s singular campus culture.
If your school isn’t like every other college, why should your magazine be?
- Appeal to an intellectual readership. But don’t let “serious” content come across as somber.
- Formalize an editorial structure that yields interesting, varied content from a barebones staff.
- Upgrade the visual style to be sophisticated, spacious and modern.
Named Best Redesign by the UCDA (along with other top prizes from Education Marketing Awards and UCDA).
Doubled down on smart content for an audience that regularly reads academic journals.
Carved out space to amplify new voices and a broader range of perspectives.
CAPTURING THE CULTURE
As one of the Seven Sisters colleges, Bryn Mawr pioneered education for women, including being the first women’s college to offer a PhD.
Alumnae/i include Oscar-winning actress Katharine Hepburn, NPR reporter Neda Ulaby, and a parade of scientists, mathematicians and academics. Bryn Mawr alums are smart, motivated and serious. And their drive earns the right to embrace their self-deprecating nickname: Mawrters. (Martyrs, get it?)
But Bryn Mawr is not like every other school. It’s intellectual, analytical and a touch perfectionistic. The joke is that if you win a silver medal in the Olympics, everybody will congratulate you — then immediately analyze how to win gold next time.
Discussion and evaluation is at the core of Bryn Mawr, so the second redesigned issue devoted its “debate” spread to the magazine itself. While many schools wouldn’t invite criticism of a new magazine, Bryn Mawr gave readers space to chime in with “I love this” or so-and-so “is spinning in her grave.”
As Zehno’s redesign progressed, the guiding question was always: How can we make this more Bryn Mawr? Embracing the campus culture was part of decisions ranging from primary typefaces to signature story types.
FIND A FORMAT THAT WORKS
After a survey of 4,000 readers showed that most Bryn Mawr alums read a popular magazine along with an academic journal, Zehno recommended a distinctive vibe: the literary journal.
The new magazine’s off-size stands out in mailboxes and on coffee tables. The journal format, paired with an editorial strategy that favors think pieces over campus happenings, matches the school’s readership.
Although the format change ruffled some feathers at first — because it was striking — the magazine quickly won over even its harshest critics. Most readers soon favored the more portable format and its new style of content.
For the editor, the journal format also drives the editorial concept. Instead of routine internal stories that are covered out of higher-ed habit, the new mag demands a different level of content: elevated, thoughtful and imaginative.
SMART CONTENT FOR SERIOUS READERS
Many college mags fear that “serious” content will come across as “skippable.” That’s why they shy away from stories that go deep into academic subject matter.
But Bryn Mawr isn’t afraid to write about spheromak research (that’s physics, if you’re not familiar) or Sierpinski triangles (that’s math).
The trick is in the translation. Writers unfazed by the density of academic prose can find fascinating stories perfectly suited to smart readers.
One notable aspect of the redesign is Discourse, a centralized place to discuss, debate and learn. The section contains reader-contributed columns and pieces highlighting groundbreaking research. Profiles introduce student and faculty movers and shakers. And there’s In Class, a course spotlight that sometimes comes with its own reading list.
The result is a magazine that feels smartened up, not dumbed down. For readers who read the Atlantic, the New Yorker, and academic journals, that’s a major point of pride.
But not all content is super serious. Quirky pieces about “Jeopardy!” appearances or the history of beloved campus trees go through the roof on social media. In the same way that Bryn Mawr’s president schedules snow cone parties so that students take time out for fun, the magazine dedicates space for pure fun.
Read more about the redesign in our ask the expert with Editor Nancy Brokaw.
What Zehno did
- Audit and strategic recommendations.
- Prototyping: Magazine redesign, editorial strategy with new sections and storytelling devices.
- Template preparation: Layout of first issue and template preparation.
- Responsive web magazine in WordPress.
- And more.
Tips for your team
- Listen to your readers. Use a survey and focus groups to garner input. Invite them to discuss the new magazine’s content — and stylistic pros/cons.
- Look for ways to draw in your campus’ unique culture — even if the rest of the world might not always get it.
- Don’t shy away from complex content.
TAKE THE NEXT STEP
Next time budget slashers descend on your office, be prepared to answer what it actually accomplishes.