When Washington and Lee University teamed with Zehno on a redesign of its alumni magazine, the challenge was clear: give the magazine a fresh new voice and look, while showing generations of readers that W&L is still the school they know and love.

To succeed, the new mag needed to balance the university’s deep history — it’s the nation’s ninth oldest institution of higher learning — with its standing as a top-tier college of today. The redesign elevates content and design to match the school’s academic reputation with a new suite of editorial signatures that bridge the generation gap between older and younger readers.

Challenges

  • Raise the intellectual tone of the magazine to include discussion of serious issues in society.
  • Expand the sense of history beyond founding dates and famous figures — through program timelines, archival treasures, generation-to-generation tributes — to show what it’s like at W&L today.
  • Upgrade the editorial and visuals to give the magazine a newsstand-quality feel.
  • Take liberal arts to the next level — showing how classrooms connect students with doing good things in the world.
  • Beef up the feature content with more varied stories in a clearly defined feature section.

Results

FLEXIBLE TEMPLATE

A clearly defined magazine template makes editorial planning a breeze. Signature editorial devices provide a strategic framework for every issue.

ALUMNI-FOCUSED

More alumni profiles appear in every issue — both in a revamped class notes section and sprinkled throughout the magazine.

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rePACKAGED ONLINE

W&L’s online editorial site, The Columns, was redesigned to align with the print mag, extending the stories and new look beyond just those who receive the print magazine.

A classic style for a new generation

A reader survey confirmed that W&L Magazine was widely read, especially among older readers — with 74 percent reading every issue — and that it was most alums’ number one source of information from their alma mater. But readers also said that the content had grown predictable and didn’t show how W&L had changed since they were students.

To address those concerns, the new magazine promotes the common interests among all ages of readers, giving a nod to the university’s history without alienating the younger generation.

For the new look, Zehno took style cues from classic American design — but updated them for a contemporary feel. New modern typefaces nod to tradition, but they’re used in a nontraditional scale. The school color, a royal blue, was paired with a spectrum of other blues — plus pops of red to grab attention.

To appeal to readers who want quick reads, as well as those who read cover-to-cover, the revamped feature section mixes long- and short-form stories. Longer features give room to play with different writing formats, sidebars, infographics and other devices that spice up standard storytelling. In contrast, two new recurring feature types — Office Hours (profiling a faculty member) and Lives of Consequence (profiling both older and younger alums) — are just two pages each, including full-page photos. Both new profile types include sidebars that give readers an inside look at the subjects’ personal interests outside the classroom and workplace.

New editorial signatures in the front-of-book appeal across generations.

  • The magazine opens with a top 10 of noteworthy news and ideas, featuring everything from faculty books to quotes heard around campus.
  • A “W&L IQ” quiz tests alums’ insider knowledge of the school’s history — from art collections to quirky commencement traditions.
  • To bring readers up to speed on life at W&L now, Dubyuhnell Day (named for the way people blur the syllables of “W&L”) spotlights a current student making an impact on campus.
  • Salute is a mini-tribute about how generations of alums inspire each other.

A new endpaper, Chronicles, functions like a time capsule. It pairs a historical photo with a moment in time.

Theme issues cover a topic from multiple vantage points, showing W&L innovators out in the world tackling complex social problems. For example, the sustainability issue covered topics ranging from creative reuse of materials in modern architecture to how campuswide energy savings affect the bottom line. Profiles of alums who manufacture eco-friendly mountaineering gear and work as snake-loving park rangers rounded out that issue.

The redesign of the online editorial site, The Columns, merged magazine content with campus news, events coverage, people profiles, campus calendar, photo galleries and more. The resulting info hub unites W&L’s best stories, regardless of their point of creation. It showcases magazine content alongside other stories rather than in a walled-off “magazine” site.

What Zehno did

  • Audit and strategic recommendations.
  • Prototyping: Print magazine redesign, content strategy with new sections and storytelling devices.
  • Ongoing design and editorial support: Layout of first three issues and template preparation.

Tips for your team

  1. Listen to your readers. While some magazines are doing away with class notes or moving them online, a survey of W&L readers showed that they wanted more class notes, with more in-depth alum profiles.
  2. Reexamine your budget. In order to achieve a newsstand-quality look, you need a right-sized budget for illustration and photography.

Super Strategic Magazine Makeovers

In this free webinar, Shane Shanks discusses how to bring your magazine’s content strategy in line with where your institution is heading today.

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