How to Design an Alumni Magazine

Don’t let their glossy exteriors fool you: Alumni magazines are workhorse publications. They reconnect alumni with their alma maters. They remind donors of the good work their donations make possible. They inform the community of the institution’s accomplishments. They attract new applicants.

Leaders of the Drexel University College of Medicine wanted their new Alumni Magazine to be modern and sophisticated, while earning a prestigious place on the home coffee tables or medical waiting rooms of alums. Most of all, College leaders wanted a magazine that alumni would be proud of — as proud as the College is of its accomplished graduates.

To meet this challenge, Hollister Creative focused on the most important building block of magazine design: exceptional photography. In the startup planning stages, Hollister and its partners in the College of Medicine’s Marketing & Communications Department agreed to engage professional photographers and to go the extra mile (literally and figuratively) to photograph subjects in their own environments. The cover features a Drexel alumnus who serves as a captain in the U.S. Army Medical Corps, Madigan Army Medical Center. The photo was shot on location near Seattle.

Each story has its own individual design, with unique elements and colors informed by the article’s subject matter and photography. Unifying elements, such as consistent body type, give the whole magazine a cohesive look.

If your organization is planning a new magazine or a redesign, here are some tips on how to earn that coveted coffee table spot:

  1. Plan the cover photo with extra care. Make sure the photographer knows in advance where within the photo frame he or she has to leave space for the nameplate and teaser text. For subject matter, few things can beat a human face in a compelling context.
  2. Be generous with white space. Compare a splashy tabloid magazine, like Star, with a sophisticated, design-centric publication, like Martha Stewart Living. Star crams every inch of the page with photos and text. Martha‘s clean and roomy design invites the eye to relax, savor and linger.
  3. Give each story its own personality. Within a consistent overall aesthetic, provide enough variation from story to story so that the reader feels fresh excitement with each new subject.