The ABCs of XYZ

The ABCs of XYZ A deeper look at the newly redesigned RISD alumni magazine from Criswell Lappin [RISD MFA '97]:
An alumni magazine should be about alumni activity. One of the biggest problems with Rhode Island School of Design's previous alumni magazine, risd views, was that it felt too institutional--a magazine ostensibly for the entire RISD community, but produced by the administration and largely focused on its internal concerns. So in February, when our firm, WellNow Design, was invited to redesign the magazine as an alumni-centered publication, our biggest priority was to create a dynamic new vehicle that would do justice to--being by and about--RISD's creative community of 25,000 alumni.

We started our process by collaborating with as many fellow graduates as possible within the 10 weeks that we had to design and produce the first issue. Our strategy: let the readers communicate with each other. Every time we asked for contributions, members of the RISD community responded enthusiastically. The first task was obvious--the fonts in RISD's magazine have to be designed by RISD-educated typographers. We chose Antenna and the yet-to-be-released Receiver--two fonts by Cyrus Highsmith [RISD '97]--for display text. With four widths and seven weights for both the sans serif and serif, these fonts would give RISD the flexibility to vary the voice and feel of the magazine when necessary. Keeping company with Mr. Highsmith is Tobias Frere-Jones [RISD '92], whose very readable and modern Chronicle Text appears in the body copy.
We also assigned out the department headers (above) to designers Kate Johnson [RISD '95] and Kevin Dresser. The concept evolved from a custom stencil font that Kevin is working on. We liked the idea that a stencil, with its disparate character elements, could represent a group that has separated but is still unified, but we asked them to push the direction further in order to communicate the idea of these constituent parts reconnecting. So, while some pieces of the letterforms have disappeared altogether, others reach out to each other--something we hope the magazine inspires alumni to do. The idea worked so well that Kate and Kevin helped us translate it into the RISD XYZ masthead (top, above), where their treatment is paired with the playful extra-light italic version of Cyrus's Ibis font.

Perhaps the most satisfying window of opportunity presented itself in the form of class notes--the laundry list of alumni accomplishments and transitions in the back of the issue (above). As in most alumni magazines, this is the most-read section of the publication--like Facebook in hard copy. We came up with the idea of creating an information graphic to open that section (now called "Where We Are") in each issue, offering a snapshot of where RISD's alumni are located and what they're doing. We asked Nicholas Felton [RISD '99] to interpret the data visually and devise a system that plots the location of each of alumni referenced. Bonus points to Nick for the graphic at the bottom of the page that shows the number of entries by class year.

VISHNU_B.jpg(Above): Feature openers from the inaugural RISD XYZ issue.

We created spaces for regular commissioned pieces to appear with both the editor's message and "Listen," the magazine's op-ed equivalent. For the premiere issue, Jessica Walsh [RISD '08] made a series of custom letter-shaped picture frames to form the word SHOW [with visual nods to The New York Times Magazine's "On Language" column] to pair with Liisa Silander's editor's message. For "Listen," Lauren Nassef [RISD '01] drew an illustration merging the top of a Lay-Z-Boy recliner with the base of an office task chair to suggest the difficulty of balancing work and home life. Lauren also helped us execute our cover concept (top of page) by drawing hundreds of birds--all flying back to the same place.

Our team did plenty of groundwork, too. Nancy Nowacek and Dungjai Pungauthaikan [RISD MFA '04]--each of whom have sat to my right in the Metropolis art department over the last six years--shaped a flexible system that celebrates the work being created by RISD alumni and helps the reader navigate the magazine from front to back. We created type treatments to emphasize graduates' names throughout each issue, beefed up the contributors' page with the help of Lisa Maione [RISD '05], and utilized the opening spread of the feature well to introduce readers to the alumni whose work they are about to experience. RISD XYZ was and is a collaborative effort, produced by a group of dynamic individuals who all come from--and hopefully remain connected to--RISD's exceptional creative community.ʉ۬

For more information about RISDXYZ, visit WellNow here and, for a pdf-download of the first issue, visit the RISD Alumni Blog here.

Magazine photographed by Sean Hemmerle.

Hey! You've probably got some NEW WORK to share, and we want to see it! We'll welcome anything that's gone to the printer recently, something you're especially proud of and think might be inspiring to the membership and readers of Grids. We'll note the credits and the publication and shine a little light on the latest and greatest in publication design.

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