Is it Time to Redesign Your Magazine?

Tip: Don’t Expect Your Readers to Tell You

Publication redesigns should be done in order to better serve readers, but you can’t expect readers to realize it’s time for that change. That is the role of the publishing team — to identify reader needs, then lead them through an engaging publication that meets those needs and even addresses a few they may not know they have. That is part of the art of creating a great publication.

I’ve seen redesign projects start with a survey that asked, “Do you think we should redesign the magazine?” and, “What kinds of stories would you like to see in a new publication?” While I commend the company for looking for ways to give readers what they want, they were expecting too much direction. I’m all for using surveys, focus groups and informal interviews to learn about and from the target audience, but readers simply can’t articulate how their needs should be translated into a publication. If they could, publishers could just do a poll to come up with an editorial slate. Great publications know their readers and can even anticipate their needs. More importantly, they know how to create a publication that engages and builds a relationship with them.

At the beginning of this year, we unveiled a redesign of Road King, a 225,000-circulation magazine we publish for TravelCenters of America. We began the process last fall with the goal of better serving our readership of professional truck drivers. Unlike some redesigns, we weren’t changing the mission of the publication or addressing a decline in circulation. In fact, our reader research showed a dramatic increase in reader affinity with the publication. And, the magazine won more awards that year than at any time before. So, approaching a redesign of a 45-year-old brand was something we approached cautiously.

In evaluating a potential redesign, our editorial and design staff came up with specific goals. First, we wanted to expand our editorial offering. We came up with the original structure of Road King in 2003, when we started publishing the magazine and the average issue was 56 pages. Due to our advertising sales growth, the average page count is now 96. The larger magazine gave us the opportunity to expand the number of columns and features, while maintaining the elements that were very popular with readers.

Our second goal was to update the design. The last redesign was five years ago, so we thought it was due at least an update. While we originally started out just thinking about a minor change, we quickly realized it would be best to start with a clean slate. That means we looked at everything: the brand, fonts, colors, and layout. We ended up with a very different design, but our choices were all based on how they would relate to readers. For example, while the typefaces used in the magazine are very different from before, they are not foreign to our readers. One of the primary fonts is Interstate, the font used for Interstate signs — quite familiar to the professional truck driver flipping through our pages.

Readers have embraced Road King’s new design and editorial package. They like that it is fresh and new, but still contains the elements they have come to depend on from the magazine. We know this because we have asked them. Our new design is very different from what I thought we would end up with at the beginning of the process. And, it is something our readers could have never told us to create.