Senior Designer / Production Coordinator
Managing Editor, Staff Writer,
The National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS)
For decades, NOLS printed their 24-page alumni publication on a newsprint press at the Jackson Hole News and Guide in Jackson, Wyoming. Just a few hours drive from town, beneath the protective gaze of the Grand Teton— it felt like a local printer.
Three times a year, the newsprint publication was printed and mailed to about 70,000 graduates, outdoor instructors, and donors who supported the nonprofit outdoor school.
With new goals for alumni engagement ahead, it was time to take a closer look at this publication.
Out With The Old
As an in-house designer, I designed the page layouts, coordinated the printing process for the newsprint version for several years. Because we printed on newsprint, I also routinely edited photos to account for significant dot gain, adjusting contrasts so that amazingly colorful photos would look simply decent in the final product. The photos usually turned out muddy, the pages were huge and difficult to read physically, and our readers weren't resonating with the stories.
We needed a bigger change—in both our paper and our content strategy—to make this a publication full of stories that would really captivate readers and create a lasting impact for the organization.
The Redesign Process
Working with the editorial manager and the staff writer, we were able to establish a new editorial formula based on feedback we received from readers and aligned our content areas to long-term strategic goals as well as annual goals for donor giving and alumni engagement.
Working closely with the editor, I established an editorial formula/content balance between departments and features, and allowed space for ads promoting alumni benefits. We identified what types of content would appear in each space, and established target word counts as well as voice and tone.
For printing, I was able to stay within our annual budget while completely reformatting the entire piece in a significant redesign with a smaller trim size.
What was a 20-page tabloid-size newspaper became became a 32-page self-cover publication. We upgraded the paper and print quality, too, while cutting costs by a third to allow for postage increases.
Basically: we used more sustainable paper choices, a print facility that could ensure a FSC-chain-of-custody certification, and significantly increased the efficiency of our fulfillment and mailing processes. Where we increased our costs on paper, we decreased our costs on fulfillment.
This all happened before I knew about UX.
I was familiar with design thinking, yes. But I didn't track the before and after numbers on donor dollars. I can't directly say that attendance at alumni events increased, or that the $20 million endowment campaign we entered the following year was launched into it's quiet phase with great success because of this redesign. But I do know that event attendance improved, annual fund giving increased, and that campaign was wildly successful—all due to a number of factors, and perhaps in part because of this redesign.
I'm always excited to see the ways my background in print design and production pops up in new places. It has deeply informed how I think of information architecture and content strategy. The way a reader experiences the pacing of a printed publication can be inspiring or informative—or both. It's the details that make us designers, the purpose that makes us artists.