6 Signs It’s Time to Redesign Your Association Magazine

Picture this: You’ve just arrived at the office, settled into your desk chair and are ready to enjoy that first cup of coffee. It’s magazine day — the latest issue of your association publication just arrived in the office. You pick it up, lean back and tuck in. 

How do you feel? Do you feel a flutter of excitement as you turn that first page, or does your heart sink, disappointed? If it’s the latter, you’re in the right place. 

In this post, we consulted with m3Magazines Director Ben Carpenter to uncover six surefire signs it’s time for an association magazine redesign

 6 Signs It’s Time to Redesign Your Association Magazine

1. You Want Your Magazine to Wow

Legendary American designer Milton Glaser (designer of the I Heart NYC logo) famously said, “There are three responses to a piece of design — yes, no, and WOW! Wow is the one to aim for.”

If you feel your stakeholders or magazine team is underwhelmed with each new issue, it’s time to inject some “wow” into your publication. A redesign is the perfect way to do it. 

“I love the process of throwing everything out on the table and starting with the fundamentals,” Carpenter says. ”Who are we? Who are our members/readers? Who are our advertisers (or potential advertisers) interested in reaching? And then, what does the magazine that works for all of those people look like? It’s such a fun process, and it’s very satisfying to watch it all come together.”

Solve It. Get key stakeholders and the magazine team involved in the redesign process. Have a brainstorming session to throw out ideas and concepts. To avoid the dreaded design camel, take all those great ideas back to your qualified design team to distill them into a cohesive and refreshing new vision for the magazine. 

2. It’s Outdated

Every magazine design has a shelf life,” Carpenter says. “Most design trends come with an expiration date, unknowable at the outset, when they will begin to look dated.” 

If your magazine looks like it hasn’t been updated in years, it’s unlikely to wow your members who toss it on the coffee table alongside consumer glossies and other membership magazines, like AARP, which holds the honor of being the most-read magazine in the U.S. Top mags like these demonstrate the value of continual refresh and redesign.

“Even the cover of Time has changed significantly over the years, though it always retains the red border that makes it distinctive,” Carpenter says. 

Solve It. Start by identifying what about your magazine looks dated. Is it font choice? Ho-hum stock photos? Not enough white space? In what ways does it differ from modern magazines that appeal to you and your membership? An experienced designer can help pinpoint the problems and develop workable solutions for a refresh or redesign that will breathe life back into your magazine. 

3. It Doesn’t Match Other Parts of Your Brand

Have you reworked your messaging or launched a new website? As you revamp other areas of your brand strategy, it’s important that your magazine keeps up.

“Your magazine needs to not only fit into your brand messaging but, it also needs to be one of the principal drivers of it,” Carpenter says. 

A magazine that’s in sync with the rest of your brand will help reinforce your association’s identity and maintain a consistent experience for your members. It can also give you a revenue boost. According to a Marq study, consistent branding across all platforms can increase revenue by up to 20%. If your magazine doesn’t match your new branding, it can create confusion for your members and detract from your overall message.

Solve It. Start by identifying the elements of your new branding and messaging that should be reflected in your magazine. Or, if you don’t have a firm concept of your brand, start with the magazine. 

“Often, when new clients come to us, they don’t have a solid grasp of their brand,” Carpenter says. “We can turn that blank slate into an advantage, create a great-looking magazine and then extrapolate a cohesive brand out of that foundation.” 

4. It’s Out of Sync with Your Digital Presence

“How content is consumed, and what kind of content draws attention and engages the reader, evolves as well,” Carpenter says. 

If your magazine doesn’t have a digital presence, you’re missing out on engagement opportunities with your membership.  There are numerous ways to get your magazine content online, from digitizing the entire publication to repurposing articles on a separate blog or sharing key information via an email newsletter. The key is to ensure that the content remains consistent across all channels, including design, messaging and tone.

One way to ensure consistency is to establish brand guidelines that cover all marketing materials — online and in print. Another way to maintain consistency across print and digital is to automate the process of distributing magazine content online. Use a CMS to publish your magazine online, share snippets on social media or send out an email notice after the print issue arrives in members’ mailboxes.

Solve It. Compare your magazine content to your website, social media platforms and email communication. Look for inconsistencies in the look and messaging. 

5. Your Members Tell You It’s Time

One of the most obvious signs that it’s time for a redesign is when your members tell you so. The purpose of an association magazine is to be a member benefit. If what you’re putting out no longer appeals to or benefits members, it’s time to rethink. 

It can be difficult for members to articulate exactly what they don’t like about a publication — or why they simply have stopped reading it. According to Carpenter, members or even advertisers may lose interest in a publication if it becomes too templated. 

“If, when flipping through, nothing surprises or delights you as a reader, then something is amiss. When redesigning a publication, we strive to construct templates that allow for creativity — encourage it, even. A key design principle for me is to set the rules, then set about breaking them in the right ways.”

Solve It. Poll your members about what they do and don’t like about the magazine. Include some questions about what types of magazines they enjoy reading. Use this feedback to inform your redesign efforts. And don’t be afraid to break some rules! 

6. It’s Just Time

Sometimes it’s just time for a redesign. 

“It’s a great idea to evaluate the look and content of an association magazine every year or two and make minor tweaks as necessary,” Carpenter says. “But, if you do it more frequently, you endanger your consistency. Then every four to six years is a good guideline for when to put everything back in play and allow yourself to modernize the look, throw out sections or recurring columns that aren’t working and reorganize the content in better ways.”

Solve It. Review the latest trends in magazine design and content. Gather publications you love and use them as inspiration when planning your own redesign. To offload the heavy lift of a magazine redesign, work with a publisher that specializes in association magazines and has the staff and creative know-how to guide you through the process with ease.   

An association magazine redesign is an opportunity to reinvigorate your publication, ensuring it remains a valuable resource for your members. By staying in tune with design trends and listening to your members, you can create a magazine that both wows and effectively communicates. 

A successful publication is one that continually grows and evolves to meet the needs of your members. It’s an ongoing process that requires flexibility, creativity and collaboration. Plus, it’s fun! Now, go out and create the magazine of your dreams. 

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