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Chronogram's Redesign: A Manifesto for Change

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We did it. We redesigned Chronogram. Welcome in, make yourself at home.

For the last year, we've been talking in earnest about a redesign—and not just tinkering. We've been envisioning and incubating a wholesale, start-from-scratch, throw-the-baby-out-with-the-bathwater redesign. This left us with a daunting question: How do we freshen the packaging of Chronogram—creating a more readable, relevant, and useful reader experience in print—without losing our idiosyncratic voice and unorthodox design, the key attributes that have defined us?

After much discussion, iteration, discussion, and reiteration, we arrived at a simple rubric: Tell more stories in a more engaging way.

In the early stages of our process, all options were open. Would we create a new logo? Change the column grid? Throw out long-running departments? Eliminate the calendar listings, the foundation of the magazine for 25 years? Ideas we would never have considered even a few years ago now seemed plausible, even exciting. Here are several of the changes we landed on and implemented that have significantly impacted our magazine's look and feel.

TYPE

One of our long-standing desires was to use the classic font, Helvetica, as the defining font of the magazine. The subject of much design debate, Helvetica has always resonated with us. But we felt that going strong and central with it would provide an anchoring contrast to the more playful fonts we want to incorporate into features, callouts, and pull quotes.

A common piece of feedback we get from our reader surveys is that our body type is hard to read. In response, we've pumped up the font size. We also went from a two- to three-column text grid where possible.

WHITE SPACE

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. How much is white space worth? To us, it's worth a lot as a design element. As underrated as the silence between musical notes, white space is the canvas upon which the page elements exist. Over the years, some of our layouts became crammed with type, images, rules, info boxes, and icons—too noisy. We sought to strip out the nonessentials and let the pages breathe.

ENTRY POINTS

For too long, our pages were text-heavy walls of words. With the redesign, we looked to add more entry points that lead a reader into a page. In our new format, we make sure that no page is a sea of type, and we utilize drop caps, pull quotes, and inventive type treatments to attract readers' attention and invite them into each page.

STRUCTURE

Chronogram's evolution from a utilitarian guide to a content-driven read was nontraditional in many ways, including the magazine's structure, which never had a standard feature well. We regularly ran feature-length pieces and special sections, but the bulk of the content was presented as departments of mostly medium-length pieces. We wanted to break that up and have space to stretch out, so in the redesign, we developed our own version of a feature well. First, a long-form piece with supporting art but weighted towards text. Second, a medium-length piece profiling a regional personality, with a lean toward art and more images. Third, a photo essay, on any subject, with robust captions. We've also added an Outdoors column (page 62), a subject near and dear to so many of our readers.

UTILITY

Following the guiding principle of telling more stories, better, we did what at one time seemed unthinkable: We removed the calendar listings. (The name of the magazine actually refers, with a little creative license, to a calendar; the literal meaning of chronogram is "time writing.") For many of our readers, Chronogram is the when and where for events they care about. However, because of our monthly publication schedule, the print calendar is not all-inclusive, and though edited, doesn't offer much more than the basic facts. In the redesign, we have preserved our curated previews of upcoming events. And we've shifted the calendar completely to our website, where it can be comprehensive, paired with audio/video, and user-generated. Ultimately, we more than tripled the events receiving feature treatment in the print version while also achieving a better-looking magazine.

STAYING RELEVANT

When Chronogram started in 1993, there were no smartphones; computers were still relatively expensive for casual use; and most online experiences consisted of message boards and the now-quaint "You've got mail" ding. Print was where you got your information. These days digital and print are territories on equal footing, and Chronogram lives in both.

Our readers want to engage with us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and our Eat.Play.Stay newsletter (sign up here). Our print version is digitally aware, and we expand the content we're presenting on the page to our stories online, adding more photos, audio, video, and resource links. Like many publications, we now publish some of our stories first online, then giving the luxe and languorous print treatments suitable to the medium.

One of the most satisfying things about the Chronogram redesign for those of us who worked on it was that there was no pressing need. We're not downsizing, we're not retrenching, we're not tightening our belts for an uncertain future. Our work is driven by service to our readers, and the redesign is a way to give our appreciative audience more of what it loves in a smarter and sleeker container. Highlighting what's best and most inspiring about the Hudson Valley has always been our intention at Chronogram, and we brought that attitude to our work on its latest incarnation.

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