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A Redesign in Mind

By Sherri Kimmel


Sherri Kimmel, editor of the Swarthmore Bulletin

During the last half-century or so, only a few folks have been fortunate enough to serve as the Swarthmore College Bulletin editor. Marilyn Orbison Gillespie ’49, a snappy dresser who is still going strong as an avid volunteer for the Scott Arboretum, led the charge from 1956 to 1992. Jeff Lott held the reins from 1992 until I came on board in early 2012. Jeff retires from College service in January, having spent the last two years as editor of a book commemorating the College in honor of the upcoming sesquicentennial year—and which you will receive as a gift in early 2014.

Following two editors who were so invested in the College community, I felt I needed to get up to speed quickly. So I’ve been conducting an informal listening tour during the last 18 months.

San Francisco. Portland and Eugene, Ore. Minneapolis. Washington, D.C. New York City. They’re worlds apart in many respects. But in each locale there has been one commonality: bright, creative, lively, and engaged alumni.

I asked those who turned out for a tasty meal and meaty conversation to tell me what they liked and didn’t like about the magazine. They took the task of critiquing very seriously, as they care about the College deeply. They’re people who like to give back—not only to their College as volunteers, whether as guest columnists for the magazine, externship and internship sponsors, prospective-student interviewers, or donors.

Some alumni mentioned that they would like the magazine to be more conversational. Others found certain sections, such as up front’s Collection, to be jumbled and saddled with a label that didn’t convey the meaning. Class Notes are universally popular, of course, and alumni like to read stories about other alumni. But, as one alumna summed up when asked about story preference, “Interesting is interesting; well-written is well-written.”

I found comments from these folks—who ranged in age from newly graduated to 50 years out—to be very instructive and valuable, particularly as we head toward a redesign of the magazine with an aim to freshen the look and enliven the editorial content. The intention is to make the publication more accessible and engaging.

Why a redesign? As you know from the magazines you subscribe to—whether they be The Atlantic, The New Yorker, Time, Vanity Fair, or Entertainment Weekly—the graphic appearance and editorial mix evolve. It’s good to take a look every few years and see if the content or the look can be overhauled or merely tweaked to better serve the readers, to keep their interest piqued. The Swarthmore College Bulletin was last redesigned in 2008.

This redesign will not only assess effectiveness of the print edition but also that of the magazine website. Through this process, I’ve discovered, lamentably, that our online edition and special multimedia features are unknown to many alumni. Their existence needs to be better communicated.

Small focus groups have not been my only means to engage readers. I sent surveys to a few hundred alumni after mailing the October 2012 and April 2013 issues to gauge response to those particular issues. And I emailed a more general survey to 4,500 randomly selected alumni this summer. The survey was crafted by the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education and is used by alumni magazines around the country, allowing for benchmarking with other institutions.

As I write this, I’m sorting through the responses from the 650 folks who took the time to answer the anonymous survey, granting us a healthy response rate of 14 percent.

I deeply appreciate all the input I’ve received from you—whether in small, informal focus groups, through surveys of select issues, or participation in this summer’s extensive survey.

But this isn’t the end of my fact-finding mission. Before the redesign process begins with our as-yet-to-be-selected partner agency, I’ll be gleaning insights from the Board of Managers and the Alumni Council. And if you haven’t been one of the readers randomly selected to receive a survey or invitation to a focus group, let your voice be heard. Tell me what improvements you’d like to see editorially or graphically. Write to me at

Thanks so much for your interest and participation.

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