Making It Look Good: Interview with Art Director Carol Goodling

Art director Carol Goodling shares thoughts on design in an interview with freelance writer Lorraine Berry. Excerpts:

Q: Tell us about your role as art director of ICView and how you got there.

A: In 1991 I was hired as the outside designer for the magazine for its special issues during the College’s centennial year. Marina Todd, a former colleague of mine at various publications, was the editor at the time, so I was happy to have the opportunity to work with her again. In 1993, I was brought on staff as a designer, but no longer assigned to the magazine. So, when our department reorganized 10 years later and design/production for the magazine was brought in house, I was thrilled to be assigned as its designer/art director, working with editor Maura Stephens.

We’re a much smaller operation today than in 1992, although that hasn’t had much bearing on my role, which has always been to design, procure photography and illustration, and pull it all together in a layout program. The biggest change for me has been, with the advancements in technology, the “how” of how things get done, and who does them. Everyone knows that story, regardless of their field! The prevalence of quality inexpensive stock photography and art has not only made it possible and easier to do more with a shrinking budget, but it’s inevitable that given the affordability and 24-hour accessibility, we rely more on those types of sources.

Still, I always prefer to hire and work with illustrators and photographers whenever possible—I enjoy the interaction, and they offer a fresh and unexpected angle to whatever direction I provide. Although original art may be pricey and budgets tight, FedEx, e-mail, cellphones, and online “soft-proofing” have made custom work more viable, allowing for better and time-saving communication with photographers and artists.

Q: What is the purpose of a college magazine?

A: In its least effective form, a college magazine may cater only to the demands, whims, and political interests emanating from the administration, development office, department heads, and, at times, influential alumni or donors. That’s usually more of an editorial struggle, but also can lead to ultra-safe and unengaging design choices.

We’re not subscription-based, so we do not operate completely independently. Our publication needs to reflect the goals and concerns of the administration and other parties with a vested concern for the College’s future. But, philosophies can and do differ on how to address those, at times contentious, concerns.

The intent to shock or brow-beat the reader via art or words (in this venue) would be inappropriate, and   counterproductive to fulfilling our publication’s mission. It’s not what we’re about. The needs of the administration and the campus community get conveyed to the designer through the editor’s words, vision, and constructive feedback. Overseeing the integrity of our mission’s presentation is ongoing; without it, you end up with an incongruous mess or a stale template, or simply an unintended visual message.

I like a magazine to read and feel like a magazine, not a newsletter and not a slick brochure. I think when college or other magazines confuse one with the other in terms of design and feel, the reader senses it and consciously or unconsciously files it away in their brain along with all the associations they make about one or the other.

Q: What’s it like working with different editors?

A: Some editors are more involved in the visual aspects of a publication than others. When Marina Todd was the editor, I was granted virtually free rein in terms of features design (the basic template remained essentially the same for a number of years before and after 1992). Feedback came from mostly from the then in-house writers/copy editors—mainly suggestions having to do with parochial or political no-nos that an unwitting “outsider” couldn’t know. Of course, there were a few petty preferences I was obliged to adhere to as well—the color green was off-limits for one particular writer!

Maura Stephens, the present editor, on the other hand, has very strong opinions about everything from colors (although, I can’t think of any particular color banished for good from our pages!), to placement of credit lines, to cropping off the tips of people’s heads in photos — which makes for some lively give-and-take at times! She has a passion for good structure and relevancy. She’s big on variety.

Design for design’s sake is always tempting for any designer, but not as challenging, and giving in to that temptation doesn’t necessarily add to — and often detracts from — a story. Doing so is often indicative of weak design or that the designer was simply trying to dress up a famished pig!

Magazines are essentially extended puzzles, within a page or section, and from one section to the next. Design, photos, art, should all contribute to a reader’s interest in and understanding of, and moving through all the stories and sections. The challenge is to achieve a balanced design that fits with the established look and tone of the publication, which in turn should reflect something of the institution’s values and personality, as set by the editor.

In a publication like ours, which tries to address a broad-spectrum audience made up of many niche audiences (think of the various schools, departments, donors, parents, scattered alumni working in many different fields), it can be difficult to make strong statements in terms of design or content without upsetting or turning someone off.

Sometimes political constraints—or, worse, petty preferences—can squash the willingness to be challenging and engaging with one’s work, be it in art, photography, design, or writing.

But the agitation that comes with frustrated approaches can often lead to something more solid, more thought-out, better. There’s typically a lot of give-and-take between an editor and a designer that leads to satisfactory solutions.

Maura isn’t content with producing just another run-of-the-mill college magazine, or a glorified brochure in the guise of a magazine. I feel the same way, so every issue’s an adventure!


Read the main story, 25 Years of ICView.