Disrupting with Design
How visual aesthetics can subvert an audience's expectations to keep brands fresh and broaden their appeal.
Right out of college, I hopped on a plane to New York with four other Missouri girls with big New York dreams. We shared a small apartment on the East side and set out applying for magazine jobs.
In the same week, I interviewed for a job at Redbook magazine and at The Village Voice. I knew if I was lucky enough to be offered either gig, my career could take dramatically different turns. Would I be drinking lattes at Union Square with alternative minds or digging through the beauty closets on 57th street? Or were those just presumptions in my mind?
I was torn on which I wanted, but was ultimately offered the job at Redbook and jumped at the opportunity. There, I learned so much about type, art concepting, photo direction and, also, designing to disrupt stereotypes.
In 2002, I found myself at Redbook almost 100 years after it launched in 1903. Redbook was “my mom’s magazine” to many women in our demographic—30 to 40-somethings, some navigating parenthood.
Part of the editorial challenge was adapting the Redbook brand to break through this preconceived idea of what and who we were, and reintroducing ourselves to a new generation of women.
A lot of this was communicated through design—how could we style/shoot products and design pages to present our message in a way that not only felt current, but broke through the 100 years of preconceived ideas people had of our brand?
When, years later, I landed my current position at AARP The Magazine, the design challenge was a familiar one. How do we visually appeal to Boomers, and now Gen-Xers (the oldest which are now in their 50s—yes, Adam Sandler will be 50 this year) with the brand challenges we face?
“Isn't that for retired people?” or “My parents get that magazine.”
Our CEO Jo Ann Jenkins has made it her mission to "Disrupt Aging"—kill the stereotypes of what we think “aging” means. My team’s role in that is to continue to surprise our readers through great design, on a variety of platforms, where our members and potential members are.
Often younger people, in a somewhat surprised tone, tell me “I saw your magazine, and I really liked it.” Good design is good design, regardless of what you may think a brand represents.
Now, I’ll let our audience be the judge of that, but with Halle Berry, Robin Wright, John Cusack all turning 50 this year, it’s an exciting time to be art directing at AARP.