Have you ever spent weeks agonizing over that perfect gift for a much-loved sister, niece, or best friend? If you're like me, once you've decided what to get, then the real agonizing starts: Which color will she like best? Is that his style? Will she grow bored with it too quickly? Finally, once it's bought and packaged you ship it off... often never to find out whether little Billy or Cousin Ruth really liked it or not.
That's sort of what it's like to produce the Johns Hopkins Magazine. Five times each year we put together a package of words and images about the university and its people that we hope will grab your interest, make you laugh, tell you something you didn't know before.
We agonize over cover photos and captions, over feature layouts and story selection, over headlines and news stories. Finally, after the completed issue is off the press, we mail it off to you and our other 100,000 readers.
And then we're left wondering: What do you think? Did we score a bullseye? Did we miss the mark completely?
Believe me, as editor, I'd really like to know. That's why I've begun sending out an informal reader survey after each issue. The survey goes to 500 randomly selected readers, takes about six minutes to complete, and leaves plenty of room for comments. It's obviously not intended to be scientific. What it does do is provide valuable feedback from you, our readers-- feedback that we're eager to learn from.
Once the surveys were tallied after our November issue, for instance, I discovered that our newly launched "Reader's Forum" section was the most closely read of all our departments. (I guess we'll keep it!) I also found that a sizable number of respondents think we need to provide more coverage of campus news and events. (We hear you.) Wrote one reader, about our February cover depicting "Street Smart" undergrad Greg Drozdek: "It piqued my interest--I immediately turned to that story and read it before looking at other mail!" (Good. That was exactly our intention.)
If you're one of the lucky 500 or so who finds a survey in your mailbox a few weeks from now, please, take a few minutes to respond. And if you don't receive a survey this time around, why not drop me a note, by letter or e-mail? Let me know what you like, or don't like, about this issue or any other. --SD Contributors In planning for this issue's science story, "A Handy Guide to Touch," we looked for an artist with a playful quality--someone who wouldn't be afraid to have a little fun. Art director Shaul Tsemach knew just the person for the job: Brian Rea, a youthful Baltimore illustrator whose whimsical drawings have graced the pages of the Utne Reader, Ray Gun, Money Magazine, and Psychology Today, among other magazines. One look at Brian's business card-- which brags, "Illustrations cooler than your tongue on a jungle gym!"--and I knew we'd be in good hands.
"When you get a phone call from Hopkins, you expect to be assigned a highly technical medical subject," says Rea. "But this was the kind of project where I was given lots of freedom. What a relief!"
To see just how much freedom, turn to page 32, where Brian's light-hearted drawings of prickly green arms and fingerprint bird men fill nearly every square inch of space.
"I usually start by reading through the manuscript and jotting down notes in the margins--notes that eventually evolve into visual images," says Rea. "In this case, I filled the border with a lot of tiny elements that were important to the big picture. I guess you could say these elements went from the margins of one page, to the margins of the other." --SD
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