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Minnesota Monthly Celebrates 50 with a Facelift

Editor-in-chief Rachel Hutton discusses the magazine’s redesign and goal of consistent statewide coverage

Readers of Minnesota Monthly might have noticed a new look and some significant editorial changes this month, as the magazine just completed a redesign to mark its 50th birthday.

Revamped from cover to cover, the overhaul was months in the making and done largely to bring a renewed commitment to consistent coverage of places, people and happenings throughout the state.

“We have always covered the entire state. … We really have crisscrossed the state looking for story ideas,” says editor-in-chief Rachel Hutton. “I think the difference was that we weren’t always consistent about it—that some issues we’d have a lot of content about greater Minnesota and then we’d have a couple issues in a row that were very metro focused.”

The magazine heard from readers about that inconsistency and sought to change it. Hutton spoke with MMPA about how. Here are some highlights from the conversation:

MMPA: Can you share a little more background on the motivation for a more consistent statewide focus?

Hutton: I personally think it’s interesting when you meet people from the Twin Cities in another part of the country or another part of the world and you ask them where they’re from, people usually say, “I’m from Minnesota.” They don’t tend to say, “I’m from Minneapolis.” They will on further prodding, but it seems the first thing people say is Minnesota. We really identify with the state, whereas if you meet someone from Chicago, they would never say they’re from Illinois. We have some nice statewide pride here.

And we’d hear from readers around the state that they were feeling a little bit alienated by the dominance of the metro coverage. And while the metro obviously is the population center of the state, and there’s tons going on in terms of business and culture, we just wanted to be more consistent about sharing the stories about people, the events, issues, trends, that kind of thing, throughout the whole state.

We sort of combined this greater consistency on covering the whole state with a visual redesign to give us a new, fresh look and feel, too.

MMPA: What are some of the design changes you made?

Hutton: First is the visual aesthetic. In the past, regional magazines have tried to kind of be something for everyone, and sometimes that means cramming a billion different themes in there and we kind of wanted to move away from that and do things a little more heavily curated. So we might not be offering quite as much breadth, but we really are giving readers that depth, and the aesthetics reinforce that.

So it’s a little bit more stripped down, more emphasis on fewer, larger, impactful hero photos, and we wanted it to have a sophisticated feel so it felt like something you would want to hang on to and keep around—almost the feel of a coffee table book or an art magazine. You look at some of the newsstand celebrity magazines, they have a million headlines and colors and they are very busy and they feel like something you flip through quick and dispose of it, you get rid of it. We wanted this to feel like something you were going to hang on to.

MMPA: What are some of the changes made to your editorial content?

Hutton: We wanted to add a few new departments that helped give people a stronger connection to Minnesota as a place. Again, Minnesotans are so proud of where they live. This is a great state to be from, and we’re really trying to reinforce that with some of the things that we’re doing.

For example, we started this new piece called “Where in MN?” to feature a place in Minnesota where people can kind of guess where that is—reinforcing that this is something I know about or want to find out about that’s in our state.

We added some new things like a Minnesota dictionary, with words like “uff da.” These are words that kind of get tossed around, but wait, how do you actually use uff da in a sentence and what does it really mean?

Also we have a “MN Nice Advice” column. Minnesota culture is a little bit different than other places. So the first one, for example, is my friends said they’d come to my cabin this summer but now one of them wants to bring her life coach, can I say no? So the advice is kind of about Minnesota-specific things, from a Minnesota point of view.

We also have a section that’s called “My MN Memory,” a little segment where a well-known Minnesotan comments on one of their favorite places. And we have another new department in the front that’s called get outdoors. And that was another thing that distinguishes Minnesotans from people in other states is that we really love doing outdoor things.

Then we still have the classic things that people look for in a regional magazine as far as arts and entertainment, restaurant reviews, recipes and then a pretty robust travel section. Another new thing that we did add, again to have the consistency of covering the state, is a page that’s called Discover MN, where the state is broken up into five geographic sections and then there’s something to check out in each corner of the state.

MMPA: What do you hope readers take away from the new magazine?

Hutton: I think our mission for readers is really to give them two things, the first being those classic service elements that regional magazines are known for. I’d sum them up as a guide to the best ways to spend your leisure time and leisure dollar, and that’s things like travel, food, restaurants, that sort of thing.

And the second part of it I think is a little bit more about our uniqueness. I think in our features and profiles of interesting Minnesotans or cultural trends and things like that, we’re really able to give you stories with more depth and context to understand the bigger picture. A lot of the communities in greater Minnesota are underserved in terms of the publications they have. There are some good newspapers and things like that, but there just aren’t as many publications for smaller communities outside of the metro.

I hope that we help give readers a stronger sense of connection to their community and help them really feel like they know what’s going on and they’re informed and they can reflect on these issues and talk about them with their fellow Minnesotans.  

MMPA: How important is it for editors to take a fresh look at their publications as you did with Minnesota Monthly?

Hutton: I think it’s critical, especially in the print universe when the way people are accessing information digitally has really shifted the market. And I think print still plays a valuable role, it’s just a slightly different role than it has played in the past.

The thing that I think about with print is how a lot of us do get a lot of information on our phones. We’re checking news headlines, we’re following breaking news on Twitter, that kind of thing. But I really feel like the print experience is totally different, almost more of like a book experience. You’re not reading for that quick information. You’re reading for that depth, and that kind of break from the digital onslaught.

So I think that’s why we wanted the redesign, to have more of that sophistication and depth, to make something that you would hang on to. We were happy with the way things were. We’ve had great content, great design in the past, but I think that times change and it never hurts to put a fresh spin on what you’re doing. It’s been reinvigorating for our staff.