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Steven Jacaruso, art director, designs the look and feel for Wesleyan magazine.
 
Posted 04.17.06

Art Director Has an Eye for Design

Q: When did you come to Wesleyan?

A: I was hired in July 1998 as the assistant art director. Later on I became the associate director, and then the art director in 2000 for the Office of University Communications.

Q: How did you become interested in graphic design?

A: When I was a kid, I was always into drawing and I was intrigued by logos and full-page movie ads in the New York Times. Iíve always had my eye on the visual aspect of things. Back then, graphic design wasnít a common career, so after high school I went to business school, which led me to the University of New Haven where I studied graphic design.

Q: Do graphic designers have a distinct style, as would an oil painter or writer?

A: Some do, but I try hard not to have a style. I like to approach each project with an open mind because one style is not applicable to all problems.

Q: How has your job changed in your eight years here?

A: My first year here, I was doing a lot of budgetary work and handling the production aspect of things, as well as most of the design work. When I was promoted to an associate director, my responsibilities grew and when I became the art director, it became my sole responsibility to design the Wesleyan magazine, which was something Iíve never done before.

Q: I imagine that was a big challenge.

A: I was basically handed a magazine and it was a challenge to learn the process. I had to keep true to the Wesleyan message while implementing my own design elements. It is a constant evolution.

Q: When you say design elements, how do you use them to keep the magazine cohesive?

A: On a visual level Wesleyan magazine is all about great images Ė images that are a step above most alumni magazines. I use color and layout to enhance the visual appeal of the images. I do the same with typography. I like to experiment with type settings and headlines that will draw a reader into the story. I donít like my design to overshadow the main purpose of the magazine, which is to report on successes of our alumni.

Q: You designed the Wesleyan logo, correct?

A: I refreshed the existing Wesleyan logo. It was time to move into a new direction with the logo. We wanted to move it into the new millennium without sacrificing its historical relevance. The shield is used sparingly as a nod to tradition. The new logo treatment has been very well received and works in many different mediums from campus signage to print publications.

Q: How long does it take to get the magazine designed and what goes on?

A: Itís about a three month process for each issue from beginning to end. After our initial meeting, I see what stories the writers will be working on and I begin creating the color pallet and templates for the issue and determining the amount of real estate dedicated to each section and feature. Stories that are longer, or the most significant, or have quality images, get more pages in the magazine. Then I meet with Bill Burkhart, the university photographer, and we discuss what images need to be taken. I lay out the magazine and we go through a month and a half of critiques. I take all comments, positive and negative, into consideration.

Q: What is your reaction when a magazine is finally finished and you get your first peek at the printed product?

A: Since we only publish four times a year, I am always happy to see it designed, trimmed to size and published. But being a perfectionist, I go through it page by page and notice little things that we couldíve done differently. Iím always striving for perfection in each issue.

Q: In addition to the magazine, what other publications do you design?

A: I oversee all creative for most of the publications. When a certain department needs to be folded into the Wesleyan brand, such as Wesleyan Annual Fund for Excellence, campaign and most recently the timeline exhibit that will be unveiled at Reunion and Commencement weekend, I usually take the lead. Sometimes Iíll start a design and set up the specs, and hand it off to Anne Marcotty, our senior designer, or Shelley Burchsted, our production manager, who will have our student interns work on projects.

Q: Where did you work before Wesleyan?

A: I started out working for my fatherís computer business, then I worked at a t-shirt company, a newspaper, and then I got into the music industry. I designed CD covers for artists like Richard Elliot, Barbara Mandrell, Bon Jovi, the Allman Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd, and then art directed a small record label in New York City. The music industry isnít real consistent and seemed really one-dimensional to me, so I wanted to push myself outside of my comfort zone and open my own business in Waterbury. I worked on a lot of civic-minded projects for the community with the local Chamber of Commerce. I had to do it all, from the budget to production to client relations to design. This enabled me to hone my business skills, which helped when I started at Wesleyan.

Q: Why did you want to work in academia?

A: Being in a university is a nice blend of my experiences and I can be creative but also business-minded. I get to do projects for alumni and external audiences, but also for students, which have a youthful element to them.

Q: How do you keep your design ideas fresh and creative?

A: I am submerged in the design world. Iím always reading design magazines, and when I read other publications, Iím always looking at how they are designed. I tend to surround myself with people who are very creative and through that I find inspiration. In college I was trained by a professor who learned design in Basel, Switzerland and Yale University. We never had computers so we designed everything in a very organic way. I learned a lot by that method. Computers are a tool. They do not make a good designer.

Q: What are your hobbies?

A: Graphic design is my hobby and I have turned it into a career, but I also like working out, yard work, hanging out with friends and family, watching movies and listening to music. Music has been a big influence in my life. I always wanted to be the guy who advises the careers of music artists. Who knows, I still might do that one day.
 
By Olivia Bartlett, The Wesleyan Connection editor