New Work: Exel, Drexel University’s Research Magazine
Partner DJ Stout and lead designer Carla Rogers in Pentagram’s Austin office have developed a new research magazine for Drexel University located in Philadelphia. The publication (named by Pentagram) is called Exel, a moniker derived from the last four letters of the word Drexel. The new magazine also uses the letter “X,” found in the middle of the university’s name, as a distinctive identity device on the cover and throughout the publication. “There aren’t many schools with an ‘X’ in their name,” says Stout, “and not many words, for that matter. We liked the mathematical and scientific connotation of the letter ‘X’ used as an icon for a research magazine.”
Founded in 1891 by Anthony J. Drexel, an accomplished financier and philanthropist, Drexel is a top-ranked, comprehensive university recognized for its experiential learning through cooperative education, its commitment to cutting-edge academic technology and its growing enterprise of use-inspired research. With more than 24,500 students Drexel is one of the nation’s largest private universities. Drexel’s commitment to research has established the school’s reputation as a place where discoveries are made and ground-breaking research leads to innovative solutions. In 2010 John Fry was appointed Drexel University’s 14th President and he continued the ambitious expansion of the university’s campus and programs initiated by his predecessor. In 2011 Drexel acquired The Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia, the oldest natural history museum in America. The partnership created an international powerhouse for discovery in the natural and environmental sciences. One of President Fry’s strategic goals was for Drexel to do a better job getting the word out about the university’s strength in research and that’s when the call came into Pentagram to help the university develop a new, one-of-a kind, research magazine.
The inaugural issue, out this month, is large format and very image driven. The first eight pages of the publication are devoted to surprising, and oddly beautiful, electron microscope imagery presented as full spreads with short explanatory text. “I’ve designed a lot of magazines over the years,” says Stout, “and I’ve always thought that some of the most intriguing imagery was in the science and research realm.” The overarching design philosophy throughout Exel is to emphasize the actual research, the visually dynamic specimens and technologies, and to downplay the typical head-shots of the researchers. “This is not to say that the researchers aren’t important,” says Stout. “Actually, quite the opposite. It just makes for more effective storytelling in a print publication to give the standard elements of a research narrative—researchers and the actual research—an effective visual hierarchy.”
The launch issue of Exel has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to interesting research imagery. It includes an eight-page feature on a band of very “robot-like” robots who play Beatles songs and a story on real beetles, the powerful rhinoceros beetle to be exact, who are being studied by a team of Drexel scientists to learn lessons about the aerodynamics of aircraft flight. There’s a piece about the morality of punishment with two powerful full page illustrations by Brad Holland, one of the top illustrators in the world, and a haunting, but gorgeous, digital x-ray image of fish specimens. The cover and a twelve-page gallery titled “Beauty in a Box” feature the visually stunning Titian R. Peale Butterfly and Moth Collection, one of the oldest entomological collections in North America, housed at Drexel’s Academy of Natural Sciences. Peale’s collection, which the obsessive naturalist carefully displayed in a unique two-sided box configuration, was expertly photographed for Exel by frequent National Geographic contributor Robert Clark.
Stout and Rogers, working with programmer Hunter Cross, have also developed Exel magazine’s innovative online counterpart, exelmagazine.org, and the Pentagram Austin team is close to finishing up a comprehensive new identity system for the entire university which will launch by the new school year.
Project Team: DJ Stout, partner-in-charge and designer; Carla Rogers, designer.