Life-Sized Transitions

Posted on by Marnie Galloway

Today is my birthday: I am 29 years old. This is the first day of the last year of my 20s. That feels pretty momentous.

Even more momentous: today is my first day working for myself.

Friday was my last day as designer for Muse and Cicada magazines, after almost two years of heart & soul engagement with my two publications. When I was hired on in early summer 2012, it was my dream job: I got to work with smart, hilarious, and deeply engaged people to create quality magazines for science & literary nerd kids. Be still, my heart! In my role as designer, I was responsible for everything from building raw files to hiring and art directing freelancers, collaborating with the editorial teams on pedagogical design philosophies and really excellent Beowulf jokes, overhauling and redesigning major features and making sure columns are aligned, project management and all manner of post-production work: every design step between receiving raw manuscripts and getting the magazine in the mail was in my purview. My husband has pointed out a tendency I have to say that I have made "nothing" the past two years, since my time to work on my books has taken a back seat to an increasingly consuming immersion with the magazines; it felt pretty wonderful to bring home and survey every issue I worked on to remember that oh yes, I've been pretty busy making things!


With the support, feedback, and collaborative course-correction from the Cicada team, we redesigned the magazine; this process included countless rounds of iterations until we found a successful reinterpretation of the masthead logo, updating the cover and back cover features, and including a connected interior front cover comic by the cover artist:

"Before" on top, "After" below

"Before" on top, "After" below

We also adapted the existing "spot artist" feature to highlight and promote emerging comic artists, including a printed interview: 


As a part of this process, we also redesigned the basic body page templates of the magazine, including updating the fonts, adding more photos and larger design elements, and flowing some of the longer stories to the back to make room for extra features:

"Before" on top, "after" on bottom

"Before" on top, "after" on bottom

I also had the opportunity to do a lot of illustration work, especially for Muse. This was my first (and still one of my favorite) projects, in a story about how plants communicate to each other via chemical signals in root systems:


This included some really fun in-depth illustration projects, like the Muse census:

So many hours working on so many spreadsheets to make something so fun!

So many hours working on so many spreadsheets to make something so fun!

and a 4-page comic:


I think my favorite part of all was designing splashy introductions to some ridiculously fun stories. Vat meat! Zombies! Robot dinosaurs!


I learned so much in the two years working on Muse and Cicada. I feel humbled by the trust and support I was given in my time there, and grateful for how much richer my life is for the friends I made in my tenure on staff. I left for a healthy mix of personal and professional reasons; it was one of the harder decisions I've made in my adult life, but I'm confident it was the right one. Now is the time to take a big risk. I am re-investing in my own practice, diving in with a focus and freedom that I have never had before. Best birthday present a gal could ask for.

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