Patrick Mitchell, who runs Modus Operandi Design studio in Rockport, ME, is a highly accomplished magazine designer/art director (think Fast Company and Inc. Magazine, among others) and podcaster (Print is Dead). Milton Academy is a coed, independent preparatory, boarding and day school in Milton, MA. Mitchell and Milton have merged, at least in one respect, to produce Milton magazine, which was just awarded the 2022 Sibley Magazine of the Year Award. I admit to being surprised that a school’s quarterly was held in such esteem for its editorial and design, so I asked Mitchell to talk about the project.
Milton makes me assume one thing but, in fact, it is another. Who is the publisher of Milton?
It’s published by Milton Academy’s comms department.
Why is a high school putting so much of its resources into a print periodical?
I’m a little mystified, too, though we are very efficient with our truly limited budget. Its primary purposes are recruiting, alumni engagement (i.e., financial support)—and their support of our work does suggest that the magazine gives them some one-upmanship over rival schools recruiting the same genius kids.
What is your favorite part of doing Milton?
Traditional publishing has gotten so depressing—the poor paper quality, super-thin issues, reduced frequency, combined with a real lack of imagination. These alumni magazines are small, infrequent, and have an intentionally limited circulation, but they care—really care—about quality. They’re putting themselves out there and, in the case of Milton, investing in this publication is a real competitive advantage. All of that allows me to do good work and to hire very talented photographers and illustrators, who also don’t get nearly the volume of magazine work they used to. We all win.
I presume that your staff is small, but the quality of everything—from illustrations to the layouts—is impeccable. What determined your design style?
My staff is essentially me. I’ve occasionally been able to bring on help when I get very busy, but mostly I work alone. I have good relationships with contributors, and the work we produce helps us continue to make new relationships with photographers and illustrators. The design style is usually simple—there’s no point in over-designing, but it always comes back to something the great Fred Woodward told me when I was just starting out: “I just hire great artists and try not to let what I do make them look bad.” It was something like that.