Before & After: Model Aviation Magazine Redesign

Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA) recognized its biggest membership benefit, Model Aviation, needed to up its game — it lacked younger audience readership. Gaining popularity among younger readers was crucial for the association’s evolution; it needed to add a new dimension to its membership audience of over 175,000 enthusiasts.

Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA), is the world’s largest model aviation association, representing a membership from every walk of life, income level, and age group that promotes the development of model aviation as a recognized sport and worthwhile recreation activity.

The association understood they needed to grab youth attention early-on to lead them on a memorable journey throughout their lives with this hobby. The alternative? Waiting until aviation hobbyists reach retirement ages, which is historically when potential AMA members join the association due to disposable time and income. Waiting for people to age simply wasn’t a great business model.

AMA tapped Bates Creative to redesign its magazine, Model Aviation, to present the essential resource for model aviation hobbyists with a modernized approach.

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Model Aviation Before

In the first phase of work, we dug to the core to understand readership identities and overall feelings related to the magazine that was intended to enrich a hobby experience.

What’s interesting about this association is that the majority of its members, 57 percent, are age 60 or older, with only six percent of members younger than age 40, and a slim two percent under the age of 30.

What’s even more interesting is with this mature audience, 86 percent of members across all demographic groups overwhelmingly agree that AMA publications are extremely effective in providing them information and knowledge they need in pursuing their model aviation hobby.

“[AMA] is a true advocate of the hobby”

— AMA member

Here we have an association that publishes content, engages their audience, and gains new members; however, it’s all within one audience segment. AMA was proactive when tapping Bates Creative for its services, and they proved to be extremely intuitive in understanding the importance of continuous evolution of its magazine.

Model Aviation is one of the most valuable pieces of AMA’s communications, it just needed to dedicate its strategy  toward younger member acquisition.

Model Aviation‘s Strengths

Prior to the redesign, the levels of coverage were on target. The magazine included content addressing AMA membership updates with a nice blend of upcoming events, news, and program information. The magazine trickled in human interest profiles and product reviews, along with competition and technical information.

83 percent of Model Aviation readers point to content related to radio control as their primary area of interest, while only 10 percent are focused on multi-rotor coverage. Reader surveys pinpointed that younger members were more likely to choose multi-rotor as an area of interest. It quickly became apparent that newer types of content would be a key component for the redesign, tapping into areas that younger members are interested in to attract their readership.

Model Aviation’s Limiting Factors

While the current magazine exceeded the expectations of the majority of its readers, a big chunk of respondents preferred more coverage in how-to articles, technical information, and construction plans for their model aircraft. Members felt they needed more content they can directly use in pursuing their hobby.

With a dense, content-heavy magazine, the redesign had to address space and a new balance of content to imagery. AMA was open to allowing the design to drive the spreads, understanding that cutting word counts wouldn’t be beneficial but rather looking at  moving content online as a viable option. There was a risk involved in doing so, some members could feel as though they were getting slighted with less content. However, to create a publication covering new topics while maintaining the publication’s large serif font for easy reading, the cross-channel integration of content was crucial.

With all of these factors coming out of the discovery process in mind, the redesign process began. Bates Creative’s team ensured the magazine adopted a modernized look that stood out on the newsstand and when opened, had strong visuals that locked reader’s attention.

Integrating design with content, the issues would contain a mix of reader interests and introduce new niche content to attract a younger audience through a layout with more white space and room for a number of visuals. The new layout would also loosen up the “tight” feel of spreads that were too cluttered, and moved certain content to AMA’s online platform to elevate the member experience beyond print.

Designing the Cover Strategy to Take Flight

The monthly magazine publishes general content with two special issues dedicated to exclusive product reviews, and how-tos. The new cover design strategy took these two special issues into account by incorporating an added tag under the coverline to explicitly distinguish the type of issue.

At first touch, the magazine is weighted. It’s heavier than other magazines with a smooth, matte finish that visually sets Model Aviation apart from the rest. At first glance, the launch issue is bright with red colors, specifically within the redesigned nameplate. The goal was to give the nameplate a masculine feel, since AMA’s audience is predominantly men who’ve worked in engineering, aviation, and military branches throughout their careers.

“My January 2019 edition of Model Aviation arrived and I am astonished at its appearance. The color of the cover is beautiful. The first thing I wanted to do was run my hand over the cover. It not only looks beautiful but it feels beautiful.”

— Ed D., AMA member

The design team also strategically placed a red bar with the AMA logo at the bottom of the cover design structure to clearly represent the association’s proprietary content. There’s a number of magazines that publish similar information, and AMA wanted to be positioned as leaders in this niche space. To continue establishment of the brand’s leadership in the model aviation industry, the AMA logo was incorporated as an ender on every single page.

Turning the Page to New Audiences

The new cover design strategy took a modern approach, and the interior quickly followed suit while keeping current audiences in mind.

When designing the interior, the font size and font styles were kept in tact. There was no reason to change these factors, in risk of alienating the more mature audience that made Model Aviation the success it was.

To avoid overstimulation due to advertisements, the interior design opted for grayscale with little to no pop colors. Adopting a black and white theme for content on the interior was strategic, in hopes the eyes would be drawn to visuals and pictures. The imagery showcases women and children to further attempt to push this need for the hobby to extend beyond older men.

Directing readers to use resources and find bonus content online led the design team to create a suite of icons to develop a strategy to drive people to the website. An icon associated with a specific category (how-to, photos, graphics, online conversation, etc.) was placed next to printed content to indicate a call-to-action to visit supplemental information online.

A New Model Aviation

The redesigned January 2019 issue of the publication helps create a new path for the association’s membership. Bates Creative designed the launch issue and delivered guidelines to the AMAero team to design future issues in-house. Bates Creative provided the team with a custom style guide and outlined the process followed for the launch issue to create a seamless transition to AMAero to own the design process moving forward.

This redesign posed an interesting challenge in extending audience readership to new ages, while maintaining the engagement of current mature readers. The collaboration between the Bates Creative and AMAero teams landed a new magazine experience for all audiences to appreciate.

Jenna Lally's headshot

Jenna Lally

As Marketing Strategist, Jenna crafts customized digital marketing strategies and cross-channel content to connect with diverse audiences.

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