If you think the past few issues have been looking pretty smart, as I do, we have Maria Guerrere Keehan, our new art director, to thank. Maria came to us this past January from Fortune, where she had been an associate art director for some 18 years. Her relationship with Smithsonian, however, goes back much further, to the subscription her parents gave her when she was about 14. "I think I read it all through college," she says. That would be the University of Connecticut.
As for her design sense, "I hate the word 'elegant,' but I don't know what else to say. I tend to be a traditionalist, and I do try to keep the readership in mind. I really believe that it's not about me and whether I'm pleased with things. It's whether I'm making the magazine more palatable, more accessible, to the reader. That's really the challenge."
At the moment Keehan and Associate Art Director Erik Washam are working on simplifying the departments—the shorter items in the front and back of the magazine—to make them both more coherent and more distinct from the feature "well" in the magazine's center. "We are in the process of updating them," she says. "Not drastically but a little less visual density." Stay tuned.
Keehan says that near the end of her Fortune stint, she was actually thinking about switching gears entirely to try her hand at writing. In retrospect, she thinks her restlessness had more to do with the restrictions of business journalism than disaffection with design per se. Smithsonian, with its wide range of subject matter, energizes her, she says. "Each story is such a freeing feeling. I'm enjoying designing again, and, now that I'm here, I can't believe that I ever thought that I would stop doing it. It's so refreshing. It's just so enjoyable."
Maura McCarthy, our new web editor, is another key addition to the staff, as well as another longtime reader of the magazine. (We hire only longtime readers.) Before we enticed her away, McCarthy had been at the Washington Post Web site for more than seven years, the last three as editor of the site's lively Arts and Living section. With a master's degree in art history and a self-described passion for history, science and travel, she has an ideal pedigree for someone charged with translating a monthly magazine about those subjects into a Web site (Smithsonian.com). "The goal is to make it a daily destination," says McCarthy. "To do that you have to create exciting new content, and you have to find ways to bring the stories in the magazine to people who come to the site through a link, a search engine or a blogger's recommendation. I think people should feel that Smithsonian.com is a part of their world, and they'll want to check in with us on a regular basis."