Economic Insights

Economic Insights, formerly known as Business Review, is the flagship publication of the Philadelphia Fed, having been published by the Economic Research Department for over a century. Today’s iteration serves an audience of educated but non-academic readers with interests in economics, finance, and monetary policy. This places it on the editorial side of the spectrum, contrasting with the academic and technical Working Paper series and Research Briefs.

After the early retirement of the Bank’s former art director, the Department tasked me with assuming responsibility for the day-to-day publication of the magazine. Additionally, the managing editor wanted a stem-to-stern redesign of the magazine, a visual identity separate from the Bank’s existing look-and-feel.

Magazine

  • 1,500 printed/qtr.
  • 5,000 page views/mo.
My Function

  • Creative director
Skills Applied

  • Design management
  • Publication management
  • Brand design
  • Editorial design
  • Information design
  • Product design
  • Data visualisation
  • Illustration
  • Photography
  • Social media
A selection of covers from Economic Insights, published by the Philadelphia Fed's Economic Research Department

Cover Design and Production

Two of Economic Insights’ guiding principles were, one, that no article was more important than any other and, two, that no issue had a predetermined guiding theme. Consequently cover designs did not to relate to the articles inside. However, COVID-19 created an exception to the second principle for one issue in 2020.

Initially the managing editor wanted a single cover design to be used throughout the year with colour indicating seasonality. The Department also wanted a theme of “Philadelphia”, “money”, or “finance”, which led to the photo of the Liberty Bell I inherited. Then in 2018 and 2019, I opted for macro photographs. I directed my developer/multimedia producer/photographer of aspects of the $100 bill, with Independence Hall and Benjamin Franklin highlighted in particular.

After those covers, for a few years I persuaded stakeholders to allow the covers to vary quarterly. In 2020 I or my intern illustrated economic concepts as diagrams, with the exception of the third quarter. That was the COVID-19 issue and we illustrated the virus itself. In 2021 we told the history of central banking and Philadelphia’s central role via illustrations by myself and my intern. In 2022 the retiring Department head wanted a return to an image of Philadelphia from the Rocky steps. Although we only published in three quarters that year, I took three seasonally different photos of the city. In 2023 we returned to the single photograph with seasonal colours.

Cover Team

  • Designer
  • Photographer or illustrator
  • Design intern (occasionally)
A selection of covers from Economic Insights, published by the Philadelphia Fed's Economic Research Department

Redesigning a Century-old Publication

The magazine’s managing editor felt Economic Insights looked staid and that its data visualisation needed an update. I placed the magazine nearer the opposite end of the spectrum compared to the Working Papers series, though all stakeholders thought it important Economic Insights remain a more restrained appearance compared to other more irreverent publications covering similar topics.

I describe the overall look and feel as sitting in a leather armchair situated in a cozy library with a nice cup of tea. One can relax and read the latest in economics, finance, and monetary policy without the presumed atmosphere of prim and proper stuffiness. I opted for muted colours with brighter accents, though over time stakeholders warmed to the brighter colours and the branding shifted in that direction.

As a printed magazine, the costs of printing weighed upon the typographic decisions. By moving to narrower faces and a tighter design, I freed up space for more graphics. The graphics then received their own set of design standards, creating a unified aesthetic across the publication. In addition to the magazine, I also developed templates for collateral materials, e.g. social media posts and website images, to promote the authors’ articles.

Average Issue

  • Printed and published quarterly
  • Free to the general public
  • 32–40 pages
  • 3 × full articles
  • 3 × short features
  • Final downloadable .pdfs
  • Social media collateral
Awards

  • 2024 Indigo—bronze
  • 2022 Indigo—silver
  • 2021 Indigo—bronze
  • 2020 Indigo—bronze

Economic Insights: The Day-to-day Production

A significant amount of my day-to-day work at the Philadelphia Fed focused on Economic Insights, for which almost all the design and work production fell to me. The two exceptions were, first, my summer interns. They worked on the magazine under my direction, learning about editorial design and data visualisation for the whole production process. Second, my developer, who also served as photographer, would photograph things for the magazine, most notably its aforementioned covers.

Each article involved roughly a month of time. I collaborated with the authors and editor to develop either new graphics for the article in question or refine the authors’ suggestions. Additionally I read through the text to select pull quotes and, more rarely, identify sections where the text was not as clear as it could have been. Once I had the final graphics and text, I integrated the two into a layout using templates I built.

After I finished all the articles, I worked with my outside print vendor to review print proofs whilst I created final digital files for posting on the website. I had also built templates for social media content, which I used at this point in the process to create promotional material for the issue. Following my final approvals, digital files went live, e-mails went out to the subscriber list I maintained, and my social media work was published.

    Production Team

    • Designer
    • Editor
    • Summer design intern
    Print proofs of an Economic Insights issue prior to approval.