Saint Mary's of California, a Catholic liberal arts college nestled in the picturesque Moraga Valley twenty miles east of San Francisco, wanted its alumni magazine completely overhauled. The college is rooted in the life and work of Saint John Baptist de La Salle, founder of the Christian Brothers and the patron saint of teachers. When Pentagram was hired to redesign the magazine, the designers wanted to focus on this history.
The statue of La Salle, one of the most recognizable icons of the college (next to its championship basketball team), graces the cover of the redesign launch issue. But the traditional printed book La Salle is normally holding has been updated with a more modern book—a MacBook Air. The juxtaposition of the Old World bronze statue and the sleek laptop computer is symbolic of the alumni magazine's transformation to a thoughtful new contemporary design developed by Pentagram. It also reflects the primary theme of the issue—the national debate over the value of higher education in today's fast and furious, high-tech world. It's a thorny subject for a liberal arts college to discuss at all, much less feature on the cover of its primary piece of print communication, but the launch issue addresses the theme in multiple ways.
It's worth mentioning that the creator of that MacBook, Steve Jobs, dropped out of college to pursue his dream of inventing a whole new kind of computing experience, and as we all know, his ill-advised decision to quit school changed the world, not to mention his financial fortunes, along the way. For the launch issue of Saint Mary's Magazine the designers gave the illustrator/commentator extraordinaire Barry Blitt a full-page column introduced with the redesign, called "Commentary," to address the topic as he saw fit. Blitt's final drawing features Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Babe Ruth, and Beethoven, among others, along with the school's iconic statue of La Salle. In his first sketch, however, Blitt cast Jobs, Zuckerberg and Michael Dell, all tech-entrepreneur legends who dropped out to cash in, as a flock of pesky pigeons doing what birds do to statues.
The launch issue features a beautiful full-spread painting by illustrator Owen Smith depicting three more of Saint Mary's founding fathers. One of the men, James Hagerty, was 70 years ago the architect of the college's Seminar program, a required study of the great books of Western literature. The Seminar, or "Great Books" curriculum, is the backbone of the Saint Mary's experience and is conducted in intimate classrooms where students and teachers gather around large roundtables for spirited debate and analysis of the classics.
The designers also created a recurring full-page column called "Seminar" that brings the overarching themes of the great books into the modern realm, and a full-spread column called "Roundtable" where a hot-topic question is debated by a panel of notable personalities (both dead and alive) around a graphic representation of a wooden roundtable. In the launch issue the guest panel debated the question "Is College Really Worth It?," and in addition to a selection of Saint Mary's faculty and students, the panel included Albert Einstein, Mark Cuban, and even Pope John Paul II.