Have you ever walked past a newsstand in your local Barnes & Noble, or crossed a wall of enticing magazines next to your favourite cafe and end up captivated by the invigorating colours, photographs and typefaces on the covers? You did not intend to, but the enchanting designs atop each magazine cover caught your eye and captured your attention..
The bold, dramatic red cursive of Rolling Stone peaks out behind the clean-cut, unmistakable yellow border of National Geographic - dawning it’s latest photograph of nature in its most authentic, graceful form. The stoic and introspective design of Time parallels the publication’s motive of catering to an audience seeking serious, investigative pieces while the chic, modern, exclusive design of Vogue flaunts a more fashion-based, elegant business model.
At first, you may believe it to be happenstance that these issues caught your eye. However, it is quite the opposite. Everything in editorial design is meticulously planted to evoke the emotions associated with the publication’s character. Every letter, every paragraph, every photograph, every single inch of white space on the page is cultivated to project the issue’s tone, agenda, and brand.
This week I want to talk to everyone about the vast a complicated world of editorial design. Now, this topic is the basis of entire careers, and designers and editors can honestly spend a lifetime mastering this art. So, this week, I’ll be narrowing this topic down to its bare bones - giving you a sturdy outline that will enable you to design a page that captures audiences as well as captures the essence of a brand.
Magazines are living things. They are ideas. They are opinions. They are points of view experiences, communities, and societies. They are stories that capture the essence of the here and now.
Now, because of this ever-flowing nature of magazines, creating them becomes an extremely interactive process. Designing a magazine is not a step-by-step process, it cannot be broken down into a simple formula. All parts of a magazine interact, and everything from the lead image on the cover to the font used in the paragraphs can affect how the reader connects with the magazine.
When you open up a magazine, everything is static, juxtaposing modern-day life, which is constantly moving. Magazines capture bits and pieces of real life and freeze them, creating a sense of stillness that allows audiences to pause, think, and truly soak in a moment. In terms of editorial design, seek to create a publication that is not simply a way to deliver news. Create a publication that is a place to be.
The first rule of designing a successful magazine is to cater to your audience. Pinpoint your intended readership and ensure that every piece of your design works to captivate that audience.
Next, there are a series of generalized questions you need to ask yourself about the direction of your publication.
Will you be focusing on words or images? Will your pages be dense or light? Dense pages can come across as intense and authoritative. However, they could also be construed as intimidating or dull. Light pages can be peaceful and fun, but they can also be taken as incomplete or novice.
Will your articles be short, long, or mixed? Will you encounter a variety of topics or stick to just one? How will your magazine be printed?
In terms of visual design within the magazine, the options are almost endless. From the hundreds of different typefaces that evoke different genres and moods to the options of headings, subheads, kickers, deckheads, callouts, text, bylines, captions, legends, sidebars, folios, footnotes, and so on, your choices are almost infinite, and, a bit overwhelming. That is why it is so important to nail down the basics of editorial design before diving in feet first.
A magazine is typically divided into three parts - the front, middle, and back. Pretty simple, right? Each section has a different function, and all of them are designed for three different levels of engagement.
The first level of engagement is the eye-catching level. It’s that first look on the shelves that draws your attention to the magazine. This comes with the headlines, the lead images and the captions. These loud pieces all make an impression on the reader, who will then decide whether or not to flip to the next page.
The next is the light reading level. This comes with your lead sentences, your deckheads (longer descriptions beneath the headline), and your sidebars (stories within the story, often in small paragraphs).
Finally, the magazine moves to deep reading. This section is primarily text, usually encompassing the main story of the issue. At this point, your reader is fully engaged in the magazine, and the goal of your design at this stage is to help them easily move through the story while keeping them entertained and engaged.
The issue’s cover is one of the, if not the, most important piece of the magazine. This is your reader’s first engagement with the magazine - it makes the very first impression that either entices the reader to continue or loses the audience’s interest altogether.
The cover is your style and tone setter. You must design a cover that authentically depicts your magazine’s tone and your brand’s voice.
Think of the front portion of the magazine as a soft tone-setter for your issue. This section usually consists of a contents page, a masthead (a list of those who work for the publication), a publisher’s letter, contributors, columnists, short features, and calendars or listings.
I want to run down a few of the most important pieces in this section.
The publisher’s letter serves as an introduction for the entire magazine. It might begin to describe a special theme which the issue encapsulates, provide context for a major article, depict a personal experience relevant to the magazine, or state an editorial opinion.
The front of the book is also prime real estate for small features - bits of news, fun facts, quick trivia, or quotes. This section can mix together a variety of topics relevant to the overall theme of the magazine and should provide a lot of visual detail that creates an exciting and engaging front that is fun to read and easy to understand.
This is also a great section to incorporate a photo gallery, typically a one or two-page photograph accompanied by a short story.
The middle of the magazine has very little structure, which can be a bit scary at first. However, this wide open canvas gives any designer amazing freedom to design the pages in any style or format that perfectly compliments the material and amplifies its impact.
This is where any major feature articles should be held, making up the “meat” of the magazine. There are usually no advertisements placed in this section as to not distract from the body of the piece.
Think of the back of the magazine like the dessert after a three-course meal. You want it to be the perfect ending to a wonderful, captivating experience. You do not want anything too heavy to be placed towards the back, and you want to place any light pieces that are going to be a soft wrap to the issue, such as a Q+A or a product buying guide.
Unlike on the web, in editorial design, designers do not have unlimited space, leading to the need for compromise between text, graphics, images and how much space can be allotted to each.
As a designer, it is extremely rare that you will be able to control all of the factors of an issue (i.e. which images are chosen, the proportions of those images, what each article is about, the length of a headline, the amount of text in a piece, etc…). So, you have to be prepared to manoeuvre through different configurations of all of these pieces while still being able to maintain a look and feel that compliments and highlights the tone and topic of the issue.
These topics only brush the surface of the intense world of editorial design, but, it’s a start! Keeping in mind this brief outline, you can now begin to dive into the construction of your own publication, and even begin to expand your brand’s reach.
For the next few weeks, we will be diving into the specifics of editorial design. So stay tuned to hear more about this fascinating world on our website at www.bynugno.com, or follow us on Linkedin, Facebook, Instagram Twitter, #bynugno.
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Nugno is a Branding & Digital Design studio. Founded and run by strategic branding & digital design experts that shares a love of innovation, design and digital connection.
We create strategy and design with production across all platforms. We’re masters of brand identity and on point with websites and apps. Our skills extend to designing books people want to read and environments they feel comfortable in. We also create engaging motion design and much more.
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Luca Amoriello, Director
Tel: +353 (0)87 383 2134