Today I have some tips and tricks to share that I gathered while designing my biggest personal job to date, Rock n Roll Bride Magazine. These are meant to give you some insight into managing a project of this scale and will hopefully make things easier for you both from a design and management standpoint.
Tips & Insights
• Get your print specs as early on in the process as possible. Nobody wants to go through and reformat 80+ pages at the end of a project! Since Kat is located in the U.K., her magazine was set up with a different standard of sizing — I knew this from the beginning and was able to build her magazine on the proper template from day one.
• Draw a rough outline before diving into the design process. I knew that Kat’s magazine would be a maximum of 80 pages and feature 4 core sections plus a handful of additional supporting pages. I also knew that featured weddings would take up the largest chunk of pages. I sat down with a pen and paper and quickly sketched out the page counts so I had some guidelines.
For example: 2 lifestyle articles x 5 pages each = 10. 5 featured weddings x 6 pages each = 30. 2 D.I.Y. features x 5 pages each = 10. 1 fashion spread x 8 pages = 8. Misc. layouts + last minute additions = 22 pages (this has some wiggle room in case an article stretches on a bit).
• If you get stuck on page layouts, step away from the computer. Sketch out some thumbnails to get your creative juices flowing. One of my all-time favorite design book authors, Jan V. White has a few titles that can help you quickly visualize fresh layouts. I love his books because most were written before design became computer-based and the solutions are solid. The two titles I reach for most often are the Graphic Idea Notebook and Designing for Magazines.
• Use a few basic grids throughout your publication for consistency. InDesign makes this super easy. Simply go to Layout > Margins and Columns > Columns and set the number of columns needed. Then adjust the gutter so that your content has some breathing room.
• Stick with black and white printing for your first proof. Not only is it about 1/10th the cost of color but it will allow you to focus more closely on the strength of your layouts and the overall legibility of your type before tackling the images.
• Always mock up your design before sending it to the printer! Once issue 2 was finalized, I did one final print, trimmed all the pages and then affixed them with double-stick tape (see above). I wanted to make sure that when I flipped through it, the magazine as a whole had a solid flow.
• Things look WAY different printed versus on your computer screen. The scale of type and the brightness of images may be way off from what you think. Even if you’re completely confident in your layout, print it! Then, print it again. And again!
• Keep your content organized in a way that makes sense to you. Since Kat’s magazine had four distinct categories that the content was divided into (Lifestyle, Fashion, D.I.Y. and Weddings), I used these as my main content folders so I could drill down and find images and text quickly. We kept a text document of copy for each segment nestled in there along with the photos – breaking the magazine content into those four sections made the project feel a lot less overwhelming. We focused on filling these areas out first and then I went back to the supporting pages at the end and filled in the blanks.
• Save the front and back cover design for last. Chances are, your imagery will change as you move along and it’s hard to know what the headlines will be until you’re getting close to wrapping up the project. Think of this final design challenge as a way to wrap up your masterpiece and give it a face and a name!
• Always save your proofs. I hold onto mine in my flat files. You can learn a lot from looking back at your process.
• Set up some basic layouts you can reuse. InDesign master pages allow you to apply the same templates again and again. Consistency in a print publication is a good thing — developing a consistent rhythm with formatting will help establish a visual style throughout.
• Let your content breathe! I remember the first time I did an editorial layout in college — we were all new to InDesign and a lot of us felt the need to jam as much content onto each page as possible. But think instead of each page as a piece of art. Allow images on certain ones to take the stage — maybe all that’s needed is a big, beautiful quote. Others may tell the heart of the story. Let the copy rule on those. Overall, let either the copy or image take the lead because that lack of balance is what creates visual interest. If both of these elements are too equal on a page, it loses impact.
• Do your research. Buy a few magazines from the genre you’re designing for. I knew very little about the wedding industry as a whole so I bought a few Martha Stewart Weddings magazines, flipped through a few more wedding titles and researched what worked. I knew that I wanted to have a fashion and lifestyle angle in the mix so I defaulted to my no-fail favorites for inspiration: W, Interview and O Magazine. The big time publishers have the big design budgets and know what’s up when it comes to great page layouts. Observe the best and pay close attention to what makes their layouts stand out.
• Commitment-phobic? Print on demand first. If you’re wanting to give your layouts a spin and see how they look in a magazine format before taking the plunge, order a single issue through MagCloud first. See your work on perfect-bound glossy pages before committing to a full run!
• Finally, practice makes perfect. The first time you tackle any big design project, it feels overwhelming (at least to me). But just like anything, the more times you do it, the more it becomes second nature. Five years ago, this project would have given me a panic attack. Now I say, bring it on!
If you have any questions about the specifics of my process, let me know in the comments!