Good design is in the details

by C. Dow Tate
Posted in: Design, Fall 2009

Skimming through ESPN and People magazines tends to be how most yearbook staffs spend their efforts to improve yearbook designs. The students’ strong mixes of fonts and splash of transparency on division pages are often adaptations of these designs.

But those designs can quickly become out of control unless students nitpick the details. Make sure the yearbook spreads are controlled and pop by using one or more of these tips for your design or the design process.

1. Try 10 blocks of copy.

Picture 4Create a design with 10 blocks of body copy before establishing the fi nal template look. Stray away from default settings in your design program.

Start by copying a short block of body copy and paste it 10 times or more on a page. Now tinker with each block. Try a different typeface. Add a little more leading for the open look. Decrease the font size a half or full point. Now print the variations to see which look you like. Do not forget the objective is always readability first.

Save these designs because the tinkering you do later with the headline look and graphic touches may change how you approach your body copy. Placing the different approaches on each prototype design you try will help you decide on a final look.

2. Work on type variety in the sidebar.

Picture 3Variety does not mean mixing all the fonts you have on your hard drive. Mixing many different scripts, square serifs and novelty faces is the equivalent to wearing striped pants and a polka dot shirt. It is too much. Variety can be achieved by using

a family of type with plenty of varieties within the typeface – condensed, black, ultracondensed, light – the list continues. Use the different weights with thought and reason, as seen on the right.

  • Use a black type to give the headline some emphasis.
  • Use italics on a player’s position under the player’s name to create separation for the reader.
  • Use a condensed type for stats to allow a little more information to be packaged within a tight space.

3. Print during the process.

Computer screens lie, so print pages at 100% several times in the design process. Yearbook students will spend hours, days, even weeks tinkering with designs only to be frustrated to tears by the end results on the printed full page.

Students will enlarge the page to 200%, redraw the screen to 75% and then zoom in and out on the screen until they lose the perspective of actual size. Beginners will often enlarge type to a point where they can read the words in the captions when they are viewing the 9×12 page, never realizing they are viewing the page at 60% of its actual size. The result becomes either a large-print version of a yearbook story or a page fi lled with captions that challenge headlines for visual dominance.

Proofs from the yearbook printing company come back at 100%, but a good designer will want to tinker and evaluate the designs multiple times before sending them in on deadline.

4. Check the spacing – including indents.

Picture 7A designer’s attention to detail is critical to a clean, polished look. One look at a design where the type clumsily touches rule lines tells the reader that the designer is a novice. When type touches and is hard to read, the best designers will pay attention to kerning, that is, the space between letters. The best designers will use fi rst-line indents (found in paragraphs in InDesign), not tabs.

Consistency in spacing between visual elements is important. The old rule is one pica between elements. While some of the country’s best-designed books violate the rule, those books still keep some consistency in spacing elements. Sometimes space is eliminated to join elements, while other times more white space is added to create a frame to emphasize a visual element. In either case, spacing is given critical attention.

5. Assess their consistency.

Build in checkpoints at various stages in the yearbook production process when designers can lay out all their spreads and let everyone evaluate the cohesiveness of the look. Whether your designs lean toward templates or freeform, laying out all the pages for evaluation will help everyone see if there is a need for creating more visual unity or more variety.

What looks great on the computer screen just might not fi t into the overall look. After laying out all the current designs, the staff may decide that one or more things just do not fi t in with the overall look. Those designs may be set aside for another day or another project.

Plan a relaxed day for this review. Give students notice that they will not be under the pressure of a deadline during the day. A relaxed mind will create an open mind so students can look over the completed spreads with a fresh eye. Inviting a neighboring school’s adviser or staff to evaluate the look with you might be a refreshing collaborative effort.

6. Play with caption design.

Picture 8Captions need visual separation from body copy. Simply making captions a point or a point and a half smaller can be a start. Giving the reader an entry point to the captions helps. Entry points may be an opening word or two in all caps, a bullet or dingbat that fits the theme. Again, try a variety of looks on the same page before settling on one. If captions are created in isolation of other visual elements, getting them on the page and printing the whole look out 100% will help the designer nail down the look.

7. Evaluate color palettes.

Picture 9With more color use in yearbooks, color chaos is easy to find. The color dropper tool helps eliminate some clashing. An adept designer will use the dropper to pull the color from the dominant photo to fi ll a box around a sidebar. This method of choosing color assures that even if the computer screen is not calibrated, the color a student chooses will go with the rest of the colors on the page. The danger in this selection method is choosing a color that is too dark for black text or choosing a color such as red for a football spread where the 10% spot color you want on sidebars turns into pink.

Similarly, choosing hot lime green from the vibrant shirt of a drill team dancer to be the spread’s background color may be too much for the look your staff wants to achieve. When the best photos for the page do not ensure a compatible color choice, a neutral color is a better choice than the clashing color from the dominant. Again, using tip number five to evaluate color palettes will help reel in the color when the staff is trying to get its money’s worth by creating an over-the-top rainbow of clashing colors on every spread.

Discuss color palette early in the year with editors and designers. Using ideas from such books as Color – Messages and Meanings: A Pantone Color Resource by Leatrice Eiseman or Colour Index by Jim Krause can help staff members visually understand the palette and look the editors are trying to achieve.

Whether you live in a templated world of design or a more open, artsy approach to creating the layouts, strong design is in the details. These seven tips should give your staff some approaches to refi ning the overall look of their yearbook before it hits the permanent shelves of their readers.

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Yearbok spreads | Mydaddysitter
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