February 4, 2011 / Design / Winter 2011

Be a yearbook trendsetter

Written by Karla Thompson

Trends burst into the spotlight, and then their star power fades away. Some may be given rebirth, such as 3-D in movies (think “Shrek” or “Saw 7”) and in photography (seen in magazines, including ESPN: The Magazine, and in newspapers, such as the Oct. 31, 2010, edition of The Kansas City Star).

For fashionistas, think of the animal print that has been the must-have accessory. Every year I say I am going to buy something in a leopard print; every year I say it can’t be in style again. And yet, it is.

As an adviser, guiding teen staff members in using design trends can be scary, with pitfalls to be avoided. Will it set up the yearbook as a joke, like the 2007 Bond-themed yearbooks? Will the judges not be hip enough to know the trend and take off points, like getting inspiration from Nylon magazine? Or, will it just fall flat as readers will just not understand, like 3-D?

Using a trend means not using it as-is, but being inspired by it and taking it in a different direction. This should lead you and your staff to being trendsetters, which means using some cool ideas before the rest of the general yearbook population.


For an article on the college football game between Kansas State and Missouri on Nov. 13, 2010, a photo of Kansas State running back Daniel Thomas, running with the ball, was cut out and placed on top of a photo of Missouri players during a play on the field. The photo illustrates the story’s angle of the need for Missouri’s defensive line to stop Thomas. (Missouri photo by Dave Weaver, Associated Press; Thomas photo by Bo Rader, the Wichita Eagle)

Five places to look for trend ideas right now.

Newspapers. USA Today has great infograph ideas and designs. But check the nearest big city newspaper to see what their designers are up to. The Kansas City Star has excellent photo illustrations in the sports section, and the FYI section is another good place to look. In The Star in November, I saw something that I refer to as embedding a photograph in another photograph. One photograph was used as the background, while another relating photograph has the cut-out background feature and is placed in the forefront so that it appears as if the person is coming out of the background picture. I think it helped draw readers into the story. The Star did this twice in one week, once in the business section and once in sports.

Magazines. Check out magazines. Besides websites, magazines will be the most current source of trend design you will have at your fingertips.

  • Text bubbles: Everyone is using them, from print to web to television. Entertainment Weekly likes to use them in their infographs for a graphic design element. And since we are used to seeing the bubbles to carry conversations, readers can easily relate as the bubble says, “Hey, I am talking here.” Bubbles can be made easily in InDesign, or download several types for free at brusheezy.com.


    While dialog bubbles have been seen in yearbooks with comic book themes, they also are popping up in yearbooks without illustrations. The bubble pulls readers into additional pieces of information supplied by the people in the photographs. And they do not have to be white; use theme colors. (Leslie Nielson obituary from Entertainment Weekly)

  • Big headlines, big photograph: A large headline with an appropriate font will bring readers into a story, as will an emotional, well-composed photograph on either the right or left side of a double-page spread. Check out ESPN: The Magazine for inspiration.
  • Calendars: Chronological books are a current trend for organizing the yearbook. Even though magazines use sections to organize their material, several have started using calendars to give extra information to their public. My staff added a calendar look this year, which will provide another opportunity to include more students as well as recognize events that do not deserve a full page but do deserve to be recorded for the year. This is a good place to also put those unexpected but cool events.

Websites. I have already mentioned using websites but I would like to give a couple of specific ones for inspiration. The website issuu.com is a publishing website where publications can upload their magazine for public viewing. The newspaper staff and yearbook staff at my school use this site daily for trends ideas. Since most publications and their advisers are on a budget, it is hard to buy several new magazines every month. This is a free website and can be budget-friendly.  Another website to use is webdesignerdepot.com.


Look at more magazines and spend less money by going to a website like issuu.com. Here you can look at many different types of magazines for inspiration. A website like webdesignerdepot.com provides great inspiration while also informing aspiring web designers about the world of work in web design.

Advertisements. Creativity is part of the advertising world, and you know this especially if you watch “Mad Men” on AMC cable network. People in advertising must catch the interest of an audience that has no time to be slowly lured in. Target has done wonders with its bullseye, and the Apple iPod silhouette image is so popular that it continues to be copied. Graphic designers also know the power of a big headline with that one powerful image.

Junk mail. This includes any catalogs from Urban Outfitters or Lowe’s Home Improvement Store, which actually have some good infograph designs in them. But another set of pamphlets to keep and peruse would be those from colleges and universities that your staff is receiving. Since the graphic arts departments at these schools usually design these materials, these college students are putting to use what they have been taught, which can help when you are trying to steer to good design trends.

Reading through the list you may have noticed I referred to time periods of several years when talking about trends to use in your yearbook. It is important to start looking in the spring to find those designs that interest you, and continue this cycle until the following spring. Then go to your file, weed out those you used and those you look at and say, “What was I thinking?” In the process, you might find a trend to use once or a trend to repeat. But never stop progressing down the less-traveled path.

I know that leg warmers have made a return, but I have to say that is a trend I just never followed the first time. I do not want a 3-D book because I do not want to take phone calls from people wanting another set of those 3-D glasses. But as for that leopard-print purse? Yes, I think I will just have to finally have one.

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Karla Thompson