September 2, 2003 / Fall 2003 / Staff Management

Every yearbook room needs a ladder

Written by Rhonda O'Dea, CJE

Kids need structure. It may sound like a cliché, but no one knows this to be true more than a yearbook staff. Without a plan of what goes where and when, a yearbook staff will stumble blindly from deadline to deadline.

The ladder is the tool that provides staffs with that structure. Like any great project, the yearbook begins with a list. Planning the ladder is easy, if you begin by making a list of everything that must be in the yearbook, such as homecoming, spirit week, senior superlatives, student portraits, and ads. Once the list is nearly done, you can begin placing your story ideas on the ladder.

The ladder serves multiple purposes. The first is to help organize where things will go in the book. Notice the numbers down the ladder are facing pages (2-3, 4-5, 6-7). That is because yearbooks typically are designed in double-page spreads, or facing pages, with one story per spread.

Beyond that, the ladder is a guide to the placement of color pages in the yearbook. This part of the planning is one of the most important things you will do all year. First, find out from your yearbook representative how many color pages you are supposed to have. Then look on your ladder at what you want to print in color. Notice there are shaded areas on the ladder. These represent flats and signatures.

A signature is a group of 16 consecutive pages in your yearbook, that, when actually printed, lays flat with eight pages on one side and eight pages on the other. Once printed and dried, it is folded and cut into a booklet. Each side of that signature is called a flat.

Your book is compiled in signatures, and your color is submitted in flats. On the ladder, pages 1, 4-5, 8-9, 12-13, and 16 are all shaded the same, and 2-3, 6-7, 10-11, and 14-15 are shaded the same. These shaded areas denote those flats. When planning your color, you must pay attention to what is placed on each flat and within each signature. For example, if your agreement with Walsworth allows for 16 pages of four-color, all 16 pages must be submitted on deadline in two flats. Color pages MUST be submitted in completed flats or signatures. If not planned out, submission of color can get messy and expensive. Remember there may be financial penalties for not turning in your color correctly.

Aside from page and color planning, the ladder is a storehouse of information, allowing you to see how your book will look once it is completed. It is a good idea to be mindful of each section as the ladder planning continues. A yearbook traditionally is divided into sections such as student life, sports, clubs, academics, people, ads, and community. There are even guidelines that indicate how much of the book should be dedicated to each section. A non-traditional yearbook, designed around a concept for example, may have just a few sections, but balance is still the key. Be sure to indicate where section dividers will fall on the ladder.

A well-thought-out book has a planned look about it. The fonts in each section conform to a consistent design and the page layouts reflect the same attention to style. It is easy to lose sight of planned design as the year progresses, but you can use the ladder as the touchstone. Once design decisions are made, record information about fonts and layouts, such as Designer Series Layout numbers or template names, right onto the ladder. When compiling the deadline for editing and submission, a final check against the ladder will guarantee a consistent look.

It is clear that the ladder diagram should not be just another poster on your wall. When used well, it is a plan, a guide, a record of the most important information your yearbook staff will rely on. The ladder, once complete and posted, should serve as the architectural plan of the yearbook. When pages are submitted, they should be checked off the ladder. When color pages are turned in, it should be confirmed that whole flats and signatures are completed. When story ideas don’t work, the ladder can be changed to reflect what needs to still go in.

In short, without a ladder, your yearbook staff cannot get off the ground!

What NOT to do
1. Do not simply take last year’s yearbook and copy it page by page onto this year’s ladder. That is boring and likely has been done before. Be creative, mix things up and surprise your reader by coming up with new and exciting ways to cover some of the same things.

2. Do not wait until the first deadline to plan your ladder. It is TOO LATE. Yearbook staffs without well-planned ladders end up submitting duplicate pages, missing whole sections, and leaving people out. You must have a plan.

3. Do not fill in the ladder as you go. This will result in a randomly composed yearbook that looks thrown together in the end.

Helpful Hints
1. Use your wall ladder, but write with dry-erase markers in case a change needs to be made.

2. Each editor and adviser should have a current copy of the ladder in their notebook or planner. Use the planner-size ladders provided in the kit. Write in pencil on these!

3. Once things are turned in, check them off the ladder. Once things are proofed, check them off again. This will provide you with a visual cue as to what still needs to be done.

4. Try to submit as much as possible in flats or signatures (even black and white), as this makes it easier to ensure that nothing gets left out along the way.

5. Use the WPC Yearbook Wizard Planning Guide to help plan page information and staff assignments.

  • Jan Miller

    Need to edit last years ladder. Got it moved but can’t remember how to edit it.

Rhonda O'Dea, CJE

Rhonda O'Dea, CJE, is a former teacher and yearbook adviser from Salem High School in Virginia Beach, Virginia. The books she advised were recognized on the local, state and national levels for excellence in journalism and design. Rhonda now enjoys a successful career in sales with Walsworth Yearbooks, first as a sales representative and now as a regional sales manager.