September 28, 2011 / Fall 2011 / Theme

More than words for your theme

Written by Kristin Campbell

Choosing a theme can be difficult, but crafting a design around it, or just using design as an unspoken theme, can be even more trying. Theme design is typically comprised of three elements:  a graphic, typography and space. Think about your theme and these three elements while considering these ideas. Then we can look at using your theme design from cover to cover.

Albrokan-2011-edited1. Graphics – Every good theme should have a strong visual element to link pages from cover to cover. For the theme “Savvy” from the 2011 Albrokan yearbook from A.L. Brown High School in Kannapolis, N.C., the staff chose eight sweeping lines on the cover, which are repeated throughout the book. A cool blue for the cover compliments the word “Savvy.” In this treatment, the graphics do not compete with the coverage of the book.

TIP:  By working with your school’s visual arts instructor, you can solicit a student artist to craft custom illustrations for the yearbook staff. Be sure to credit the artist and have a complimentary copy of the yearbook ready to give as a thank you.

2.Typeface (font) – Selecting your typography is a great place to start. Each typeface has a personality, and you want to pick one that best reflects your message. For example, the Albrokan theme, “Savvy,” uses a modern, light, clean font.  A typeface that is in script or grunge would not work. Boldness in this theme is emphasized in the use of all capital letters.

TIP:  Walsworth provides a collection of display font families and body font families for you to use for free. The variety offered should enable you to capture the tone of your theme in your headlines, story text, captions and ads.

3. Space – Probably the most important aspect to the success of your theme is to remember that less is almost always more. Pay careful attention to how the elements of your theme interact with the coverage in the book – you want to make sure they do not overshadow the photos and copy.

Negative space provides the reader with room to breathe, and feels less overwhelming. It is critical to guide the reader’s eye to the subject matter, and not confuse them by filling up all the open space on a spread. Think about how many messages your reader processes every day. The yearbook can be a great place to give their eyes a nice, clean break from visual overload. Less is always more! When in doubt, leave it out!

TIP:  Try out the transparency/opacity tool in your design software. A good rule of thumb is to keep the transparency above 12%; anything lower, and you run the risk of it not printing clearly.

Theme design application

When it comes to your theme (graphic element, typography and space), prioritizing is key. Your cover will have the greatest emphasis on the theme, followed by the endsheets, title page, opening and closing spreads, division pages and coverage pages.

1. Cover

Your theme should be on the cover. It also should be the only thing on the cover besides your book’s name, school and volume number. (Your school’s name, city, state and volume number go on the spine, which can free up front cover area for your theme.)

The cover serves as the reader’s introduction to the book, which means at first glance, you want it to convey a message to the reader. Consider having your graphic “jump the gutter” by spilling over to the back cover. This effect gives your theme a nice start and finish.

Also, try several variations of your cover design. Print the options and spread them on a table. Take your time making adjustments and narrowing them down. Remember that things look very different in print than they do on a monitor.

2. Endsheets

The best place to supplement your introduction to the theme is on the endsheets. The endsheets should reflect your theme components, but also share space with the title page, table of contents, or other pertinent information. Use these two additional spreads as a way of stretching the theme from the cover. Again, print these and be sure to lay them out next to your chosen cover. Make adjustments to ensure it is complementing and not competing with your cover design.

3. Opening/closing spreads

Your opening spread is the spot to use text to explain your theme to the fullest. It is a segue between the cover and the coverage inside, so use your theme elements to make that connection. The closing spread or page uses text again to draw the book, and the theme, to a close.

4. Division pages

To remind the reader of the theme you have established, a great place to put some of the theme elements is on the division pages. These pages should not be as overtly “themed” as your cover design, but should allude to it. They should reflect the cover design, but not mirror it exactly. One suggestion would be to copy and paste your cover design onto the division page, then start removing some of the elements until you have something that looks nice. Once you have decided on a division page design, use the same design on all division pages.

5. Coverage pages

These pages are full of photos and text, therefore only a sliver of your theme should be present here. This is where you can use just your graphic element, possibly as a transparency, which will give a whisper to the theme. The priority of these pages should always be the coverage, but remember, your theme can be reflected in what you cover and how you cover it.

One Response to “More than words for your theme”

April 30, 2012 at 11:35 am, callie said:

I don’t think any one can disagree that the theme should be more than words. The theme is a concept that should be covered throughout the book. There are many ways to do this such as it suggest by graphics. But I also believe even the smallest details should be based on the theme. Since the theme is the structure of your book it should dictate elements such as the number of section of the book and the names of the sections. It should also be used to help design page numbers and the index style. A theme is more than words, graphics, and a few pages. Every page in the book should look as if it belongs and if it doesn’t then your theme wasn’t carried out very well.

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Kristin Campbell

Kristin Campbell is the former yearbook adviser at Southwest Christian School in Fort Worth, Texas. She was also previously a creative director at an advertising agency for eight years.