September 18, 2006 / Design / Fall 2006

Putting Rules In Their Place

Written by Crystal Kazmierski

Design rules have their place in explaining the process of design and structure to beginning designers. These rules also allow readers to easily navigate each spread. It is probably better to follow them until you are ready to purposefully break them. But when rules begin to inhibit creativity by emphasizing what “should” be done over what “could” be done, it’s time to take a risk. If you can accomplish the purpose of the rules (readability, structure, balance) in different ways, you might end up creating fresh, contemporary designs with a whole new attitude. So consider these rules to break to achieve dynamic designs with personality.

Choose a grid or column width and stick with it. With InDesign’s alignment tool, grids are no longer required to keep elements in order. The lack of grids on the template actually opens up possibilities and allows artists to see what they are doing, unencumbered by vertical lines. If the purpose of grids (clarity, consistency, organization) can be accomplished without them, go for it. In Wings, no grid was used to create this page, but InDesign’s text options easily divide and line up the copy, giving it the desired structure. While other page elements are not on a grid, they are still organized in clusters, separated by space, and easy to navigate through the clustered captions.

Every spread should have an eyeline. An eyeline is not the only way to achieve linkage – a technique used to help view the two pages as one spread. Linkage can be created with a photo or a headline that crosses the gutter. A background applied to the spread can connect the pages. In this example from the Decamhian, there’s not an eyeline in sight, yet the same photo treatments and the subtle use of handwriting say both pages belong together.

Keep all white space to the outside. Yes, for many situations,but some of the most intriguing and striking designs incorporate white space into odd places. The key is to achieve proper balance. The white spaces show up to the inside of this spread in the Legend, and yet, it looks balanced – not trapped or awkward. It takes an experienced designer to know how to use white space wisely.

Every spread should have a dominant photo. There are other ways to accomplish dominance. Group photos together to create a dominant cluster. Or, a small photo standing alone will by its isolation become “dominant.” For variety, look for ways to achieve emphasis that do not always depend on size. In this example from Patriots’ Pride, there is no dominant photo but the page does not feel scattered because the shaded background shapes unify the elements,which now achieve dominance as a cluster.

Each photo should have a separate caption. With more recent designs built around photo clusters, the beauty of the design would be ruined by individual captions all over the page. Try a cluster caption for photo clusters. A device such as a bolded heading at the beginning of each caption, a bit of color or a small dingbat alerts readers to the start of the next caption. All captions should be the same width. Sure, it can work for some designs. But it can also create odd sizes for captions, which do not echo the size or shape of the photos in certain design situations. If a caption draws attention to itself, rather than to the photo, it is the wrong sizeor shape. Even in a traditional-looking design like this one in the Indian, the captions are adjusted to fit the space. Colored headings begin each new caption within clusters, resulting in a clean, concise look.

Keep one pica between all elements. This is perhaps the most important rule to break. Breaking up elements, or clusters of elements, with white space will ensure a more open presentation, allowing the spread to “breathe.” Use the white space to isolate or unify and to create a visual flow. Of all design elements, white space can make the most dramaticstatement. In this spread from the Caxton, irregular spaces are createdaround elements that are skewed. But the overall effect is not overpowering because the white space defines areas. It is easy to see where the story starts and stops. Even with so many photos on the page, the spread is open and easy to navigate.

Mug pages should have stories, too. Some schools have successfully placed their mugs into a “reference section” with club and team shots, scoreboards and assorted quick facts. The tight grouping of mugs and teams into a reference section frees up space for more in-depth coverage in other areas of the book. This can help big schools keepmug pages from going on forever. Mug pages in a reference section will look like this, as shown in the Falcon. Place them to the back of the book just before the index so that readers know this is a reference section.

Text should never cross the gutter. True, not body text, but headlines can easily be placed across the gutter, their larger size allowing for careful placement to ensure maximum readability and balance. The larger the headline, the easier it is to ensure that the gutter goes between two letters. Then again, a big enough letter will work fine in the gutter. This headline in the Lair easily connects these pages into a spread. With letters this size, there is no problem reading them, even when they are placed in the gutter.

If everyone followed the prescribed yearbook rules to a “T,” there would be a lot of books that look exactly the same – and a lot of books that never get past 1987. Rules are not necessarily meant to be broken, but today’s yearbook pages are meant to convey the story of the 2006-2007 year with as much personality and individuality as possible. All of this presumes that your designers understand the reasons for the rules in the first place. Once that is accomplished, they can make wise decisions to create spreads that take risks when necessary – when doing so will present the story on the spread in a better way

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Crystal Kazmierski

With a background in commercial art, Crystal Kazmierski advises the Wings yearbook at Arrowhead Christian Academy in Redlands, California, and teaches design and photography at journalism workshops and conventions across the country. Under Crystal’s guidance, Wings has received multiple CSPA Gold Crown and NSPA Pacemaker awards; including winning a Yearbook Pacemaker 18 times in the last 19 years. Crystal is also the author of Finding Your Theme, a unit in Walsworth’s Yearbook Suite curriculum.