December 8, 2014 / Ask Mike / Design / Fall 2014

Real headlines are designed

Written by Mike Taylor, CJE

Let’s get it out there right away – Football, Class of 2015 or Seniors are not headlines! They are topics.

Now that we have that out of the way, set a goal for this year to write and design visually appealing headlines.

The headline should be the last piece of copy provided for the spread. The reason why it is last is simple: The headline should unify the dominant element (typically a photo), the story and all visual images on the spread.

To write a headline:

  1. Read the copy and captions for the spread. Highlight key words and phrases.
  2. Look at the dominant photo and add words that come to mind.
  3. Write a complete sentence using the words and phrases you like.
  4. Edit the sentence. Eliminate unnecessary words (the, a, and). Use a comma instead of the word “and.” Circle the verb. Use an active 
verb to create a strong visual image. Replace passive verbs with a strong 
action verb.
  5. Write your headline in present tense, without ending punctuation.

Now have some fun. You may want to apply a literary device to the headline. Try rhyme, alliteration, allusion or even onomatopoeia. Remember, the idea is to verbally connect the elements on your spread with an attention-grabbing headline that does not editorialize, exaggerate or generalize.

Secondary headlines

More than likely, the headline will need a secondary, or sub, headline to provide important information. Unlike the main headline, the secondary headline is written in sentence form in past tense with punctuation. It still needs a strong active verb.

Design that headline

Often student designers create a text block, place the headline in it and call it a day. Many do not think that design is necessary. It is.

When designing the headline, remember leading and kerning are your friends. Try to work with both of these to create a visually appealing headline.

Find two fonts that work together via contrast. This may be a display font (script or other decorative font) paired with a serif or sans serif font. You may want to add a bit of the spread color to important words within the headline. This will attract readers’ attention.

Traditional publications often choose sans serif fonts such as Impact or Helvetica for the headline. This would be paired with a serif font for the sub headline and body copy. Today, designers may decide on a body copy font that has no serifs (Myriad, Futura) and a headline font with serifs. Either way, have some sort of contrast between the body copy and the headline.

The important part to remember is to stay consistent throughout the yearbook, in this case, with your font usage and headline treatment.

Common Core Standards Met


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Mike Taylor, CJE

Mike Taylor, CJE, sees things differently, and as a journalism specialist for Walsworth, he uses that creative edge to help yearbook staffs across the country put together the yearbook they dream about. A former award-winning yearbook adviser, Mike has been awarded the JEA Medal of Merit, CSPA Gold Key and Florida Scholastic Press Association Gold Medallion. Follow Mike on Pinterest at taylormjc.