December 6, 2017 / Advertising / Design

Respecting parents when designing senior ads for yearbook

Written by Becka Cremer

Updated by Walsworth Yearbooks

No one involved in the process knows everything they should know to produce a senior tribute ad for the yearbook. Most parents have never designed, photo-edited or written for a yearbook before. Yearbook designers and the tribute staff have never had children graduate. These two groups — parents and ads/tribute staff — are often at odds in the tribute production process.

It is an adviser or editor’s job to bridge the gap between parents and tribute staff. The most reliable way to do this is to educate the parents and the yearbook staff on the elements of a great senior tribute. With open communication — possibly a letter or email sent to all of parents of seniors to help them produce the raw content for their tributes — the yearbook staff will be in a good position to create stunning tributes.

The words

Writing a senior tribute can be easy. Just look at any yearbook, and you will notice that tributes follow a pretty strict formula. The senior tributes that stand out, though, ignore the formula and focus on the senior. These ads are typically unusual, personal and very specific.

Encourage parents of seniors to think about the message from the point of view of their child: What moments in the senior’s life were the most significant? Does the family have any inside jokes that would make the tribute special for the senior? What does the parent admire most about the child?

The best senior tributes will mean more to the child than to other readers. For example, in a tribute for a student whose family had recently moved to Kansas from England, the parents wrote:

Big Si,
Being the youngest of three brothers has not been easy for you and yet it has made you the person you are — strong in spirit, caring, compassionate and generous. We are proud of your achievements but are more proud of the person you have become. As you enter the next phase of life’s journey where the pavement has become a sidewalk, a biscuit a cookie, a tap a faucet, a tram a streetcar and crisps have become chips — remember that rugby requires no body armor, a football is round, a world series should involve more than one country and Sheffield Wednesday will one day be the greatest football team on this earth.

With much love,
Mum, Dad, Jonathan, James and Lara.

Other readers can imagine the conversations this family has had over the past year in the United States, and now, because of this tribute, Simon will never forget the “language barrier” he has overcome.

Another tribute makes reference to moments in the senior’s life without explaining them to the reader:

“You endured a terrible loss at 7, but instead of being bitter and jealous of others, you became even more compassionate and loving. You are a beautiful young lady, inside and out. Your bubbly and sweet personality leaves a lasting and positive impression on people – even a Lenexa police officer!

Tribute text from siblings is sometimes the most personal text in a yearbook:

“Seester, whatever you do, don’t sulk. You look like a pigeon.”

A theme or gimmick helps make a tribute stand out. One tribute that used a verbal-visual connection featured photos of the senior, Mike, at various stages of his life in various containers: Mike as a baby in a cooking pot, Mike as a toddler in a cardboard box, Mike as a junior-high student in a refrigerator box Halloween costume, etc. The text on this tribute was simple:

Thanks for the memories Mike! We’re looking forward to seeing what you are into next. Congratulations.
With love,
Your Family

This tribute used cheesy humor — one of Mike’s trademarks — to express his parents’ pride on the occasion of his graduation. These tributes’ best quality is that they are so personal to one senior. The text would not be applicable for any other child.

The photos

Basic senior ads are usually accompanied by three photos:

  1. The professional senior photo headshot.
  2. A picture of the senior as a child with a favorite toy, a pet or siblings or participating in an activity he continued through high school (sports, dance, fishing, hunting, etc.).
  3. A close-up of the senior as a baby.

While the formula for senior tribute text is best avoided, the basic photos in a senior tribute make a lot of sense and provide variety that is necessary to create an interesting tribute.

Remind parents that they only have a few photos to honor their child. The photos should be different from one another; a cute photo of the child smiling at age 2 tells almost the same story as a photo of the child smiling at age 3. Encourage parents to find photos that show different expressions and to remember that the fewer photos on the tribute, the larger they will be able to be printed.

Sometimes, though, photos of the child doing similar things at different ages can reinforce the message of the tribute.

For a tribute for two best friends, the seniors’ parents submitted a photo of the boys hugging each other as kids, and another of nearly the same pose at age 18. Together, the photos told the story of the boys’ friendship.

Be sure to tell parents that blurry, pixelated or otherwise damaged photos will not reproduce any better in the yearbook. A blurry photo will still be a blurry photo, and will probably look worse in the yearbook than it does in the original.


Often parents submit too many photos for the tribute designer to maintain a design style set up in other tributes. The parents have purchased the space, and should be able to include all of the photos they want in the end.

This is a situation that is easiest to handle before it becomes a problem: Include measurements for each tribute size and a suggested number of photos for each size with your order form.

Try to anticipate other issues that may arise from the design style the ads/tribute staff is planning to use. For example, if this year’s senior tribute design plan includes layering or overlapping photos, include a sample senior tribute design with the order form. Explain on the form that some parts of a background or other photos will be hidden. This gives parents the opportunity to choose photos that have non-essential backgrounds, if possible.

Regardless of your design plan, encourage parents to note what objects, people or background items are essential to each photo. A favorite toy, for example, may be included in the background of a childhood photo, but the tribute designer may crop it out if the significance of the item is not communicated.

Don’t forget

Parents of seniors are not designers, photographers, writers or yearbook aficionados; if they are, you are very lucky. Student designers and tribute staff are not parents. Remind students who work with parents of seniors of these two facts frequently. A tribute staff that respects parents and understands how emotionally tied they can become to senior tribute details will be better able to help parents — and the yearbook staff — achieve beautiful tributes

2 Responses to “Respecting parents when designing senior ads for yearbook”

October 01, 2009 at 10:43 pm, luz a mallorca said:

parents are links to students sucesss and a fusion of love and care completes the success formula

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Becka Cremer

Becka Cremer is a former yearbook adviser from Lawrence, Kansas. She now lives in Sacramento, California, where she works as a para educator and still rips pages out of magazines and collects advertisements because someday she'll need them for inspiration for some design or another.