April 30, 2004 / Design / Spring 2004

Twist It, Tweak It, Transform It

Written by James Cronin

On the Hunt For Wild Graphic Design Inspiration

When Megan Fontanoza joined yearbook her senior year, she had no idea the adviser had already pegged her to be an editor. She soon learned she would have to design a section of the yearbook. But since she had no experience in graphic design, she would need a quick education and a lot of inspiration. To pull it off, Megan consulted with other editors and watched them develop ideas for their own designs. She saw them spending hours flipping through books and magazines, flagging pages and sketching out ideas.

“It was all new to me,” she said. “It was kind of hard for me to figure out what was good, but by looking at what other experienced editors were doing and watching them go through the process, I got the gist of what I needed to do.” To design their pages, she and the other editors looked through graphic design books and various magazines to get ideas and inspiration for their own spreads. Students searched for entire layouts, copy and caption treatments, headlines, arrangements of photos, drop caps and quotes, and anything else from which they could draw inspiration.

Some students started with as much as an entire spread they saw in a magazine or as little as a small graphic device. This process — some call adaptive layout or design — provides students new to graphic design a foundation upon which they can construct their spread.

The world students live in today is more visual and graphics-oriented than ever. They are surrounded by media and, to their benefit, thousands of ideas that can be adapted to a yearbook. Coupled with introduction to the basics, adaptive design helps yearbook students create layouts quickly and without much frustration. And they can typically find something within their range of skill to work with.

Resources to get students started can include graphic design books, magazines, college catalogues, department store catalogues, websites, CD covers, books, greeting cards, print and electronic advertising, MTV, and in-store promotional displays.

Advisers can help by creating a space in the classroom that serves as an idea resource center. Each year, set aside a small portion of the yearbook budget — maybe just $100 — to purchase a couple of books and magazines that students can look through to get ideas. Get them involved, too. Have them bring in things they see that can be adapted to yearbook. They can contribute magazines, brochures, catalogues, and even their own sketches. They can clip captions, drop caps and interesting uses of lines. Anything.

By hunting for graphic design and examining what they find, students will see examples of what they have learned about eye-line, dominance, balance and white space, and they will see examples of what all students love to do — break the rules!

“Since it was my first spread, I didn’t want to do something really complicated, but I didn’t want to do something that was too simple. I wanted something that was pleasing to the eye, but easy enough for me to do as a first-time designer,” Megan said.

After searching for some time, Megan found a copy block from Surfer magazine, the Big issue. She liked its simple design, use of various headlines and a small cutout graphic.

“It was not hard to recreate, but I added an “L” shape around the text. The “L” reflects a pattern from the yearbook cover, and coincidentally, it reminded me of something I would draw on letters to my friends,” she said.

Megan said she also liked the “artful” look of a cutout photo she saw.

“I liked how it was off-center and the effect of the bleed. It was set off by itself so it drew attention to it,” she said. So for each of her club spreads, she took a photo of a single object that symbolized the club or organization featured on the page.

She said the original text was brief, so she added more words to accommodate a longer feature. She also experimented with leading, typography, drop caps, and headline location.

After a couple of hours of adaptation, she had her copy block, and she was ready to design the rest of the page.

Like Megan, students just need to find one idea, one nugget to transform into something they can use. Students can even bring in complete pages that they would like to adapt. Too much text? No problem. Scale it back and add some photos. Most magazine layouts tend to have more text and just one or two pictures, which is not always going to work for most high school yearbooks. So adapt it.

If you like it, make it work for you.

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James Cronin