*This is part 2 in a series outlining my process for designing a bi-monthly magaazine in full-colour tabloid format. For part 1, covering document and template setup , see here.
* be warned: this is a long article - you might want to bookmark it as there is a lot of information crammed into it.
Laying out content (basics)
A handful of pages are regular features and are laid out to a set template. I leave this template in place from the previous issue, deleting the old content and making the necessary tweaks once the new content has been placed.
One thing of note: InDesign has a layers system like Photoshop and many people use it in the same way, but I don’t - I do everything on one layer. Don’t even pay any attention to the layers menu palette; there’s no need to use it on a magazine of this size - you can move elements on the same layer in front or behind one another by using the ‘arrangement’ function - things are much more managable on one layer. (so why does it exist? you’re probably wondering… well, it has it’s uses in the design of publications of high page count or when special inking methods are required, but the design of small-ish standard publications doesn’t really need to be concerned with this function.)
The bulk of the feature content is usually one page interviews comprising of a photo/illustration, headline, standfirst, contributor credits, body text punctuated with a pull quote and a footer with further information and a weblink. I’ll walk you through my process by using a sample page from the magazine - it’s not the most visually exciting page I’ve ever done, but works as a good example for covering pretty much everything you need to be aware of…
My usual method is to wait until I have both the images and text before laying out a page, unless I know exactly what to expect. This way I know what I have to work with and don’t waste time on layouts which the contents don’t fit. I’ll draw two content boxes on the page and import the main image into one and the text document into the other. Then I cut and paste the headline, standfirst and pull quotes from the text into their own text boxes. Next, i’ll set the body text to 8pt Serifa in a text box of full page width with 3 coumns, to give me a starting point (see image above). This gives me a good idea with how much space the text takes up, and what I have left to play with for the image, headline and standfirst. In the case of this page, I knew I was getting a portrait image, so designed the layout accordingly…
I’ll usually sit the pull quote somewhere inside the body copy, one column wide (sometimes two), to visually break up the main article. By putting a text wrap on the box the quote is in, the body copy will flow round it (see screenshot of pull quote box and text wrap menu below - you can pad out the spacing above and below the pull quote to even out the gaps in the body text . In this case I didn’t need to make any adjustments so the padding is set to zero. This is very rare; just put in whatever numbers work best in each situation and go by eye - between 1 and 5mm usually works) . I try to place the quote so that it falls in the break between two paragraphs, as it is a point which provides a natural pause for the reader.
My aim is to always lay the text out in a way which means the reader has to move their eye as little as possible when reading a page. This makes it easier for them to follow the piece without expending too much mental energy trying to follow the layout. There’s plenty of studies out there showing that difficult text layouts cause readers to struggle to retain the information in a piece, or even read it in the first place. I generally place the text in the bottom half of the page to keep it compact and use the image and headline in the top half. Don’t just look at the page design, try actually reading the article once you’ve laid it out and see if it feels akward at any point.
Try to avoid making the reader having to make their eyes jump from the bottom of a page at the end of one column all the way to the top of the page for the start of the next column - this is one of the reasons why I usually set the text in the bottom half the page; this way the reader only ever has to scan half the height of the page to get from one column to the next.
My usual approach is to use one image as large as fits best on the page - we have a good selection of photographers and illustrators, so I like to use their work as large and untouched as possible (just tweaking for optimum output on newsprint) to let it sing on the page. Then I’ll adjust the number of body text columns to give the best alignment of image and text. In this case I left the column count at 3, as this allowed the image to be used as large as possible and line up nicely with the left edge of the middle column.
The image will usually go at the top of the page, but can be anywhere which works - footers and cornerpieces which bleed off the edge are pretty effective (The photo here is bleeding off the top and right edges of the page). Headlines have a free reign; sometimes they sit at the top of the page, sometimes below the main image directly above the text, or to the side of a portrait image, or they can be ran overlaying or as part of an image.
Having the headline in advance of the layout is pretty crucial for me - you know how many words you have to play with and how they can break to fit different spaces, and they often give you ideas for design approaches which echo the sentiment of the headline (knowing the headline on this page was just two short words allowed me to use this layout as I could fit the headline next to the image using the width of only one column. A longer headline would have probably forced me to run it acros the full width of the page). Marrying image and design with content so they communicate an idea in a unified clear way is the holy grail of mag design, so always aim to play the two off each other where you can.
I like to get a few pages laid out roughly so that i can get a feel for the pacing of the magazine, then I’ll go back and add the design touches - choosing headline fonts, colour schemes and page order on a magazine-wide basis rather than a page at a time. My style is pretty minimal; I work to a grid and use colour sparingly, mainly to highlight things I want to draw attention to. I’ll wait until I have most of the images for the mag on the page before deciding on which colour scheme to use for headlines and design flourishes, sticking to only a couple of prominent colours which complement the overall feel of the issue best.
My type choices are pretty narrow these days. I used to use all kinds of crazy fonts, wanting to mix things up as much as possible. Now I go for quiet harmony and balance, aiming to present the text and images in an easily digestable visually balanced and aethetically pleasing way without the design getting in the way of the content.
All body copy is set in 8pt Serifa throughout the mag. Questions in bold, body copy in roman, and things like film or record title in italics. It’s best to keep the same body copy font and point size throught the mag for consistency - changing font can work, but is tricky to get right; changing point size looks fine on individual pages, but looks unprofessional when it keeps changing in a magazine for no real reason. I spent a long time experimenting with different fonts and point sizes before settling on the current scheme and I’m still happy with it five years later. I even know of a local design agency Creative Director who uses my pages as a studio reference guide on how to type set, so it definitely works.
I usually use the same typeface for standfirsts too, set in 14-21pt depending on the amount of text and size of the article. It works great for headlines too, title case or caps, and you could feasibly do a very tidy mag using it as the only font, but it is obviously better to break it up a bit and add some other fonts to the mix. I like to use bold serif or textured fonts on the headlines and contrast them with more elegant headline typefaces where appropriate. I sometimes use the headline font for the standfirst when I think it fits (as in the case of this example page). Printing a headline out, tracing it by hand and scanning it back in is a good trick to get some texture on the page.
One thing that really helps is to print the pages out once they are in a reputable state and put them up on a wall, in order, so you can see the magazine structure. This helps you make changes in the context of the overall publication, helping you achieve consistency, repetition and rhythm. Things I think about when looking at the prinouts are: How do the images and colours flow through the mag? Is the use of fonts balanced? Do the pages work as spreads? Are any backgrounds/boxes too dark? Is everything legible?
Once I get a few pages in shape, I’ll send them to the editor for approval before tightening up the details and making amendments. When I get to the amendments stage and know things like the headline won’t change, I’ll start tweaking the details of the page, like kerning the headlines. It’s very rare to get a headline which doesn’t need kerning to some degree - they pretty much always need some adjustment - even if it’s just one pair - and I hate to see a bad one in print, so I always pay attention to this. This headline needed some reduced kerning to squeeze it in at the desired point size. I used an italic font so the slope of the N in ‘prawN‘ matched the angle of the fish next to it. I also incresed the size of the quote marks in the pull quote as they make a nice decorative feature and help make the quote a visual element, not just a block of text.
Tip: Watch out for ‘widowlines’ - single lines of text on their own - tinker with the layout to make sure the offending line either connects back with the paragraph it belongs to, or that another line is pushed over to the next column so that there are two lines together, rather than one on its own. Similarly, watch out for ‘widows’ - single words on their own line at the end of a paragraph - either shrink or expand the letterspacing in the para to pull the word back onto the line of text above, or push a word or two over onto the bottom line. Try not to make adjustments to the letterspacing of a para by more than +/- 10-15% - it starts imparing the legibility and becomes easily noticeable in relation to the rest of the body copy.
The other thing I look for is making sure each page looks balanced and isn’t too cramped or too loose. Here the page was a little loose and bland for my liking, so I added the illustration of the fish falling in and out of the fishseller’s basket, which adds visual interest and works as a border with the fish bleeding off the page edges. To stop the text running into the fish illustration, I traced round the outline of the fish border with the pen tool to create a solid shape with no stroke or fill, then added a text wrap to it in the same way I did for the pull quote.
I also coloured the headline and pull quote pink to echo the prawn-y sentiment of the headline. There’s no page number on this example page, as it would have been hidden by the border (I’m not fussed about having a page number on every page - one on every spread is enough, I think; nobody is gonna get lost). With hindsight I should have had a page number on there anyway, poking out from behind the border, partly obscured by the fish. Tricks like this add the illusion of depth to the flat format of the printed page; even the subtlest details can make a big difference. Here’s the finished page:
I think that’s about it in terms of general page layout duties. I haven’t really addressed any technical issues with preparing artwork for print, as I’ll cover that later in the series along with do and dont’s, more tips on good practice and pre-press setup and other useful bits and bobs. Until such time, I bid you adieu.