We design intuitively, relying on our feeling for type and imagery. But exercising intentional discipline while designing serves our readers’ needs. Here are eight areas to bear in mind.
1 CLARITY What is the type saying at first glance? | Break lines for sense in display type including captions. | Are readers guided through information? Must they ever search? | Do coverlines and the table of contents listings agree with the wording of actual headlines on opening pages? | All-caps headlines are harder to read than lowercase headlines because all-caps settings lack word shapes. | Design frequently gets a default “the way it’s supposed to be done” treatment. But is that the best way to engage a target? | It is hard work to effectively reveal content. Decoration or “making it fit” are not equivalent substitutes.
2 DESIGN Is there a coherent plan and character? | Signage and color must be consistent to reveal structure. | A magazine is far more than a bunch of spreads stapled together: the overall physical object must be considered. | Design is an editing tool to make content clearer and more valuable to the target. | Design should be used to sell the content: make everything literally attractive, and charming, and as easy to absorb as possible. | Design to make your magazine reader friendly. | Magazine designers exist to make content irresistible. | Create color, spacing, and type palettes to increase product unity.
3 HIERARCHY What should the reader see first? | Hierarchy is a result of consciously manipulating the materials. | What system has been used on the lesser elements to make them agree – and become less prominent? | Three levels (or typographic voices) is the ideal differentiation of kinds of information: most important, least important, and the bulk of middling importance. More than three introduces design complexity. The target is not served by having to decipher the distinction between, say, the fourth and fifth levels of importance.
4 LEGIBILITY The ease with which a target can actually read a message. | Maximum legibility is the consequence of unengaging design. Good design requires a balance between legibility and character. | The deeper you get a target into a story, the greater the legibility must be: type must become increasingly transparent. Text is no place to “entertain” a target. | Use a logical and relevant tone of voice. | See Readability.
5 READABILITY The degree of attraction a target perceives in a message. This is based on the message’s expressiveness and the target’s self interest. | Maximum readability requires abstraction. | Good design is a balance between readability (to catch a target’s attention) and legibility (to keep them in the story). | Readability is critical in display elements, where targets are being wooed into a story. | Do not challenge a target to read. Do not make them work to dig out the meaningful and the useful. | Use treatments that reveal the story’s content. Random decoration is counterproductive. | Don’t ignore writing’s internal structure or type’s inherent shape. | Captions are display type and should be treated as lures for targets. | See Legibility.
6 RECOGNITION Whose product am I looking at? | Magazine personality is constructed by consistent repetition of materials: typefaces, space management; rules, color, artwork style, etc. | Are you unique? | Do you stand apart from your competition? | Is what makes you special noticeable? | The single most important piece of type is the magazine’s logo: it defines the publication’s character. Interpret the logo in department headings to relate outside with inside. Create other opportunities to reiterate the logo’s essence in other ways in your product. | Bleeds are useful to signal specialness. Overuse reduces its value as a tool to signal significance – and weakens the difference between editorial and advertising pages.
7 RELEVANCE Why are we making this specific design decision? How does it add value to the content? | What is right with this design choice? | Why should the target respond? | Targets are overwhelmed with three to four thousand possibly interesting messages per day. What have you done to make yours look worthwhile? | Targets respond better to guides and friends. Does your magazine read like a friend? | Practice “impact editing”: writing and designing as one intellectual step.
8 SEPARATION What belongs with what? Will the target see this? | Separate elements with “typical” (standardized) spacing. | Contrast and separation must be balanced with the magazine’s overall unity. | Proximity, or nearness, makes elements look like they belong together. | Repeat an element from a story opener on every subsequent page or spread to connect them. | Design multi-page stories as single continuous horizontal units. That they are printed with gutters and on fronts/backs of pages is purely mechanical. END