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Edit & Design: Making the Marriage Work



By Linda Zebian
09/27/2006

Magazine production often seems like a round-robin of conflicting agendas. Editorial wants as much time as possible to complete its stories while the design team calls for edit to turn copy around faster so they can begin to put it on page. Meanwhile, sales holds out on producing a map for as long as possible over the protests of both design and edit in order to squeeze as much revenue as it can into an issue.

While budget considerations will always reign supreme, the creative differences between edit and design can be managed by following certain rules in order to make sure your design is keeping up with your editorial mission. The latest trend in creative content: More visuals, less copy. With the rise of the Internet and other media outlets, designers and editors are catching up on to the trend that many readers are likely to skim stories;using images, sidebars and pull quotes versus back-to-back pages of black and white copy.

Edit and Design Unite in the End
Independently published mental_floss has continued to see modest but constant growth since its launch in 2001. With a small in-house staff consisting of only one full-time editor and one full-time art director, it seems that the edit and design line would either be seamless or a nightmare.

"The magazine's editorial mission couldn't be achieved without the right support from design," says art director Winslow Taft. "The design sets the tone, so it has to be very clear to the reader that the information is not dry and dull. This is one of the primary ways we differentiate our magazine from other educational publications on the newsstand, which tend to be very text-heavy and visually bland." Taft says he avoids large blocks of copy by breaking text up into small portions and easy-to-follow charts for more casual readers.

mental_floss began incorporating advertisements earlier this year, previously relying solely on newsstand subscription sales for revenue. Strong editorial content and design is what drove the magazine in its first five years of publication. In 2003, Novelty, Ohio-based mental_floss redesigned to give a cleaner and more professional feel. "It was important for us to establish better organization within the magazine;namely, establishing clear visual identities for each department in the front and back of book, and redesigning our feature well to include more graphic-oriented spreads," says Taft of the 145,000 circulation book.

The bimonthly magazine's design is based primarily on stock art and photography and in-house illustration. With the exception of covers and cover stories, all articles are initially given to Taft with no direction from editorial, according to editor-in-chief Neely Harris. Rough drafts are then sent back to editorial for review, at which point both teams come together to discuss what is and isn't working for the layout. "You have to understand that editorial and design are intended to complement one another, not compete," says Taft. "And that means respecting the role of editorial, and knowing that they respect your role as the designer."

The advantage of working with only two small departments is that idea sharing and decision making are done quickly. mental_floss does not have an in-house marketing or advertising department, and therefore the creative teams are the only ones influencing what winds up on the pages. "We've yet to spend a dime on marketing," says Harris. "At some level, an editor has to be able to think like a designer, and a designer has to be able to think like an editor. Winslow gets very involved in the editorial; he reads every article, he gives a lot of thought to what parts he wants to highlight for the reader, he even chooses our pull quotes sometimes."

Working Together Every Step of the Way
In an overcrowded market dominated by big name titles like BusinessWeek and Forbes, 11-year old Fast Company distinguishes itself by relying on distinctive editorial and coordinating design and photography.

Art director Dean Markadakis has steadily increased art and photography in the magazine since he came on board three years ago. "Fast Company takes the reader on a visual journey that begins at the table of contents and ends at the back page, keeping in mind, of course, that many people don't read magazines cover to cover," he says.

Recent changes include an increase in both body and cover stock to better show off illustration and photography. According to editor Mark Vamos, the magazine has increased its edit hole by about 20 percent every month, using most of the extra space for visuals rather than text. "Compare a current issue with one from a year ago, and you'll see that we're making much more lavish use of photos and art," he says.

Reader response to content changes in the past year has been positive. According to the 2006 MMR Affluent Survey released in August, the magazine's audience increased to 363,000, up 17.5 percent over 2005, behind only sister publication, Inc., which saw a 35 percent increase.

The process at Fast Company is shared, according to Markadakis, between edit and design staff members and begins with an art memo addressed to the art department from the editor of the story. A meeting is then held between the art department and the editor and then a photographer or illustrator is selected. Several meetings later, pages are produced and placed on a cork wall in the office. "A design that works for a specific story may not be ideal when taking into account the flow of the magazine," says Markadakis, "so the wall helps us to make sure all the individual design components in all the individual stories work as a whole."

Custom Publishing Teams Collaborate for Client Goal
In-flight title Continental, which is produced by custom publisher The Pohly Company, underwent a redesign in 2004 and will go through another in early 2007. For Continental, the editorial mission is a reflection of market demands, and thus changes periodically.

The magazine's first redesign in 2004 was mainly driven by the changing mindset of the traveling consumer post 9/11, according to Diana Pohly, president of the Pohly Company. "We had had a business-oriented publication, and there was kind of a need to be more entertainment-focused;a calculated mix of business, travel and leisure," she says.

The Pohly Company team realized that the traveling consumer has a shorter attention span and is interested in a wide variety of topics. This new editorial focus needed to be reflected in a new design that urges an airline passenger to pick up the magazine from the back of the seat in front of them. The team came up with the plan for change and then it was presented to the client and implemented after approval. Changes in 2004 included a new cover design and the addition of more departments inside. More visuals were added to the design and the amount of copy was reduced. "Frequently, design is restrained by the amount of copy and we kind of flipped that on its head," says Pohly.

Advertising pages increased 38 percent from 2004 to 2005, which Pohly credits to not only a strong market but also an understanding of what readers expect from an in-flight magazine.

"My impression of other consumer publications is that it is often edit-driven and designers are responding from direction from editors," says Pohly, "But edit is not the king over the rest of the process."

The upcoming redesign will also reflect changes in the in-flight market that have occurred in the past three years. The new magazine will cover more products and even less copy, says Pohly, promoting a more visual and consumer-based presence. "We are really working a lot more with sidebars with the opportunity to call to action," says Pohly.

By Linda Zebian
09/27/2006







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