High Design at Low Cost
Guerrilla tactics for art directors.
Design budgets arenâ€™t immune from the cost-cutting going on in the magazine industry. But that doesnâ€™t mean magazines must return to a gray, drab look.
What it means is that art directors and designers have to be innovative, budget-conscious and, most importantly, plan ahead. â€śWe canâ€™t just throw money around,â€ť says Josh Klenert, creative director at Billboard. â€śWe donâ€™t have huge budgets. We work in advance as much as possible.â€ť
Bill Bridgeforth, former creative director at Apprise Mediaâ€™s Beckett Publications and principal of his own design firm, agrees. â€śI think clichĂ© answersâ€”hiring young and cheap, cutting costs on paper, using stock photography and Photoshop only end up hurting the final product,â€ť says Bridgeforth. â€śGetting a handle on time management is a tangible way to get things done cheaper without compromising the quality of the publication.â€ť
He says some of the â€śmore mundaneâ€ť design problems can be solved with tech savvy and ingenuity. For example, Bridgeforth was able to use some scripting capabilities within InDesign to automate the biography capsules in a magazine and media guide for the U.S. Olympic Baseball Team. â€śWe were under a tight deadline and needed to be able to produce an insert as soon as the final roster was announced for the Beijing Games,â€ť he says. â€śI set it up beforehand and was able to automate most of the process without doing any typesetting by hand.â€ť This type of solution ends up affording you more time to â€śpick your spotsâ€ť and spend time doing work on the pieces that really need it.
Where Stock Saves
For Billboardâ€™s reviews and â€śHappening Nowâ€ť sections, Klenert says, the magazine can rely on press shots. And because the magazine often covers artists well before other magazinesâ€”while musicians are in the studio, for exampleâ€”Klenert can get shots that havenâ€™t saturated the market. (For a recent issue, Billboard even used a stock image on a cover, albeit an arresting shot of hip-hop artist Lilâ€™ Wayne.) In some cases, Klenert says, he works with the artistsâ€™ own photographers to craft their press shots, which Billboard will eventually use. Klenert isnâ€™t afraid to use an illustrator when recent press shots arenâ€™t availableâ€”a small but significant area of savings when the alternatives include expensive agency shots.
Klenert recommends developing a working relationship with a small group of photographers and/or illustrators who are apt to cut deals in exchange for frequency. â€śYou get to know each other really well,â€ť says Klenert. â€śThey know what you want, and that saves you time and money in the long run.â€ť Itâ€™s also beneficial to give photographers and illustrators as much time in advance so they donâ€™t have as many expensesâ€”savings that will eventually come back to the magazine.
Tricks of the Trade
Another trick to saving on illustrations, Klenert says, is to pick something in the illustratorâ€™s existing collection which will require little or no tweaking. â€śYouâ€™ll get an original illustration at a stock price.â€ť
Some cost-saving tactics Klenert uses are specific to the entertainment world, but can be applied elsewhere. â€śCertain artists have stylists that would be way out of our league,â€ť Klenert says. â€śSo when they come along to a shoot, the stylists are usually covered by [the artist] personally.â€ť But Billboard will sometimes credit the location of the shoot in exchange for use of the space, generating more money saved.
Ingenuityâ€”and cost-savingsâ€”in design can come from places you might not expect.
â€śIâ€™ve been laying stuff on my flatbed scanner for years,â€ť says Jamie Stark, principal, of Stark Designs. â€śNot just flat art, but things like coins, matches, leaves, keys, sugar packetsâ€”anything that is somewhat flat. Itâ€™s a great way to produce backgrounds.
â€śI design a trade publication with no art budget so I do a lot of stuff to get art free or cheap,â€ť Stark adds. â€śI designed an article about candy sales and laid Lifesavers, sour balls and M&Ms on the scanner.â€ť