Know your mission statement and know your audience, said Debbie Bates-Schrott, president of Bates Creative Group, Monday when discussing how to match great edit with great design during the opening session of the Folio: Show Production and Design track.
It was a message repeated more than once throughout three days of sessions at the Folio: Show, raising the issue as to how many of us in the publishing industry really knows the mission statement of our magazines and who our audience is? How many can say, I know this is who we are and this is who reads us weekly, monthly, daily? My guess is not many.
Even the most simple of mission statements can become muddled as we search for news and information to fill our pages, our Web sites, our blogs. And the same is true for the audience that we strive to reach. So maybe it’s time we all reread are missions and take a closer look at our subscription lists, at least that what Bates-Schrott would recommend.
Aside from mission statements and audience engagement, the Folio: Show Production and Design track was filled with information about working with and selecting a printer, how to lower manufacturing costs, and how to improve your magazine right now. All of these sessions will be available Monday at www.folioshow.com/presentations for downloading.
In the meantime, here are eight tips (abbreviated) on “Improving Your Magazine Right Now” offered by Jandos Rothstein, design director of Governing magazine and assistant professor at George Mason University.
1.) Simplify. Some magazines clutter pages with non-communicative elements – boxes, rules, frames and decorative standing art. Good design “sells” rather than distracts from images and words.
2.) Right-size page elements. Layouts can feel disorganized or confusing if too much emphasis is given to less important elements. Placement, size, color and value decisions should be guided by the relative informational value of each element.
3.) Don’t design a loaf of bread. Some magazines are like a loaf of bread – no matter where you cut them open, they offer a consistent texture and predictable sameness. Any magazine can support variety within its structure. Solving “bread” design can be as simple as making sure spreads look different from one another and each spread (or page) has a main visual focus.
4.) Get the space you need. A million dollar art budget is useless without the room to display the art you purchase. Design is fueled by space.
5.) Become an art whisperer. Good design is responsive to imagery. Design to enhance rather than compete with art and photography. You cannot save bad art with design.
6.) Good photography is not always good. Looser crops, outtakes and action photos (even if they are slightly blurry) often give more insight into the subject than a perfectly lit, composed, (and predictable) portrait. Look for images that will intrigue and surprise your readers.
7.) Two clichés don’t equal an original idea. If you must use stock art, use it carefully. Many stock images juxtapose to stereotypes creating a melded image. Real illustration renders insight or comments on the topic. Invest in fewers, more specific ideas.
8.) Banish your canards. Many fields have an obvious visual vocabulary (teachers = apples and bells, lawyers = scales and gavels). However, using apples in the pages of an education magazine makes the publication appear superficial. Banishing the obvious improves the thinking behind the assigned art because it forces freelancers to engage issues deeper than the magazine’s demographic.