How to Plan Your Publication’s Pages Before Giving Them to a Designer

How to Plan Your Publication's Pages Before Giving Them to a Designer

I’ve been designing publications for 12 years, and if there’s one problem I see more than anything, it’s that people are trying to cram too much stuff into too little space. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to go back to an editor and tell them “this isn’t all going to fit on the page,” but I can tell you it’s 1,000 times more often than I’ve said “I need more stuff.”

The number of words and images and graphics is going to vary depending on what type of publication you have: Newspapery things generally have lots of info on them, but magazines aren’t trying to fill you in on everything that’s going on in the world, so there’s a bit more room to breathe.

But whether you’re planning a newspaper or a magazine (or even a newsy-looking website), there are a few things to keep in mind to 1) make life easy for your reader, and 2) help your designer make the most of every page.

Here are three things you can do as you plan your pages before you hand them over to a designer.

1. Break it down into digestible pieces.

I used to work for a newspaper in NYC that was read by commuters, so it was meant to be read quickly while on public transit, which meant all the stories were 300 words or fewer. (For reference, this article is nearly 800 words.)

But what happens when there’s a big story that really warrants more than 300 words? You break it into pieces. If we just ran one … long … block … of … text … the reader would be so bored she’d never make it past the first few grafs (that’s journo speak for paragraphs) and therefore she would miss most of the information anyway.

So when you need to give more space to one thing or another, break it down: main story, sidebar (a smaller, breakout story), info box, chart, pull quote, etc. With this tactic, you can easily give a ton of space to just one topic.

I won’t get all mathematical on you, but think of it as the page planning golden ratio, which when used makes things feel organic and natural.

golden ratio

Hint: That largest piece probably should be something graphic, whether that’s a photo or an eye-catching typography treatment.

Bonus point: A newspaper design blogger I’ve followed forever, Charles Apple, always says when you have a great piece of art, “run it big and get the hell out of its way.” I also subscribe to this theory. You know the saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words,” right?

2. Hierarchy: Every publication, every page.

This applies whether you’re planning a page or an entire publication. Think about what you want the reader to see first. What’s the big story? What’s the best art?

In a newspaper, we know the big story goes at the top of the front page, but all the pages behind it also are built on a hierarchy. The most important story is granted the most space, the biggest headline. The next big story gets a little less space and a smaller headline. And so on and so forth. Not everything can be the same size or no one would know where to look first.

In a magazine, the big story goes in or near the center of the magazine, because that’s where they generally flip open due to binding techniques. Start your plan there, and plan from the center out, keeping in mind the “golden ratio” for your pages. The fun thing about magazines, though, is that we can spread out and let things breathe a bit.

3. Be flexible and ready to cut some text.

If your designer crams everything onto a page at the expense of the design, fire them. Immediately.

My job, besides making your publication look amazing, is to not only guide the reader’s experience through the pages but to communicate your mission visually. That can’t happen when things are cluttered instead of balanced and beautiful.

Be prepared to get a few pages back from your designer with things for you to cut down a little. It might be 6 words (although, I mean, I do have a few tricks up my sleeve for that kind of thing) or it might be 60 or 600. (If it’s 600, you might want to consider adding pages!)

I recognize that content is important — it’s why you have a publication in the first place — but if no one wants to look at it, what’s the point?

To recap:

1. Break it into pieces.
2. Think about how it all plays together.
3. Be flexible.

What struggles do you have as you plan out your publication? Leave them in the comments and I’ll do my best to help you work through them.

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