Publication design is an art. Presenting the printed
word on a physical page demands a set of linear
standards that is far different than those of other
visual media. Reading isn’t like watching a film or
television. It’s not a video game or even a website. The
functional differences between reading and watching … or
gaming … or surfing … require special handling.
Reading or Viewing?
Designing the printed page for readability – by
combining diverse elements to support the overall intent
– requires a delicate balance between text and graphics,
visual weight and white space, calm and frenzy. To
achieve the goal of delivering the author’s message –
for reference or entertainment – newspapers, books and
magazines aren’t meant to move. Unlike media that flows
over, around and into the brain in an alpha state,
physical reading requires that the eye engage in both
rest and motion while information is processed actively.
Treating printed pages as if they were projection or
monitor “screens” is bad design.
Reading is learned top-to-bottom, left-to-right. Good
publication design follows that basic premise to guide
the reader from the opening paragraph to the last line
of any article, commentary, critique, story, review or
news release, with as little distraction as possible.
Effective page design engages the reader from beginning
to end, using established techniques and creative text
manipulations (font selection, titling, drop caps,
subheads, sidebars, color) along with carefully selected
graphic elements that support comprehension. Even the
most dynamic topics adhere to these principles; film,
television, gaming and internet magazines don't
try to become the media they describe. No matter
the theme, successful print vehicles deliver their
information in basically the same way.
advent of desktop publishing (and later web publishing)
enabled millions of non-designers to "publish" their own
real or virtual magazines. Fortunately, the standards so
firmly embedded in DTP software make every attempt to
guide users toward the proper application of print
design. Templates feature grid layouts for column and
graphics placement; stylesheets help to organize text
into hierarchies; graphic placement is tooled to work
with type, not against it. Unfortunately, those
constraints can't replace a solid grasp of the
intricacies that form the foundation of any good
Enjoyment or Struggle?
is a psychology at the core of design that is beautiful
in both its simplicity and its transparency. As a
reader, you might not know why you enjoy certain
magazines more than others. You may not realize, until
you've devoured the entire thing, that you hadn't put it
down. Why? Underlying principles of perception are at
work to interpret the arrangements and relationships of
objects (text and graphics) by the reader. Intuitive
linear thinking begins with how the eye associates the
principles of proximity (nearby objects are related);
similarity (objects of similar color and shape are
related) and continuation (a common path unites
objects). Good design presents a visual whole that takes
those elements of perception, and many others, into
account. It's simple and intentional, yet transparent.
The reader doesn't (necessarily) know how or why it
"works" -- but the well-trained
Stop or Go?
Ads are meant
to stop, and sell to, the reader in a single
page or two
designed to flow over multiple pages
Selling or Informing?
commercial applications, print advertisements are meant
to stand out and draw attention to themselves (and away
from editorial content) in order to market their
products and services. Any reader who flips through a
magazine does so with an ingrained ability to identify
the content pages they seek. Good design helps the
reader differentiate between the separate intents of
editorial and advertisement.
often, advertisers must concentrate and deliver their
message in a one or two-page spread, with eye-catching
graphics specifically intended to stop the reader from
flipping past. By contrast, publication designers create
an editorial flow, over multiple pages, that draws the
reader into the story or article, engaging them with
solid writing, good photography, pleasing graphics and
relevant sidebar material. Incorporated into that flow
is the placement of stand-alone ads, with the intent to
create balance in the overall, finished publication. Bad
design has no plan and no balance.
Marketable, or not?
any newsstand and make a random selection of titles on a
variety of subjects. Pick some dinosaurs (Time,
Newsweek, the New Yorker) some sports (ESPN, Sports
Illustrated), a little tech (Wired, PCWorld) new age
(Yoga, Bodywork), alternative/political (Rolling Stone,
Utne Reader) -- whatever you like. Then compare them.
Even the newest, boldest, graphic-driven, fast-paced
piece will share elements with one of the dinosaurs ...
if it expects to stay in print.
Across the spectrum you've chosen, it's highly unlikely that you'll find a single
commercially-successful piece in which every content
page contains a full-bleed oversized graphic background,
multiple fonts, no clear margins or negative space,
frequent use of reversed type against every conceivable
color, or unrelenting, eye-popping movement page after
page. The consistent use of distracting elements like
these renders a printed piece unreadable, and
But without notable exception, you'll find that each has
discernable margins, white space, an underlying grid,
well-crafted content, excellent photography, pertinent
graphics, good visual continuity in feature material and
a clear distinction between editorial and ad components.
That's good publication design -- and it's what keeps
the print industry thriving.