Unless you nail these six design points, your magazine launch could turn into a fizzle.
Launching a magazine requires expertise, timing, and a good concept.
Even before that there's a lot of research, development, and marketing that needs to be done. When your magazine finally rolls off press you'll want to make sure that after all that hard work it's going to be well received. For a startup, design is possibly more important than the content because no matter how well written, if the look of the publication falls short, your best prospects may not take the time to give the writing a first glance. Whether you're looking to entice potential subscribers or advertiser prospects, there are six key areas that should receive extra design attention.
Understand your market
The design of any new magazine needs to speak the language of its readers. Don't hesitate to create mockups of key pages like the front cover, table of contents, or a feature story and do some opinion sampling. Ideally, hold a focus group to determine if the people you most want to reach are in touch with the design you intend to deliver. Are the colors-for logos, coverlines, headlines, sidebars-turning them off or on target? Are the fonts inviting and up-to-date? Are the images compelling or do they look passe? Is the copy easy to follow or does the design look tedious? How readers respond to such design elements will make a big difference in how well your magazine is received and accepted.
Although it's best to have your focus group professionally conducted, for some magazines it's considered an added launch expense. In reality, the cost in lost subscriptions, pass-along, or advertiser interest from a poorly conceived design is much greater.
At the very least, get feedback and input from people outside your immediate gathering of family and friends where comments may be slanted by your enthusiasm and influence.
The key to getting usable feedback comes from asking the right questions-which is why a professional coordinator is so important. You'll want to know more than whether they like the cover design, for example, but also why. Is it the colors, the image, the quality of the photo? Focus groups will cost you dearly if you don't learn what to fix before producing the first issue.
Reflect the content
As you develop the design of the new publication, imagine how it might appear and be interpreted by someone who doesn't understand the language. Does the combination of visuals and presentation alone reflect the flavor of the magazine? If the publication is serious and technical, do the colors and graphics project that? Does the design look playful and entertaining if that's what the magazine is trying to do editorially? When the design accurately conveys the content, browsers will be drawn to read the text. But when the magazine's look and content don't match (a playful design on a serious topic, let's say), the magazine can lose credibility and get passed over.
Contrast your competition
Study the other magazines in your market and get a good feeling for their design. While you'll want to have some aspects of your competition reflected in the design of your magazine, you'll also want to have a distinctive design that separates you from the pack. For example, if you're launching a bridal magazine you'll want to use the warm colors and elegant fonts that suggest the mood and flavor of other bridal magazines so your publication will look like it belongs in that market. At the same time you'll need to create something stylistically (rounded corners on all photos, for instance) that makes the design of your magazine distinctive from all of the other wedding magazines-your brand.
Be sure that this signature design follows through in all marketing and promotion materials as well-from rate cards and media kits to subscription solicitations and mailing pieces. Brand identity is something that's built up over time but it begins with a unique look that's repeated not only in the magazine but in every corner of the company including non-print components like the website.
Don't be a wimp. Understated design can convey a lack of conviction. Be careful using fonts that are too wispy and weak or colors that are too soft. Design that employs bold fonts and strong colors and emphasizes overall impact will deliver a sense of confidence and authority and appear to be more established.
If the content of your publication must include pastel tones or delicate fonts, you can offset that by using fonts in a bigger point size or having visuals that dominate the space by using them large. The more the magazine commands attention and speaks with a loud voice, the better.
Quality is key
Startups are often cash-strapped ventures and there's a tendency to want to cut corners on costs. But if there's one area where some magazines are pound foolish it's quality control. Use good photos and professional artwork. Images that look amateurish reflect poorly on the magazine.
Sometimes it's not only the image itself that looks cheesy but what's done to it. Be careful with production techniques such as silhouettes, vignettes, or other special effects. Some designers think that these treatments can somehow save a weak photo. In fact, don't resort to such tricks unless you have a good image to start with. Creating a silhouette on a soft photo or manipulating the contrast and brightness on a dark snapshot seldom makes it any more presentable.
Type can be another cavity in your magazine's smile. There's a difference between typesetting and typography. Even with computer assistance type isn't automatically perfect. A designer with a good sense of kerning and tracking can make type visually pleasing and graphically appealing. Type that looks solid, clean, and tasteful will always enhance the publication.
Keep it readable
Don't ever forget the bottom line: The magazine must be readable.
When color, typography, and page composition impede the reader, the design isn't working. Good design will make it easy to navigate a layout avoiding the need to hurdle pullquotes or follow text through a maze of graphics. Intelligent composition will ensure that tints and reverses and surprints don't take precedence over clarity. And fonts for captions and body text should be chosen for the variety of weights they afford and their ability to hold up well as small type. Magazines exist to be read, and design that undermines that is extremely detrimental.
Startups that overlook these broader points of design are inviting complete failure.
About the Author:
John Johanek, an award-winning designer, former art director of Popular Mechanics and New Shelter magazines, and partner in the magazine design consulting firm of Ayers/Johanek Publication Design, Inc. has more than 25 years of publishing experience. He has presented design seminars and workshops internationally and his firm has launched, redesigned, and art directed more than 100 publications. Visit their website at www.publicationdesign.com or contact him directly at [email protected]