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What Design Can Do for the Editor

Posted on Wednesday, July 27, 2011 at 10:50 PM

Putting design to work for your editorial content.

By Jan V. White

Is print dying? Yes: lousy print is, because it deserves to. It is being displaced by something better. But good print is flourishing and will continue to do so. The difference between "lousy" and "good" is design, not in terms of its prettiness but its function.

Function has little to do with art. Design is not cake decorating. It is not cosmetic. It is not like gift-wrapping, which camouflages what it contains. Good design, like shrink-wrapping, fits what it contains, exposes it to view, and makes it look shiny and new. You know what you are getting in a blister package. Good design expresses, reflects, and exposes inner meaning. Helping inner meaning jump off the page is the true value of "design." It transmits writers' words, their inherent ideas, and their significance to the reader vividly, strikingly, memorably. If it looks startling and trendy but is essentially meaningless, it is nothing more than phony window-dressing.

Formats, templates, and style sheets

Functional design cannot be based on these elements. It has to be custom-molded to the substance it contains. It is organic. It grows out of the needs of the specific material. Every problem bears within itself the seeds of its own solution, and every problem is different from all other problems. Accomplishing this custom molding is an intellectual judgment anyone can make -- yes, even editors who profess ignorance of "design." Design is an objective, intellectual, logical set of editorial decisions. It is not prettification, which is a subjective method based on "liking." Nobody argues for ugliness, but prettiness added for the sake of prettiness is not the point. Communicating ideas is what design exists to do. If it works and gets the point across, it is "good" design -- even if it looks ugly.

There is no such thing as an aesthetic standard, nothing that is "right" or "wrong". There's only effective or ineffective. There are no black-and-white rules about anything in our editorial and design professions.

Traditions, rules, and nostrums

There are thousands of contradictory design shortcuts and substitutes that get you into trouble, because they are so easy to misunderstand. You encountered these shortcuts on the job when you were first being trained and probably continue to take them. They are in how-to books, seminars by self-appointed gurus, and magazine makeover articles. They are confusing, and it is no wonder that the untrained non-specialist (who gave up art in high school and can't draw a straight line) is confused.

Hired designers and the decision vacuum

Editors buy the "art part" from official specialists with sheepskin that certifies them as experts. Experts in what? In "arting." They have taste! They are blessed with psychic powers and inspiration that can fill the vacuum of indecision in the writer's mind.

How can they possibly know better than the writer about what the writer is trying to say? the answer: they don't. Yet the word people put them on a pedestal, so they must pretend that they do know. They are admired for their "creativity" in coming up with something that hasn't been done before. I submit that there may be damn good reasons why something hasn't been done before.

Furthermore, writers let the designers bully them into using their muse-kissed solutions. They are the visual experts who have to work in a vacuum. That vacuum is the writers' own fault; they have not thought deeply enough about the significance or utility of their story. Once they decide on is values, they know what is worth emphasizing. The "design," (i.e. type size, boldness, page layout, arrangement) all become easy decisions because they grow naturally from the understanding of what needs emphasis. Once the writers know what they want to say, they can then easily figure out how to say it, because they can shape the form to accommodate the content. They must communicate this understanding to their designers and then be in control of whatever form the designer may suggest. (That is why designers must be brought into the editing team, coached, and made enthusiastic about the content by the editors from step one. Only true teamwork can possibly produce the excellence demanded. Without overcoming that gap between editorial and design departments, only lousy print can be the result.)

Design is integral to the editing process

Design can not be a standalone step added as an afterthought, when everything else is finished. Like it or not, "editing" now embraces all aspects of communicating a message, and successful transmission of content demands control not just of the what but also the how. Unfortunately, many word people aren't even slightly competent at translating their words and ideas into transmittable visual form. These blinkered word people are now handling these arcane secrets -- doing it themselves or overseeing others who do it for them.

Alas, there are no formulas because every message, every audience, every purpose varies. You alone must judge the appropriateness of any technique:

--Two columns or three? Who knows? If I said three columns are better than two (which they sometimes are), you'd have another half-baked truism to confuse you. If I said two columns are better than three (which they sometimes are), it might not make sense for your needs. I personally prefer working in a single column because it is fastest to scan, especially in complex documents. Does that mean I tell my client always to use it? Obviously not. As with all editorial and design decisions, you get there by analysis and logic.

--Is serif type better than sans-serif? Usually, but sometimes not.

--Is ragged right better than justified setting. Yes, but it depends.

--Are all-caps hard to read? Yes, except in special situations.

--Are italics harder to read than roman? Yes, normally.

--Is Up-and-Down Style Bad in Headlines? Yes, invariably. Always.

Design isn't an arcane skill but a common-sense tool

--Typography is just speech made visible. Consider type that way, and you can begin to control it and make decisions about it that will help the reader understand your verbal message.

--Pictures are a parallel language. Think of them as such and you will start to edit them more actively, so that what they say becomes as significant as what they show. Besides, they are a visual, emotional shorthand that creates curiosity. Every picture is an opportunity for both catching and informing the viewer. Realize that images are the first thing to be looked at on the page, so use them as doorways into the text. They make viewers curious for meaning -- i.e., content. --Design is a lubricant for ideas. The ideas are more important than the shape or pattern in which they are displayed. Stop making artistic compositions for artistic reasons. Instead, manipulate your material so the viewer follows what you want them to see in the sequence you want them to, bit by bit. (Short bits are popular; long-looking ones put people off).

--First-glance value is key. Bust up big things into clusters of smaller ones. That way, you ask for less commitment from the hurried scanner. Separate stories from each other with moats of white space so that each item is recognizable.

--Strategy makes your word-and-picture message desirable. Face it: very few people actually want your publication. What they need is the information it carries. Fifteen million drillbits were sold last year and nobody wanted them. What they wanted was holes. Find out what holes your readers want, and provide them the drillbits with which to make them. Prove the usefulness of your product by giving service -- i.e., content, not glossy surface pretense. Display the content with strong, meaty headlines.

--Judge everything you do from the recipients' point of view. Not yours, theirs. You know what you are trying to say, but they don't. Inform them in such a way that they will understand it now. They want their information fast, concise, and easy to access and follow. And it had better look dramatic, or they will fail to notice it. (Yes, this is certainly one function of design.) It had better be written and edited with them in mind, with the what's-in-it-for-me value right on top, or they will not bother.

Design is salesmanship

Catapulting content off the page requires a strategy of attraction and persuasion. Good salesmanship does not tell lies. It never pretends. It explains the quality of the goods and the benefit of using them. Overdone design skews the viewer's attention and is essentially a form of lying. When the viewer looks at a page and says, "Oh, what a gorgeous page," then the design is bad, because it has drawn attention to itself and away from the message. It is usually the exciting-looking design -- which is what editors often ask for and mistakenly think is so great -- that results in this paradox. Make the design bring the message out clearly, succinctly, forthrightly. That way the function of design is fulfilled, and it has nothing to do with whether you understand "art" or not. You do understand your message, don't you? The investors (optimistically called "readers," whose assumed number determines your print run) don't give two hoots about the way the publication looks. Few get displayed on coffee tables for æsthetic admiration. They bought your product and take time to read it for its content. The way you show that content off so they get it clearly and fast is the function of the way you present it to them. That is where "design" adds value.

Jan White lectures worldwide on the relationship of graphics to editing, persuading word people to think visually and visual people to think verbally. He has worked for 50 years in magazine design. He is the author of Editing by Design and a dozen other books on publishing techniques. Contact him at janvw2@aol.com..

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"Bravo, Jan! This article should be printed out, framed, and hung up in the office of every publication and of every designer, writer, and editor. Thank you!" --Ruth E. Thaler-Carter, WriterRuth.com. 07-31-2011


Posted on Monday, February 28, 2011 at 10:14 AM

Practice editing that also exploits the visual dimension. It will accelerate your communication!

By Jan V. White

"Nobody reads any more" eh?

They will, if they realize that the thing is worth bothering with.

Is it obviously Great Literature?

Is it clearly Useful Poop?

Is it glaringly Fascinating Insight?

The key words in this context are obviously, clearly, glaringly. They are visual techniques when you see them on the page. Trouble is that we take anything so "obvious" for granted and assume they demanded no thought. They are, in fact, the result of extremely clever editing.

By definition, "obvious" and "clear" provoke immediate reaction -- as fast as as you can get. That's vital for us as editors, because we serve people whose excuse not to read is their claim that they "don’t have time." Hence the need for speed.

Obviousness, clarity, glare, are the result of clever editing-and-designing. Don't think of them as "design," because that word daunts word-people. Think of them as editing-that-also-exploits-the-visual-dimension.

Here "design" has nothing to do with Art or Prettiness, but everything with efficiency in getting that irresistible sales-point off the page into the reader's mind. No, not reader but the viewer's mind. The viewer is just a potential reader whom we need to persuade to read by what we show and demonstrate at that quick level when they just glance down at the page. The first things we show them to notice are crucial. Noticing is visual. Becoming interested (i.e, curious) is verbal. The two must work together.

Four Slow Preliminary Steps

Step 1: The key is to pop out what we know that our potential readers will cotton to. We must make it conspicuous. Its inherent interest requires no analysis or cogitation from them -- just an immediate reaction. How do we know what those potential readers might cotton to? The very reason you decided to run this piece in the first place. (Remember?) Now the job is to distill that What'sInItForMe value into easy, direct language. That's your "display".

Step 2: Discuss the story with its author as well as the designer, so the well-defined and agreed-on value-to-the-reader is honed and polished and enthusiastically understod so it can be sparkingly displayed. Clarity of thought is vital. Shortness is thought to be good, but the final must be as long as necessary to get the thought across vividly.

Step 3: Edit out verbose introductions, complex off-the-point contexts. Avoid duplications of any kind, so never, ever repeat, duplicate, redouble or echo. Anywhere. Especially in the display leading into the text. Get on with it.

Step 4: Encourage the designer to interpret the message using type as tone of voice, and/or adding another dimension with images. Ideally, combining them both into a one-two punch. Its purpose is to expose the story idea clearly for its first-glance value. Immediate understanding. Reaction. Impact. Curiosity. The Wow! factor. This does not only apply to the headline and display, but to the handling of the entire package.

Ten Common-sense Visual Techniques to Accelerate Communication

1. It is not Who What Where When Why but the "So what" that readers cherish. It is just good salesmanship to allow it to be the dominant.

2. For heads use big black bold type, set tight, stacked with minus leading to concentrate the words into a black blob to which the eye is irresistibly drawn. Which typeface? Who cares? Its dominance and its message are what matters.

3. Show that signal off in generous white space. Space is not "wasted" if it succeeds in bringing attention to your prime selling-point.

4. Don't decorate or gussy up your message. Let it speak for itself forthrightly. It should not need side-issues or exclamation points. Avoid extraneous red herrings no matter how beguiling.

5. Don't waste space on anything that is not useful or significant to the thrust of the story. Keep to the point. The function of editing is to edit: cut cut cut. If there is sidebar material, be helpful and put it in a sidebar. Readers are grateful for such time-saving help, if they prefer to skip it.

6. Obviously, shortness is quicker than length, but make everything long enough to carry its point, especially the headlines: give them as many words as they need, because they are your prime salesmen. Perhaps even emphasize key words in some noticeable way.

7. Allow the substance of the piece to sell itself. It must be important enough to do that. If it isn't, should you be running it? Don't try to impress or startle with efflorescent graphics and colors in order to help it along. Suich transparent phoniness undermines your credibility.

8. Pouring text into endless flowing columns is deadening (unless you are presenting literature). Short bits get highest readership. Spoon-size shredded wheat is more popular than great big bricks'-worth. Construct pages out of discrete units of information.

9. Break up information into its components and organize it -- tabulate it visually. Stacking it all in neat columns is only slightly better than plain running copy, but not interesting enough. Place the units in a more random fashion to derive the most advantage from their smallness and shortness. Encourage the eye to skip from this unit to that one to find the most valuable element for that particular reader. Label each element with its own headline. Not with just a copout label, but a headline that sells: "why this thing is useful."

10. Nobody will ever read everything. (They never did.) The best strategy is to present a smorgasbord of lots of small-sized choices to be pecked at, because the little tastes lead to wanting more. Appetite grows by what it feeds on. Smorgasbords are also feasts for the eye, deliberately arranged to make the little dishes appear appetizing. That's functional "design" used by chefs. That is precisely the same professional cleverness that canny editors who know how to exploit the capacity of design use to make their intellectual smorgasbord irresistible. What is more, it isn't just irresistible. It is FAST!

Jan V. White is a communication design consultant and author of Editing by Design (3rd Ed.), Allsworth Press, 2003. He may be reached at janvw2 [at] aol [dot] com.


Posted on Tuesday, October 26, 2010 at 4:51 PM

Using type to engage your readers, and avoiding some common missteps.

By Jan V. White

In our context of commercial publishing type is not an art form but a lubricant for ideas. It is not "artistic" but journalistically functional. That's why you -- yes, even you, Editor -- can control it with confidence!

Face it: Regardless of whether it is Centaur or Univers, Times New Roman, or Helvetica, to readers type is just "PRINT" and they see it either too damn much, or too damn small.

Unfortunately, few journalists and editors are more sophisticated than their victims. (They gave up "art" in high school -- remember? Type is part of "design" and, therefore, Art. Ugh! Cop out and pass it to someone else.) To writing-people, the content of the words is uppermost, of course. Any necessary "Artistic Decisions" they are forced to make are based on ancient newspaper axioms passed down as Revealed Truth, which is usually what was in place wherever they got their first job. That is deemed correct -- whether it makes sense or not. Furthermore, the choice of Font (what used to be called "face") is what editors are most worried about. They stick to the safe tried-and-true because they lack confidence in their own judgment in an area where they fear inferiority. Stop! Relax! Let's be REALISTIC about this whole business (See how the look of the type has helped here?) and list some facts:

Readers' reactions

Before settling down to read, all potential readers weigh the cost/benefit ratio of effort expended versus intellectual advantage gained: "Does this interest me enough to invest this much effort?" The way the piece looks at first glance helps that decision. We make up their mind up if the type looks too small or the piece too long. "I think I'll come back to it later" is their excuse for rejecting it.

At the same time, they also decide "what's in it for me." If there is something, their curiosity may tip their reluctance to read. So they look at a piece twice. First, they scan the pages fast, in an erratic sequence of jumps mostly in a north-to-south direction. Then, if something has tickled their curiosity, they follow in slow, east-west flow -- i.e., actual reading!

As clever journalists/editors/communicators, we must understand this psychological kinetic geometry in order to take advantage of both speeds (fast then slow) to persuade the unconvinced hesitators to become readers. We must win them over, and then keep 'em. We must understand the five verbo/visual streams that affect working typography:

1. Type as speech made visible This affects display type headlines, decks, captions, pullquotes etc., where we catch their interest. So type has to be handled subtly, not just big and black. The way it is arranged visually can mirror what it says by its phrasing, breaking for sense, shouting, whispering.

2. Type as story-telling This is the steady, slow text. Like listening to speech, reading is sequential and lineal. A speech can be lively and fascinating in its delivery, or it can be monotonous and boring. That is directly translated into its visible form.

3. Type as explanation Organizing facts, analyzing, listing, cataloging information for easy and fast understanding, and retrieval. Think of this as tabulation, organized charting.

4. Type as image Playing on the emotions and curiosity of the viewer/reader. Not just concrete poetry, but the interaction of words and images so 1 + 1 = 3.

5. Type as technology Pixels enable us to meld the pictures with type, just as Medieval scribes blended images with words (but they used paint on parchment). It was Gutenberg who split the mechanically-set words away from the images. The images were then relegated to secondary status as "illustrations" that were dropped in. That divided us into two fighting professions: the "wordsmith" intellectuals and the "artist" page-decorators. The war between writers and designers has gone on for 500 years.

We can and must return to the intellectually/visually integrated way of communicating that the Medieval monks used. Not because it is "beautiful" or "innovative" or even "creative," but because it works better, and so helps us stay in the race for the readers' attention and preference. Not by amusement or ever-more-startling effects, but by better service.

Writing and editing are now as much visual skills as they are verbal skills. Word-people must have a feel for the type that expresses their words and the layout that presents those words. Journalists and editors must think visually while they are writing and editing. Equally, the visual people must have a feel for the words -- not just how much space they take, but what they say and what their significance is to the readers. Only that way can the intellectuals and the decorators become verbal/visual communicators who blend their efforts to make the most of both content and form.

Hooking 'em

They don't start out as readers, but as investors expecting a return on their investment of energy, time, and money. They are skimmers, looking for stuff worth bothering about. They are searchers. If the publication is free, they are uncommitted, uninterested, uncaring page-flippers. Whoever they may be, they are all first lookers. (Visual reactions! Not verbal. Sorry, Editor!)

We must seduce them into the text, which contains the substance of the story. We must achieve that at first glance. They must want to get in there with "Wow! I gotta read this now!" They must then understand the information (which is a function of blending the editing with visual organization) ... and then, if the story jumps off the page into their minds vividly, they will remember it ... and as a result of feeling well-served, they will think of our publication with appreciation, pleasure, and loyalty.

Persuading 'em to read

Reading is deemed hard work. Many excuse their reluctance to read by saying, "It's hard to read." What they mean is that it is hard to get into … hard to understand … hard to find what they are looking for … and, most important, hard to know why they should bother at all.

Which fonts are easiest to read? All normal fonts in general use are "easy to read." It is how we misuse and maltreat them that robs them of their friendliness. The best type is so comfortable and obvious that it is unnoticed ... invisible ... transparent. The reader should never become aware of the act of reading, for if they notice what they are doing, they stop.

Formulas for "Good Type." There aren't any. There is no such thing as "correct" or "incorrect." There are no laws or rules, except common sense. If it works well, it is "correct." If it doesn't work, it is "incorrect." Everything is relative. Type's flexibility is limitless, its possibilities endless.

Think of type as speech made visible. Open your eyes and listen to it -- literally. Read it out loud, using the clues it gives, because the way it looks reflects a tone of voice: loudness by boldness, whispering by smallness, shouting by bigness, emphasis by comparison, dialect by the visual character. Type can even be onomatopoetic word-pictures and puns. If it follows formulas, it probably looks boring and "sounds" monotonous. If it is handled as the flexible medium that it is, it can help the transmission of thoughts as expressively as does the human voice.

Common-sense insights

Even communication professionals are like everyone else: short of time and patience. We are pulled in every direction by competing signals, and becoming aware of our own reactions can help us service our readers. We must trust ourselves. If we are a bit uneasy about something, we must change it; is that editorial instinct or experience? Who cares? Depend on insights. Not "rules," because those are rigid. On the other hand, once they are understood and absorbed, insights are flexible to allow variable contexts. Most are obvious -- but the obvious is valuable, because it is the basis for logical decisions:

1. Words flow lineally, one word after another, whether they are spoken or translated into type. There are no shortcuts. We hope to push the reader along from start to finish, but they enter wherever something interesting catches their eye.

2. Reading is horizontal, flowing from left to right, in an endless strip. That is an inconvenient form, so we arbitrarily cut the strip into a series of short bits, which we stack as "lines" one below the other in vertical "columns." Alas, the column shapes take over and dictate everything, even though they are nothing but a convenient construct. Encouraging that horizontal flow of thoughts in the horizontal lines is more important.

3. Reading comfort depends on the ratio of 1) line length, to 2) type size, to 3) spacing between the lines. All three have to be in balance. Who judges that comfort? We do (and there are no rules). If we feel uncomfortable, so will our reader. To improve comfort, we must make the type bigger, the lines shorter, or add space between the lines in some combination. As you get older, you say, "All of 'em please!"

4. Type size does not depend on arithmetical point-size with which it is specified. Its appearance depends on the x-height. Everything depends on the proportions used in the design of the font. Forget generalizations that say that "ten-point type is ideal for text." Set a sample, print it out as close as possible to the finished product, examine it, and judge it visually.

5. Readers' habits affect their feeling of comfort. They'll stay with us if they feel at home. Departing from the normal costs us. We should do it when it makes logical sense, with deliberate purpose, but never for the fun of it, to show off, or to be different.

6. All-capitals are hard to decipher in bulk. A few words for special emphasis or character are, obviously, fine. But avoid using them in bulk because that precious info you emphasized in all-caps will be resisted and skipped.

7. Italics, just like all-caps, are uncomfortable in bulk. People find them less friendly, so why risk alienating them? Use italics sparingly.

8. Sans-serif type is harder to read than serif type, though readers are becoming used to it since it is being used more. Make it is easier by adding extra space between the lines to compensate for the lack of serifs (which help move the eye along from left to right).

9. Sizes. Big type implies important thought; tiny type equals footnote. Use the contrast to emphasize what is essential and play down what is secondary or supportive information. You have interpreted the material and thus made the piece more understandable. If this is so obvious, why do we use it so seldom and instead homogenize our thoughts in those monotonous grey columns?

10. Bold type stands out best in contrast to pale type. No news. Exploit its capacity, so pick fonts that yield good contrast of "color."

11. The context. Type is not an independent standalone entity, but one component of a cluster of related elements. Whether type is reader-friendly or -unfriendly is not merely a factor of the type itself, but of how it fits into its context. Again, there are no rules other than visual awareness. Here is a list of the major variables to be aware of in printed pieces, because they affect the way the type is perceived:

--the page size
--the number of pages
--the language used
--the 'muchness' of the type to be read
--the way the text is broken up
--the way the printed piece is held in the hand
--the weight, color, texture, shininess of the paper stock
--the color and shininess of the ink on that paper
--the quality and resolution of the printing

Bad habits to reject

Substituting traditional folk-wisdoms and clichés for analytical thinking is quicker, safer, and less work. But reflex habits get between your message and the reader.

1. Up-And-Down-Style Capitalization of Initials in Headlines That Robs Us of the Capacity to Allow Proper Names and Acronyms to Stand Out Clearly, Which Makes the Message That Much Harder to Understand and Hopeless to Scan Fast. Not a big problem in any one instance, but multiply it by the number of headlines in your issue, and it certainly becomes a problem. Current trend is all-lowercase, except for first initial, proper names, and titles and acronyms.

2. Centered symmetry may look dignified and traditional, but neat balance is dead, ideal for tombstones. Asymmetrical layout encourages not only kinetic motion and activity on the page, but also that vital left-towards-right flow of words to persuade the reader to continue reading.

3. Arbitrary arrangements where the visual overwhelms the message. The medium is not the message, the message is the message -- despite what the designer may claim as "original solution" that will "attract attention." Will it attract reading? is the question. If it does that, then great, but if it is there merely for its own sake, throw it out, because it misdirects the viewer.

4. Standard formulas and unthinking treatment of anything. It is uninviting and unexciting.

5. Flowing everything into columns whether it is sequential or not. The three-column or two-column page is a prison into which we force our thinking. Break it and arrange the material in patterns appropriate to its structure, instead of squeezing everything into a format that was developed for the convenience of weekly news-magazines.

6. Playing with type just to be different, inventive, "creative." There may well be a good reason why something hasn't been done before.

Turning 'em off

1. Making lines too long. One line is no problem. Even two or three are OK. The trouble starts when you have more than three.

2. Making type too small. If you are uncomfortable, so will the reader be.

3. Irregular word spacing disturbs the smooth rhythm of eye motion along the flow of words. Anything that disturbs must be avoided.

4. Irregular character spacing attacks the way we "read" words, which we perceive as letter-groups, not as individual letters. Loose setting of characters makes words harder to recognize. Inconsistent letterspacing is a sin.

5. Competing against ourselves by making some type units in friendly texture and others less so. Shorter, easier-to-read units inevitably gain more attention than the difficult ones.

6. Using weird fonts, just because they are fresh or new. Only depart from what readers are used to where there is an overwhelming functional reason to do so.

7. Setting type vertically. If something needs to be deciphered, it won't be.

8. Messiness. Type on a background that vies for attention and disturbs the viewer's concentration -- or worse, hampers reading -- will not be read. Words must never fight their background, despite current fashions.

9. Ignoring the structure. The text written as a list should look like a list. Bullets should align above each other. Indentations should be visually/intellectually logical.

10. Nonsensical line breaks. Read what the words say to make the phrasing dictate the line breaks. The spoken language must control the way the thoughts are translated into visual format.

Inviting type

1. As you edit, keep in mind the type-as-it-will-appear-laid-out.
2. Use visual type as a logical extension of your intellectual thinking.
3. Make type so smooth and easy that the reader is unaware of it.
4. Make type big enough -- and then make it a size bigger.
5. Have ample doorways to welcome the potential reader.
6. Break up long, daunting-looking masses into short bits.
7. Organize the material for two-level readership: fast-scan and slow-study.
8. Exploit size to mirror importance.
9. Help the reader find those wonderful nuggets right on top.
10. Isolate elements in space for immediate noticeability.
11. Poke out display as hanging indents for fast scanning down-page.
12. Allow the reader to skip what they are less interested in.
13. Add blackness to focus attention and create rankings.
14. Marry the type with spacing to organize thoughts into zones
15. Use space (as moats) and rules (as walls) to separate or link material.
16. Relate elements to each other logically.
17. Don't think "design" ("What does it look like?").
18. Do think "function" ("Are we transmitting the thoughts clearly?").
19. Do order your copy of Editing by Design, 3rd Edition, by Jan V. White.
20. Get it from Allworth Press, www.allworth.com target="blank">. Less than $29.95!

Jan V. White is a communication design consultant and author of Editing by Design (3rd Ed.), Allsworth Press, 2003. He may be reached at janvw2 [at] aol [dot] com.

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The Scoop on Mobile Editions

Posted on Wednesday, September 29, 2010 at 1:28 PM

Smartphones may overtake computers in popularity as early as next year. Is it time for a mobile edition of your publication? Find out what other editors are doing.

By Meredith L. Dias

Should you consider a smartphone or iPad edition of your publication? The magazine industry continues to evolve at meteoric pace thanks to widespread integration of smartphone and tablet computer technology. What was cutting edge a year or two ago is fast becoming passé. You don't want to be left behind.

Changing Market Demographics

Computer sales have long been on an upward trajectory, but a recent RBC Capital Markets chart indicates that smartphone sales will overtake computer sales by 2011! This, for many, is a daunting thought. Even more daunting, research suggests that mobile devices will become the primary Internet browsing devices within ten years.

Magazines have already undergone recent technological metamorphosis. They have had to develop functional websites, adapt to online writing and editing standards, design digital editions, and crack the online profitability cipher. Now, all signs point toward mobile devices as the next Internet wave. If magazines are to keep their readers, they must align themselves with their readers' preferred technology.

If you are already taking steps to establish a smartphone edition, you are ahead of the curve. If the projections hold and smartphones overtake computers as Internet browsing devices, all online magazines will need to be ready with mobile content.

Mobile Edition Design

Keep in mind that a mobile edition of your magazine can take many forms, some of which are fairly inexpensive and low-maintenance. While some mobile editions are full-featured, interactive apps with pictures and ads, others are simple digests of an issue's key material.

Nick Batzdorf, editor and publisher of Virtual Instruments, says, "We don't make the iPhone edition a big production. It's basic text and pictures with no proper layout." Some publications offer up similar digests on extensions of their home domains (e.g., http://mobile.columbusparent.com, http://mobile.informationweek.com, http://mobi.mufranchisee.com/news/features/, http://mobile.washingtonpost.com, etc.), where layout is optimized for smartphones.

"Simplicity is key," writes Steven Snell in Smashing Magazine for January 2009. "Because of the lack of space on the screen and Internet connections that are often slower, it's important for visitors to have access to what is most crucial, and as little else as possible." Small screen size necessitates the use of white space, an important design element for magazines on any platform. Though publishers of mobile editions face potential design challenges, programs like Adobe Creative Suite (including Adobe InDesign) can help simplify the process.

Reasons for Developing Mobile Editions

This month, we talked to various magazine editors about their mobile editions. Batzdorf tells us that the mobile edition of his specialized music industry publication has been quite successful. When asked about his reasons for developing an iPhone edition, he says, "When you go to the industry trade shows, there are maybe three people without an iPhone. [Having an iPhone edition] makes sense."

Other publishers, even those with no current plans to develop iPhone apps or editions, recognize the mounting popularity of smartphones and tablets. "We don't have any deliberate plans to create apps for our pubs yet, because I'm just dipping my toes in with eBooks," says Bridget Struble, program director for publications at the American Society for Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition. "Apps have even less universality, and apps are so expensive. But if people start asking for these in 2011, we'll have to consider them."

Peter Meiers emphasizes the importance of smartphone editions in the September/October 2010 issue of Signature: "The smartphone is really the primary, non-print publishing channel," he says. "The ubiquity of use -- and if you set it up correctly -- the ease of the publishing cycle is pretty easy to do. ... With a growth of 38 percent a year, it's a good bet that you're going to find an audience that way."

Even if your publication has limited resources, a mobile edition is still practical. "The fact of the matter is that it's very inexpensive," says Meirs. And, with smartphone and mobile device use undergoing such astronomical growth over the next ten years, it may be an investment many online publishers can't afford not to make.

When a Mobile Edition Doesn't Compute

Still, although smartphone use is rising and, as a result, more and more magazine consumers want mobile editions of their favorite publications, it may not always be advisable to launch a smartphone edition. "At this time, we have a limited new-media presence -- on purpose," says Kathy Storring, editor of Grand magazine in Ontario. "Our readers and advertisers seem to appreciate the paper product as is, so until we have solid prospects for additional advertising online, we are targeting our limited workforce to our paper product. Our website (www.grandmagazine.ca) promotes the current issue, highlights a few articles, and lists our advertisers. So we have no plans for iPhone publishing."

That said, Storring's parent publication, the Waterloo Region Record, "has a very active website and the editorial team is hoping smart-phone publishing will be in place very soon." A mobile edition makes sense for the newspaper, as its online presence is already thriving. In the case of Grand, whose online presence is much more limited, an iPhone edition would be of limited value to the audience.

A Simple Solution

Batzdorf has some advice for editors and publishers considering adoption of an iPhone edition: "Make it simple to put together. It doesn't have to be as splashy as a real magazine. Ours takes only a few hours to put together." Most important is keeping smartphone users engaged with content that is easily accessed and read on their mobile devices.

If you are a large publication, you may have the resources to design a splashy mobile edition with full-color spreads and interactive features. If not, that doesn't mean you can't create mobile content of value to your readers. A simple digest of your publication's current contents, with clickable links to individual articles, can be a nice bonus for mobile subscribers. Whether they are on their lunch break, on a plane, or at home, they will have perpetual access to your magazine.

Meredith Dias is research editor of Editors Only.

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Sharing Content Between Print and Web

Posted on Wednesday, July 28, 2010 at 2:51 PM

Some tips for formatting content in print and online.

By Lynn Riley

In today’s economy, it’s more important than ever to make the most of your budget. One cost-effective way to stretch your budget is to make content do double duty by offering it in both print and electronic formats. Successfully converting print copy to electronic depends on making the right choices. Here are some tips to guide you.

The goals of both print and the Web are the same: to present content to your audience effectively. To achieve that goal, both formats require a clean layout. But that’s where the similarities end. The available space to create your design and layout differs for print and Web.

With print, you have a finite, predetermined size and shape for presenting the content -- an 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper, for example. Everyone who sees the print format will see the same thing. Web-based products are more challenging. Readers are using different computers, browsers, and monitors. The publication has to look good on all of them.

Creating a Digital Edition from Print

If a print publication is your starting point, you won’t need to alter your images for the digital version. But if you’re starting with a standard-resolution PDF for the Web, and want to take it to print, it’s not so easy. You will need to obtain the original, high-resolution images from your source -- whether that’s stock photography, your archives, or elsewhere. An image can be downsized from 300 dpi to 72 dpi, but not vice-versa. Color is another issue. A computer monitor displays color in RGB, so if you’re starting with an electronic version and converting to print, all colors will need to be converted to CMYK for printing.

One of the most common digital formats is the flip page book model. Others include e-books (good for mobile media), HTML viewers (which can only be viewed on a website), and PDFs (which can be printed out or read on a computer monitor). The digital provider typically uses your press-ready PDF files (the same ones sent to your printer). There’s no extra work on the designer’s part to prepare these files. When working with the digital provider, however, the editor may instruct the provider to hotlink certain images or boxes of information.

A Word about Digital Providers

Very few organizations have the specialized in-house resources necessary for digital publishing. The vast majority of it is outsourced, most often to a specialized digital provider. Your printer may also offer these services. When you outsource this job, seek a provider with industry experience who can make your job easier. Ideally, your digital provider will be a good communicator and become a trusted partner. Keep your publication staff in the loop as well, as they may have valuable input into the final product. Make sure the provider can accommodate your schedule. In most cases, you’ll want your digital edition to drop well before the print version.

The Successful Downloadable PDF

Many publishers choose the easiest option, a printer-friendly PDF version of the publication available on their website. Here’s what you need to know to ensure a quality PDF. For graphics, decrease the size of each image to 72 dpi, or “save/optimize for Web” in Photoshop. Higher resolution won’t make it look any better, but it will create larger files with longer download times.

If your graphic consists primarily of line or flat colors without gradients, such as logos and line drawings, use a GIF format. JPEG graphics are best for photographs or images with fine tonal variations. Choosing the right file format is not only important for the quality, but also for keeping the image's file size to a minimum.

The two images below are best in GIF format:

These two images are best in JPEG format:

Save your pages in standard resolution mode. This will create a document that is much smaller than its high-resolution counterpart. Adobe Acrobat will automatically make hyperlinks out of all of the email and Web addresses. It’s a good idea to make your links stand out with color so the reader knows they are active.

Choosing a Font

The best typefaces for the Web are different from those for print. If you know ahead of time that your publication is going to be in PDF, then choose typefaces that display well on the Web.

Sans-serif typefaces for Web applications:


Serif typefaces for Web applications:

ITC Charter

Other fonts, like Minion or Helvetica, are either too small and delicate or too thick and chunky to read easily on a computer screen. Keep in mind, too, that while the fonts listed above work well on the Web, they may look awkward or amateur if used in printed versions.

The best fonts are specific to either print or Web. In most cases, you should create two versions to better serve your readers -- one print and one PDF. For the Web PDF version, choose from the Web-friendly fonts listed above. For print, use a typeface from your association’s branding guidelines or go with your designer’s recommendation.

Design Software Recommendations

For the first 15 years of my career, I used Quark. Then, in 2005, I switched to InDesign. I never looked back. InDesign interfaces beautifully with two other popular design software programs, Photoshop and Illustrator. The ease with which you can copy and paste graphic elements between the Adobe family of products is a dream.

The process for creating PDFs from InDesign files is simple. Ask your printer or digital provider for a script to automate this process. These days, InDesign is more prevalent among designers and is fast becoming the industry standard.

Remember This...

In summary, here’s what you need to keep in mind: High-resolution graphics are needed for print, but electronic applications should use lower-resolution images. The best fonts for print publications don’t usually work well on the Web, and vice-versa. Using the right software and finding the right digital provider can make the job much easier.

Lynn Riley, of Lynn Riley Design, specializes in design for association publications. Visit the firm's website at www.LynnRileyDesign.com or email her directly at lynn [at] lynnrileydesign [dot] com.

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Editorial Repositioning and Redesign Gone Awry

Posted on Wednesday, July 28, 2010 at 2:50 PM

Mistakes in the process caused Newsweek to plunge itself into failure.

By William Dunkerley

When a publication repositions and redesigns, you'd expect its fortunes to change for the better, right? But, that's not what happened at Newsweek. After a much-ballyhooed process of "reinventing" itself, things came to a screeching halt this past May when parent company Washington Post Company announced, "We do not see a path to continuing profitability under our management." Since then, the newsweekly has been up for sale.

What Went Wrong?

We don't know any of the inside secrets about what they did. But Newsweek did talk a lot about their repositioning and redesign. Based on those utterances, there are a number of things they seem to have done wrong.

First, it is important to understand why they were repositioning editorially. It wasn't that they wanted to gain favorability with their existing readers. Indeed, they voluntarily cut their circulation, dropped their rate base from 2.6 million to a target of 1.5 million. That would allow them to cut costs, and perhaps offer advertisers better rates. On the readership side, they wanted to keep readers who are most interested in news, have higher levels of education, and are of greater affluence. Basically, that's a sound strategy. Any advertising-driven publication, if it's going to be successful, has to do a good job of amassing a readership that will be responsive to the advertisers.

But in deciding how to reinvent themselves, Newsweek says it asked its readers. They reported in Newsweek, "Some of these changes spring from what we learned from all of you during extensive market research."

Simply put, they asked the wrong audience! As editors, we're pretty accustomed to asking our readers how our magazine is doing and what else they'd like to see. But, if a magazine is out to find a different audience, it is the opinions of that audience that should matter. It seems that Newsweek should have surveyed the prospective customers of the advertisers. That's the audience they apparently wanted to attract. That's the group for whom the editorial should have been repositioned.

What Else?

What's more, Newsweek reported, "Some of [the changes] reflect our own editorial goals and financial needs." Doesn't that sound like they were making changes to please themselves? Overall, the new editorial strategy was to include more "well argued essays." Also, it would bring more from regular columnists on "some of the most pressing issues of our time." The intent of the new editorial strategy is apparently "to be provocative, but not partisan." Outside observers characterized the move as a shift to opinion journalism. Is this what Newsweek's new target audience wanted? Or, is it just what the staff wanted?

The Result?

How did the readership market respond to the new Newsweek? A plot of Newsweek website activity shows a bump up around the time of the changes. Afterwards, things settled into a steep downward trajectory.

Aside from these apparent editorial-related missteps, there were others on the business side. I described them in an article entitled "Why Newsweek Magazine Failed." It appears in the July issue of our sister publication, STRAT (www.stratnewsletter.com).

Keep in Mind...

At any publication, a redesign can be a powerful aesthetic move. But it likely will never be anything more than skin-deep when fundamental strategic problems are ignored. Repositioning a publication is sometimes the choice to tackle those deeper issues. But efficacy may elude you if the process doesn't link advertisers with responsive buyers and isn't based on sound readership research. Newsweek seems to have failed to make its intended new audience the target of its research. Indeed, staffers may have pushed their own preferences to the forefront. That's rarely a good path to marketplace success. In the end at Newsweek, what might have been a brand-reviving move for the magazine became the death knell of the magazine as we've known it.

William Dunkerley is editor of Editors Only.

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Decks That Work

Posted on Wednesday, June 30, 2010 at 1:07 PM

They persuade you to care.

By Jan V. White

All those reasons why "people nowadays don't read" may well be true, but they are not a patch on the real question: "Why should I bother?"

Given the screaming for attention all around and the plethora of so-called information, the immediate reaction is "I don't have the time," which is a euphemism for "I don't care enough to make the time." Or that sneaky excuse, "I'll look at it tomorrow," which is an attempt to preserve self-respect while that stack of ‘to-be-reads' next to the bed grows -- until it is dragged away for recycling.

Self-interest -- "Hey, that's useful!" -- is the irresistible motivator for anyone to start reading. (Always has been. Two thousand years ago, the Romans had three words for it: Sine qua non. Without which, nothing.) Plain curiosity -- the "Wow!" factor -- works nearly as seductively.

The solution to handling our material in a way that maximizes the beguiling capacity of our thoughts and words lies in the way people examine stuff in print. First, they scan it fast, skipping around and searching for value-to-themselves. They are investing time, treasure, and effort -- and are ready (hoping) to be caught.

Our persuasion strategy must therefore have two simultaneous aims:

1. Speed. Exposing the topic so conspicuously, by hollering in type, that they can't miss it as they peck and flip pages.

2. Significance. Telegraphing the value-to-me of the content so it is appreciated at first glance.

Our material -- words in type -- is nothing else but speaking made visible.

This is just plain conversation:

What does it look like in type? Exactly like this article's monotonous text, which seems to flow on and on...

This is vocal emphasis:

Something vital and worth screaming? Headline, perhaps?

This is the inside scoop:

Explanation... persuasion...whatcha-oughta-know...aha! The DECK!

The "display" -- headlines and decks -- is that vital, fast verbal persuasion.

Here are the eight headline characteristics covered last month:

--Heads aren't just journalism, they are salesmanship.
--Heads are recognition signals; make them look the same.
--Heads must stand out by looking loud and aggressive.
--Heads should be set flush left, lines broken by sense-making phrase.
--Heads should slip off the page smoothly in all-lowercase.
--Heads can be in smaller type size but framed in space.
--Heads should not be in all-caps except for a few special words.
--Heads can have a key word or phrase popped out in color or size.

Headlines and decks work together.

Decks are the headlines' partners. They must be handled so that 1 + 1 = 3. Here are nine practical suggestions.

Suggestion #1 -- Emulate a Master

Study Time magazine, because it exploits decks brilliantly. I dislike the word "creative" because it is overused, but here it is the correct adjective. The decks fit into visual patterns (which help give the magazine its individuality as a product) and their wording is sharply honed (which yields a sense of active immediacy).

Suggestion #2 -- Repeated Words?

No! Please! Repeating is deadening and a turnoff. "Tell 'em what you're gonna tell 'em, then tell 'em, then tell 'em what you told 'em" was the cynical wise-guy journalism that went with fedoras hanging on the back of the head and green eyeshades. In today's rush, the headline proposes a basic idea and the deck points out its significance. Repetition of a phrase or idea in the headline, deck, and first paragraph slows down the article exactly where speed and clarity are of the essence.

Suggestion #3 -- Length

If they look too long and too heavy, they'll get skipped. No, there are no rules. The comfortable length varies. Self-test it. To swipe Larry Ragan's insight into our trade, "Would you read it if you hadn't written it?"

Suggestion #4 -- Type Font

Same as the headline or contrasting? Yes -- one or the other. The important factor is that it should be standard throughout the publication because it is an important personality signal, just like the headlines are. Time uses two versions, since they have a great many of them. Newsweek, which has fewer-but-longer stories, uses only one style. The goal: consistency for the sake of recognition.

Suggestion #5 -- Type Size

Smaller and paler in impact than the headlines, but obviously bigger than the text. Realize that heads and decks are seen and scanned at a greater distance from the eyes -- possibly even at arm's length. That is why they need to be larger as well as easily legible. Have ample line spacing between the lines.

Suggestion #6 -- Ragged-right

Where lines are short and must be justified, ugly gaps between words or even the characters are forced into the lines. Not only is the texture destroyed, but the rhythm of reading is tripped up. Both are inimical to smooth, easy reading. Setting lines ragged-right solves that annoying problem. Does justifying make it look like "poetry" to Management? Maybe, but it doesn't read like poetry, so forget that silly bugaboo.

Suggestion #7 -- Decks Can Appear Above Headlines

There is no law that specifies that decks must be placed beneath the headline. They can be written in such a way that they lead into the headline and can be logically placed above. Punctuation such as a colon (:) or ellipsis (...) can be used to indicate the relationship.

Furthermore, they can be set stacked in short, tight lines and placed alongside the text as unexpected contrast.

Suggestion #8 -- Synopses Are Not Decks

Those are compressed summaries intended for quick reference, information retrieval, and keyword search. Any whiff of "selling" is rejected. A formal look centered on the page is appropriate to their serious scholarly context.

Suggestion #9 -- Abstracts Are Not Decks

Those are conventional summaries restricted to some 120 words citing standardized structural elements in reviews or scientific reports (such as problem/method/result/conclusion). They are expected to be set in bolder or larger type than the text and placed as a first paragraph.

Jan V. White is a communication design consultant and author of Editing by Design (3rd Ed.), Allsworth Press, 2003. He may be reached at janvw2 [at] aol [dot] com.

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Better Headlines

Posted on Wednesday, May 26, 2010 at 1:13 PM

Nine new essentials.

By Jan V. White

Headlines (titles or heds) and decks have separate functions. See how the headline above identifies the topic ("headlines") and telegraphs importance ("better")? See how the deck defines why you, dear reader, should care? ("Nine new essentials" to help you make them better). Those time-tested functions make as much sense as ever, but we must go beyond them. Here are some pointers to better heads that affect and are, in turn, affected by the way they appear on the page. (Next issue we'll tackle decks.)

1) Curiosity is what pulls the casual reader into your story. The display is your best persuasion tool to get them to want to find out more. (The key words here are "to want to"). It often takes several words to define a complex topic and describe what you need to say so it is the honey that draws the bee. Therefore, make heads as long as they need to be to fascinate. Shorter isn't better, no matter what you have taken for journalistic gospel, or what the designer may maintain. Heads aren't just journalism, they are salesmanship.

2) Each head in a publication refers to its own story, but it is also a segment of a package. Since it is purposely noticeable, the way it looks helps create (or disintegrate) the personality of the product. To compete successfully, it is the product-as-a-whole that matters in the marketplace more than any of its component. Consistency is what keeps it looking unified. The temptation has always been to vary the typeface of headlines "to keep the reader interested." The pub is in serious trouble if it depends on such superficial tinkering to be interesting. Heads are recognition signals, so make them look the same.

3) The display should be what people are led to by the design. Heads and decks must pop out by contrast to what surrounds them. Type size defines the headlines visually but is usually limited by the available space into which the words must fit. Blackness is the other identifier. How can you make the headline blacker? Obviously by using a bolder version of the type. Less obviously, by taking advantage of type's malleability and squeezing out the air within and adding it to the surrounding frame. Set the characters closer together (by using tighter "tracking") and set the lines closer together (by using "minus-leading"). Tightening achieves darkness. Heads must stand out by looking loud and aggressive.

4) Tradition demanded heads and decks centered above the text below. That's what you learned in junior high as "correct." So it was, given the childish context of "reports." Also, it was standard practice when print was in its youth. Now it is essential to break out of the prison of formal form and handle our words-in-type as speech-made-visible. Talking stops, starts, has gaps, emphasizes, mumbles. Thoughts are sentences composed of phrases. Advance beyond tombstone inscriptions: open your eyes and listen to the sound of your type. Heads should be set flush left, lines broken by sense-making phrase.

5) An Even More Insidious Bad Habit Than Centering the Display Is the Up-and-Down Style That Has Haunted American Publishing Since the Mid-1800s. It decrees that a headline isn't a proper headline unless every important word's initial letter is capitalized. Nowhere in the world do people do this, unless they are attempting to ape an "American" style. There is absolutely no functional reason for it and most U.S. newspapers have switched to all-lowercase. It is counter-productive, because it makes reading slower and more laborious (just where it should be fast and smooth). It camouflages proper names (which are vital interest-hooks in headlines). It robs you of the capacity to emphasize (where you might want to use such caps). Starting with a cap initial like any normal sentence, heads should slip off the page smoothly in all-lowercase.

6) Headlines are believed to be the most useful elements to bring the reader into the story. (I believe that cutlines are even more vital, because people look at pictures first, then look for an irresistible explanation, but be that as it may.) Is it not logical, then, to make the type as inviting and beguiling as your carefully wrought words? Yet we relegate them to standardized ugliness by using "condensed" type squeezed to shoehorn those words in. The invited reader is disinvited by what you present them. They skip it. Your precious piece remains unread. Think of a whole publication's-worth of such waste. Instead of using hard-to-read condensed, devote the same amount of space and fit the headline in using regular type but at a smaller size.

7) HEADLINES USED TO BE SET IN ALL-CAPS. That was intended to make the type look bigger when it was made of metal and was limited in size by its vulnerability on press. We don't have technical size problems any more, but the desire for the Dignity and Implied importance of all-caps remains with us. In the old days, the amount of printed matter was limited and thus more precious, so people enjoyed reading slowly, carefully. Now we race through it. Tests prove that all-caps are more laborious to decipher than lowercase. If you want your headlines to be read, set only a few words in all-caps.

8) Immediacy ... speed of communication ... first impression ... are key words today. Parallel with the ease of reading comes ease of understanding: how the words are written to expose the point of the story. If that nub has content that is apt for the reader (i.e., "The What's In It For Me") it is folly not to signal it for first glance attention. This admits that our journalistic content is less literary than it is more functional. Self-interest -- promised benefit -- is the bait that catches that elusive unconvinced reader. It is in our interest to show off that vital point at first glance. In headlines, run a word or two in extrabold, in color, in bigger size, anything to make it pop out.

9) Reading some of the words in the following examples may well convince you of my personal prejudices. Not prejudices, but preferences.

Example 1

Example 2

Example 3

Example 4

Example 5

Example 6

These are recommendations based on observation, study, and empirical experience. Decisions should never only be about what something looks like, but on how it works within given circumstances. All editing and designing and headline-setting is interpretive choice-making.

Jan V. White is a communication design consultant and author of Editing by Design (3rd Ed.), Allsworth Press, 2003. He may be reached at janvw2 [at] aol [dot] com.

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Beyond the Buzz: Deconstructing the iPad

Posted on Monday, May 24, 2010 at 4:00 PM

Pondering the potential role of iPad in magazine publishing's future.

By Meredith L. Dias

We editors have been seeing significant changes in our daily routines. First, we had to learn how to edit for websites, then for smartphones and e-readers (e.g., Blackberry, iPhone, Kindle, etc.). Now, the mounting popularity of the iPad presents us with yet another possible change: learning to edit for tablet computer editions.

If this leaves you feeling overwhelmed, you are likely not alone. With new devices constantly appearing on the scene, it is a constant challenge for editors to keep afloat. We can never get too comfortable -- not when rapidly evolving technology demands constant readjustments and retraining.

The proliferation of iPad magazines raises some important questions: Will this new trend just create more work for editors already stretched to their limits? Or will iPad editions help to save thousands of editors' jobs, which have hung in the balance as lower ad sales have reduced editorial page counts? Are more changes in store for editors, their style guides, and their work routines?

Some Potential Problems

What will the iPad mean for magazines? Mediaite.com's Colby Hall predicts that what's "revolutionary from an editorial and design perspective is that magazine staffers -- now editing for print and the Web in separate work flows -- will be able to edit for print and tablets simultaneously." This is a compelling claim. Unfortunately, the article (a roundup of the recent American Association of Advertising Agencies' Transformation Conference) does not explain this idea further, leaving us with a cliffhanger.

What does separate print and Web editing, aside from differing copyediting and fact-checking standards, is the frequent updating of content on the Web. The print content can only be static, but the Web content can (and should) be dynamic. If the print and iPad editing processes are to be streamlined, and if the Audit Bureau of Circulations' expanded definition of digital editions still only includes editions mimicking the print edition's editorial and advertising content, can the iPad really be a game-changer?

Paul Michelman of the Harvard Business Review cautions magazines against becoming stuck in the past, rather than embracing the new modes of content creation made possible by the iPad: "If we lose sight of that and allow ourselves to assume the answer is from the past, our futures are bleak."

However, this is easier said than done -- if a publication wants its iPad readership reflected in its circulation numbers, it must offer the same editorial and advertising content as its print edition. Even if the layout differs in the iPad edition and includes fun extras (e.g., audio and video), how can magazines truly evolve if their digital editions cannot deviate from the print edition on any meaningful level? Print and online readers, after all, are not interchangeable. Each audience has unique needs and preferences, and the ABC ruling may inhibit editors' abilities to serve those audiences effectively on multiple platforms. Given that, it seems like ABC's concept of what a magazine is may be "stuck in the past."

What's more, there are some real limitations in the device's operating system that may inhibit the iPad magazine experience, including an inability to multitask. Perhaps most infamously, the device does not support Adobe Flash, an exclusion that has generated significant grumbling and may prove problematic for magazines that have incorporated Flash into their existing digital editions. The iPad may force these magazines to undergo expensive digital redesigns to replace unsupported content.

The iPad Reading Experience

Last weekend, I attended a friend's birthday party. When I arrived, there it lay before me, gleaming in the sunlight like a Twilight vampire (and surrounded by a similar halo of hype): a brand-new iPad. Finally, after months of reading articles and watching YouTube videos about it, I had the opportunity to test-drive one myself. Of course, I had to get in line; this gadget somehow managed to be the life of the party. When my turn finally came, the lightweight computer felt strangely heavy -- with expectation.

The iPad's reading interface is quite attractive. Unlike most traditional
e-reading devices, the iPad facilitates full-color publication, a feature of no marginal significance to magazine designers. The page-turning mechanism mimics that of the print reading experience and may pacify print readers reluctant to try digital editions. Moreover, the built-in motion sensor allows readers the option of reading publications in landscape or portrait view simply by rotating the device.

Perhaps most importantly, though, the iPad store facilitates quick purchasing through an iTunes account; with a mere tap of the finger and, in some cases, reentry of a password, users can acquire the latest issues of magazines available on the iPad. This solves a problem that has plagued magazine and newspaper publishers for years: how to facilitate quick payments with minimal barriers between reader and content. Chris Brennan of PCPro.uk sums up the magazine purchasing experience on iPad: "Buying magazines is easy: download the app and tap, tap, donk. ... Simple, easy and bank-account-emptying."

In other words, just what the magazine industry doctors ordered.

Magazines Currently on iPad

Several magazines have arrived early on the iPad scene. Editors are using this platform not only to present an attractive digital edition, but also to enhance otherwise static content with video, audio, and convenient menus for easy content access.

Vanity Fair, one of the early entrants into the iPad magazine marketplace, recently launched its inaugural iPad edition. Matthew Zuras of Switched.com wrote up a detailed review of the edition's strengths and shortcomings. The most important of the iPad edition's strengths was the photo quality, though he warns readers not to "expect to pinpoint the pores of Cristiano Ronaldo's godly abs." The magazine, he says, also features eye-pleasing ragged right text and a drop-down menu of the table of contents, facilitating quick access to desired content.

Zuras also cites layout issues that "wildly irritated" him, including orientation problems. "In portrait view," he says, "each article is squashed into a single, long column that's further compressed by the lead image, which takes up nearly half your screen." Also problematic is the price: the inaugural edition costs a steep $4.99, with future issues slated to be $3.99. The high price point, however, is the least of the problem here; according to Zuras, iPad Vanity Fair subscribers have no access to back issues.

Other iPad magazines include GQ, Time, and Popular Science.

Recognizing the iPad's Potential

DMNews for April 19, 2010, explores the subscription potential for publishers on iPad in "Publishers expect subscription lift from iPad." Nathan Golia cites the iPad's value-enhanced content and high audience interest as potential game-changers for publishers and advertisers. He quotes Peter Hunsinger, VP and publisher of GQ: "'Usually, in our business, you serve three copies before you get paid. With [the iPad], you get the money up front, and there's no bad pay because it's all credit card or phone bill. Also, you eliminate promotion costs -- people are subscribing because they want the magazine, not the football helmet phone.'" Teresa Perry, an SVP of the Audit Bureau of Circulations, shares Hunsinger's enthusiasm: "Editorial and advertising can both be positioned and distributed in easy, readable experiences."

Paul Michelman tempers the iPad publishing hype with a caveat for magazine editors and publishers: "I think the way publishers are approaching it so far all but obviates every one of its assets. How so? By assuming that two mature media -- print and desktop websites -- can simply be retrofit and forced onto this very immature medium." What's more, he criticizes the recent Audit Bureau of Circulations amendment of its definition of digital magazine, noting that the new definition still only rewards digital editions that mimic print, rather than offer dynamic, frequently updated content.

The Near Future

Regardless of whether or not the iPad single-handedly saves the publishing industry, the device has made waves and pushed publishers in a new direction. After all, it was the prerelease iPad buzz that, in part, prompted the Audit Bureau of Circulations to amend its definition of digital magazines.

We may not understand the reach of the iPad for years to come. Chris Anderson, editor-in-chief of Wired, says, "It will take less than 10 years for [iPad] to become mainstream." This may constitute quick evolution in some fields, but with many magazines hanging in the balance, we don't have the luxury of waiting a decade. Editors' jobs are at stake. If the iPad is our future, it must somehow become our near future.

Meredith Dias is the research editor of Editors Only.

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Harmonizing Print and Online Magazines

Posted on Wednesday, March 24, 2010 at 2:54 PM

How to create wonderful harmony between your print and online editions.

By Debbie Bates-Schrott

We start each business day with the dream of learning the secret to making our magazines flourish in both print and online. Depending on your passion you may prefer one option over the other. Clearly, there is still a strong desire for a print edition in many topic areas. There are also many publishers behind the eight ball with their magazine’s online presence or lack thereof. Many do not want to accept change, or have not fully embraced, or understand, the power of the Web, video, social media, mobile applications, or whatever the newest technology is when you are reading this.

For some publishers the flip page PDF may serve a purpose. It may be providing opportunities for expanding international readership or creating an online-only option for its readers. Advertisers benefit since it can expand the number of those who will see their ads and they can actually see the analytics and track it. Allowing advertisers the opportunity to share much more with a link to their site.

While there is still merit to this approach, there is a distinct disadvantage if this is your only digital strategy. Many may end up designing magazines the same way we have been for a lifetime. We need to take a new approach to designing our content to open new opportunities. This will require a strategic approach. Know your readers! Continue to know your readers! Where are your readers? Why are they reading your magazine? How are they reading your magazine? This is a continually changing landscape and needs to be monitored. Every magazine has its nuances that make its online needs different.

Is there harmony between your print and online content?

I think the best approach is integration. We are not just publishing magazines any longer. For those of you who are today, watch out for tomorrow. What is the print magazine accomplishing for the reader? Can it be done online? Online only? Or can you provide something different online that can strengthen the brand? Interviews, video, and social networks are just the tip of the iceberg.

Creating a completely harmonious relationship between print and online will require a new way of thinking for most publishers. Editors cannot do it all with the same amount of resources or old thinking and processes. Being a disrupter may be just what your publication needs to succeed.

Being successful in the new media world starts with a strategy with a phased implementation plan.

Debbie Bates-Schrott is President of Bates Creative Group and has more than 18 years working in the publishing industry. You can visit her website, www.BatesCreativeGroup.com, for more details.

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Maximizing Your Design Dollar

Posted on Wednesday, February 24, 2010 at 2:02 PM

Six money-saving tips for your publication.

By Lynn Riley

Controlling costs has always been a top concern in publishing. In the volatile economy of late publishers are trying to cut back even more in every way they can. Here are 6 ways to save money in the design of your publication.

Know What You Want Before You Begin

Make a firm decision on what format your project will take. Changing formats midstream, as from a postcard to a trifold brochure, can eat up design hours and end up costing you more. Clarify your goal for the piece and who the audience will be; these will be primary guidepoints for the designer.

Kick Off the Project with a Design Meeting

Meeting early on with the designer helps save headaches (and money) later. Clearly communicate all the points listed above. If you aren't sure what's the best format or what the piece can realistically achieve, your designer may have valuable input that will save you money in the long run.

Help the Designer Help You

Provide examples of what you do and don't like. This will give the designer a better idea of what you're envisioning. It will also help avoid endless revisions and "I'll know it when I see it" syndrome. Whenever possible provide art resources, images, and files to the designer so he doesn't have to recreate work from scratch.

Keep AA Costs Down

Provide fully edited copy to the designer that requires no further revision. (OK. OK. This should at least be the goal.) Many people catch copy changes only after the piece has been designed; avoid additional revisions (and fees) with careful proofreading beforehand.

Stick to the Schedule

Poor planning and delays can mean paying rush fees to bring a project in on time. Develop a schedule early on and stick to it in order to stay on budget. If planning is not your strong suit or you just don't have the time, ask your designer to map out a production schedule for you.

Put Out an RFP

Are you getting the best service and quality for a reasonable price? If it's been awhile since you casted your net in the pool of designers maybe it's time to solicit some fresh proposals. Many design firms are pricing their services to compete aggressively in the changing economy.

Communication is the underlining key to an efficient publishing process. The information you exchange with your designer will undoubtedly yield high returns on your bottom line.

Lynn Riley, of Lynn Riley Design, specializes in design for association publications. Visit the firm's website at www.LynnRileyDesign.com or email her directly at lynn [at] lynnrileydesign [dot] com.

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What to Do About White Space

Posted on Friday, January 29, 2010 at 2:11 PM

Less advertising means smaller issues. In turn, many editors cram more text into less space. But what about white space? Here's what...

By Jan White

Is white space wasted space? Not if we make it work for its living. We must use it as a tool to improve the capacity of the visible page to tell our story both clearer and faster. Used to practical purpose, we don't need to invest vast swaths of emptiness for dramatic contrast. Forget conspicuous consumption. We can hardly afford the luxury of "a place for the eye to rest." Probably never will again. Instead, concentrate on servicing the readers. Use deliberately controlled bits of white space as raw material to lead them to what matters and expose the information in clear, fast, and bite-size chunks.

I'd like to offer 7 reasons for making white space "work" for you:

It Makes You Look

Breaking the expected pattern draws the eye. A little unexpected emptiness in the midst of fullness produces curiosity. Where the norm is tightness, a simple square inch of gap shines out dramatically. Position that "hole" as a beacon to pull the eye to the important element you want to emphasize.

Technique: The simpler the shape (square, rectangle) the more deliberate it looks and works best. It doesn't matter whether it comes in from the outside margins or is inserted within the fabric of the story. Its job is to contrast strongly with that key point and make it stand out.

It Creates Importance

Enclose the element (whether image or words) in a white frame as though it were a picture hanging on a wall. That gives special value, so the viewer's attention is concentrated on it.

Technique: The overall shape is what must be noticed first. Simple rectangles are ideal. The more complex the geometry, the less clearly does it jump off the page.

It Helps the Reader Navigate

By separating elements from each other, it explains what belongs to what. That reveals the geography of the page at first glance. Keep the spaces within a story narrow, and make the space between the stories wide. Then build the pages by arranging the blocks as separated blocks.

Technique: It isn't the specific dimension of the gaps between things that matters but their comparative sizes. The normal is thin, the special is broad. The effect is created by contrast that doesn't demand excess space: Narrow vs. Just-a-bit-wider is just as effective as Wide vs. Broad.

It Is a Clue to Effort

It shows how long the various bits on the page are. "Am I interested enough in this subject to invest the time and effort it probably requires?" asks the reader, who can immediately decide whether to bother to read or not. That is done with moats that are a bit wider than the normal space between columns. Normal spacing creates an expected scale of space-between. A small change in widths yields that helpful magic if it is clearly recognizable.

Technique: A simple horizontal or vertical moat is the ideal. Moats with wiggles in them are harder to recognize for what they are, so they don't work so well. Keep it simple.

It Makes Stories Grow

Exploiting the fact that the publication is multi-paged, repetition of a small detail can tie individual pages into a Big Story. Recognizable
bits -- even tiny ones -- can accumulate and add up to large effect.

Technique: Whatever the size of the white space and its placement on the page, it must recur exactly the same way on the next and the next and the next. That deliberate precision makes it a noticeable characteristic and magnifies the story. Everything depends on controlled accuracy.

It Adds Flexibility

Think outside the white box. Don't decry the fact that the available space is too small (which it may well be!). Consider whether a little judicious cutting of a few precious words mightn't be a good tradeoff. If the piece is so crammed that it is off-putting, nobody will read it anyway. Consider the cost/benefit ratio. Make yourself a bit of whiteness.

Technique: If you have a given space for the headline, don't regret that you can't fit a larger type size (which is every editor's knee-jerk reaction to increase shouting). It is probably much more successful set smaller and bolder within that same space because the words appear against valuable white background that also separates it from the surrounding text. The white space is a valuable hole in the wallpaper.

It Is Hiding There

Tighten the type. You'll be amazed how looseness wastes space. Squeeze out the excess from between the characters and the lines. Congeal the space thus saved into a blob. Then apply it strategically.

Technique: Set the "tracking" tighter, i.e., "minus-something". Set the "interline space" (leading, ledding) narrower, and make up for the greater difficulty of reading by making the lines shorter (i.e., columns narrower). Tighten the gutter between columns. Now do the same thing with the display type.

Jan V. White, author of Editing by Design, is a publication-making guru. Janvw2 [at] aol [dot] com.

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"Found this through Twitter. I've always enjoyed your commentary, first at Folio: conferences, later at Cahners meetings." --Jim Carper, Editor, www.jimbocarper.com. 02-19-2010


"It's always a treat to see information from Jan -- thank you for providing this platform for him!" --Ruth E. Thaler-Carter, WriterRuth.com.

The Editorial Package

Posted on Wednesday, December 30, 2009 at 1:00 PM

A magazine succeeds with a well-designed package -- verbally and artfully -- to attract even a one-time visitor.

By Peter P. Jacobi

Let's say I get 150 publications. I think I do, considering the close to 100 I subscribe to and another 50 that I figure come through various memberships and contributions to non-profits. That's a lot for me to read, race, or clip through. That's a burden my mail carriers bravely, conscientiously handle those six delivery days of the week.

But so goes the life of a packrat always looking for things to write or talk or teach about, and so goes the job experience of those assigned to my street as postal dispatchers. The publishers of the magazines, papers, and newsletters I receive are compensated either by my subscription dollars or donations. The mail schleppers, unfortunately, receive little more than an occasional thanks and a holiday time fiscal gift hardly commensurate with the duties performed.

For all that, a visit to Barnes and Noble or Borders or the local independent will remind me of the countless publications I do not get at home. Sometimes, perusal leads to a purchase; something within an exhibited issue strikes my attention or suggests fulfillment of a momentary need. The drugstores have their own collections, usually of a more frivolous nature, but I'm certainly not averse to looking through a few of the publications exhibited there.

Or wherever I'm led day by day, I should add. A few weeks ago, while waiting to see my doctor for the semi-annual checkup, I chanced across the June '08 issue of Fast Company, a magazine I had seen before but that had not been the object of sufficient topical interest to be material for purchase. I happen to not be big on company/entrepreneurial publications.

But among the cover lines, I found "Cities of the Year, Why Chicago and London Are Tops." Actually, the main cover subject dealt with a young man named Alex Bogusky, a whiz from the world of advertising out to crush Apple for Microsoft. That subject didn't stir the juices, nor did the other topics flagged, save for the Chicago/London selections, which held topic potential strong enough for me to actually open the magazine.

Lo and behold, what I discovered was an editorial package designed verbally and artfully to attract even a one-time visitor. Layouts, titles, subtitles, visuals, captions, breakouts, story structures, subject variety, lengths of pieces ranging from micro to macro: all had been arranged into a savvy unit. It's a very "now" magazine, aimed at the successful or motivated-to-be young adult. And the editors, I suspect from what I saw, have found ways to attract their readers into and through the pages.

That matter of attracting, of how -- for instance -- to get stories underway for the purpose of reader seduction: that's always on my mind. Since the Fast Company copy was not mine, I turned to the Chicago and London articles quickly, this so I could glance at them before my doctor called me into her office. She soon did but not before I got a healthy start on my reading. It sharpened my interest. Fortunately, later in the day, I found a single copy at Borders and snatched it. That's why I am better prepared to tell you about my adventure with Fast Company.

A page titled "Fast Cities 2008" got the package that teased me underway, it dominated by city scenes and a preface that reads: "The great urban theorist Jane Jacobs wrote about cities of 'exuberant diversity,' and in our 2008 Cities of the Year, Chicago and London, we have two stellar examples. They -- and our 12 cities to watch -- are no utopias (we're still looking). But amid economic uncertainty, they're vibrant, creative, and growing. These hot spots, these Fast Cities, are full of life and bursting with diversity -- in race, in culture, and in business. Join us for a tour."

The text supplier for "Chicago Soul" is Alex Kotlowitz, an avid Chicagoan who authored Never a City So Real: A Walk in Chicago. The "London Calling" writer is Alice Rawsthorn, a London resident for 28 years and design critic for the International Herald Tribune. From start to finish, each reporter/writer got it right, or seems to. I have to guess with the London piece because I've only been a visitor there. I can vouch for the Chicago article since 36 years of my life were spent there.

Here's the first paragraph -- a rather long one, but juicy -- Mr. Kotlowitz applied to Chicago:

"In the bottom of the ninth inning of the 2005 World Series, as the long-suffering Chicago White Sox were about to win their first championship in 88 years, play-by-play announcer Joe Buck waxed eloquent about Chicago's South Side, where the Sox play. He described it as 'a collection of neighborhoods...Irish neighborhoods. Italian neighborhoods. Polish. Lithuanian. Firemen. Policemen. Schoolteachers. Stockyard workers.' Stockyard workers? The last stockyard closed in 1971. Irish, Italian, Polish, Lithuanian? The South side has long been predominantly African-American, and most of its immigrants now are Mexican. Yet that is how many view the city, through a lens dominated by the past. If you travel abroad and tell people you're from Chicago, they'll often pull their hands out of imaginary holsters and start shooting. To them, the city is still Al Capone's town, which it was -- nearly a century ago."

What's myth and what's actual: that is the Kotlowitz point. Is Chicago a city one can pin down so that the reason for its current state of vitality becomes clear? His is a valid approach, and an attractive one. He follows with an up-dater:

"The real Chicago isn't so easy to keep up with. It's constantly reinventing itself. Jumpy. Agitated. Impatient. It's as if the place is trembling. Move aside. Don't linger. And if you're going to dawdle, get out of the way. But what any Chicagoan will also tell you is that the past is very much present. It doesn't go away. It shouldn't. In fact, that's Chicago's lure and its beauty: its ability to take what was and figure out what could be."

An excellent approach this is, an introduction that allows Kotlowitz to begin making his case for Chicago as "City of the Year." "Consider Millennium Park," he continues, explaining how a site once dominated by ugly railroad tracks (in a rail era that made Chicago its hub) has become part of a lakefront skyline probably unequalled in the world for beauty and public usage. I'll leave it to you to hunt up the article, but, let me assure you, the "why" for Chicago's selection becomes clear and bright as the sunlight that strikes the waters of Lake Michigan on all but the cloudiest of days.

And off to the side, one finds a column of quotes from Chicagoans, such as the artist Dzine, aka Carlos Rolon: "The Chicago lakefront, Nelson Algren, Frank Lloyd Wright, Mies van der Rohe, the best place to get pizza, Michael Jordan, Barack Obama, Bill Murray, John Cusack, Lupe Fiasco, Buddy Guy, Hugh Hefner, Billy Corgan, Kanye West, Liz Phair, Bernie Mac, Jeff Tweedy, Common, Jeremy Piven, Ramsey Lewis, Pete Wentz, Studs Terkel, Frankie Knuckles, Koko Taylor, Chris Ware, Charlie Trotter, Freddy Rodriguez, Ryne Sandberg, Nate Berkus, Judy Chicago, Kerry James Marshall, Chicago Italian beef hot dogs, house music, the Second City theater -- and my father."

The CEO of Motorola, Greg Brown," adds: You can see it all get started here: life-saving drugs, new food, new technologies, new airplanes, advertising creativity." And by now, you should get sufficient clues for the why of the selection.

Alice Rawsthorn's "London Calling" begins:

"It's shockingly expensive. The roads are jammed with traffic. The subway system's hopeless, and the buses no better. There's a surveillance camera on every other corner, and the sidewalks are strewn with litter. The biggest airport is a joke. The richest residents are fleeing or threatening to; the poorest have been chased out to the suburbs by soaring property prices. And the weather sucks."

Well, that opening paragraph casts doubt on the "why" for London as choice. Rawsthorn makes the place sound bleak. But as reader, one gets the vibes that the explanatory payoff is about to come. It starts with the question we've just posed:

"Why is somewhere with so much against it such a great place for creatives to live and work?

'That's simply -- it's because London's so dynamic,' says Christopher Bailey, design director for Burberry, the once-dowdy British raincoat company that has been reinvented as a successful global fashion brand. 'Creativity thrives here. It has to do with the people, their attitude, vibrance, and energy. You can work away in your little world and have your moment in the sun. That's very empowering. I've lived and worked in New York, Paris, and Milan, but right now I can't think of another city I'd want to live in more than London.'"

The defining details begin to amass: "London has more museums than Paris, more theaters than New York, and more bars, public libraries, and music venues than either A recent edition of Time Out listed 111 plays, 190 exhibitions, 157 comedy events, 293 rock or pop performances, and 195 club nights in a single week. One in every eight Londoners -- more than 550,000 people -- work either in a creative job or in a creative industry."

Again, I ask you to look up what follows. There are lessons in the writing (not only of the two mentioned articles but throughout the issue). There are lessons about editorial choices (what to feature, what to cover extensively, what to compress, and a lot about how one can make a reader take notice).

Like a column, for instance, titled "A Dirty Shame," that covers "How marketers create disgust and embarrassment -- and why we shouldn't put up with it." The argument begins with the dreadful "Ring around the collar" commercial that used to make me cringe.

Hmm, maybe I should make Fast Company my 151st publication. I'll think about it.

Peter P. Jacobi is a Professor Emeritus at Indiana University. He is a writing and editing consultant for numerous associations and magazines, speech coach, and workshop leader for various institutions and corporations. He can be reached at 812-334-0063.

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Reader-Tailored Design

Posted on Friday, November 13, 2009 at 3:40 PM

Should your magazine design take into account outside factors, such as readers' current state of mind and the economy, into account?

By Jan V. White

Saville Row, located in London, is where you go to order a suit made to measure and come out in sartorial splendor with a considerably lighter bank account. These world-famous tailors make "bespoke," i.e., custom-ordered clothing. Should magazines be bespoke to their audience?

When times are tough, should the publication's look be mournful, with somber colors, larger type size, lots of slumping italics? Or should it pretend to be brave in the face of adversity, all cheerful in pink and sunny yellow? Or is dignified, neutral, quiet best? Does prettiness trigger first-glance attraction? Should a business-to-business pub ape consumer-style in order to engage readers more?

No, no, and no. Well, maybe just a little bit, except for the b-to-b aping consumer-style, which is absurd. But these are all the wrong questions, because they ascribe too much power to "the look," whatever that look may be.

True, we are a service industry and to succeed we must present our products beguilingly. We have the same problem as a fine restaurant, where you don't just expect fresh ingredients deliciously spiced, but they must also be artfully presented on the plate. Presentation isn't a cosmetic luxury, but an integral ingredient of a good dish or a good magazine. However, it can never be more than a supportive ingredient.

The fundamental cause for the magazine's existence is to deliver a message. Therefore, it must be read. Everything else is secondary to that main purpose. Reading anything presupposes a decision on the reader's part that has little to do with design. It has to do with content. Does this subject interest me enough to bother with it? (It also assumes that the material has been handled proficiently enough not to make it repulsively illegible, but let's take that for granted.) "What matters is the message, the means is unimportant. Choose the means that'll mean the most to the audience," said the poet Steve McCaffery.

Why do they read?

I've spent half a lifetime deconstructing magazine design to make it less artistic and more functional, cogently based on sensible analysis rather than on personal taste (though that remains a component, of course). I've been stashing useful quotes for my pontifications, and the following -- from Karen Gold in New Scientist (United Kingdom), June 1992 -- is infinitely the most valuable of them all:

"How readers approach reading depends on their aims. They may need to retain every detail ... or they may simply want to know if they can safely skip a bit. To achieve these goals they may use different reading styles: browsing, searching, skimming, scanning, close study, or dipping for occasional help. ...

"Readers prefer a 'cookbook' approach to information. They want it broken down into quantities ... that they can visualize and manage. ...

"When reading technical information, people have a mental accounting system that calculates ... the effort required to gain knowledge. If they feel additional information will put too much of a load on their memory or understanding, they simply ignore it. ...

"People appear to trade a fall in understanding against the cost of doing something about it. If they feel at the top of a page that this isn't going to contain anything they need to know, then the cost component of bothering to read it in case they do isn't worth the effort."

How do they read?

To help potential readers take in your message, you have to understand them and their interests as intimately as possible. If you want your text to be read accurately, you have to ask three questions:

1. What do your readers know before encountering the information you are giving them here? What is their level of sophistication?
2. What happens during the encounter between what you are presenting to them and how they cotton to it? What is the extent of their comprehension, and what can help or hinder it?
3. What happens after they have read the piece? How can they implement their new-found knowledge?

You may not know the answers, but these questions will help direct the piece into being useful to your readers.

What will help?

We have to understand the complexity of the communication process, and simplify the message to make it easy to absorb. Since our readers are normally searching only for limited information at any one time, we must fulfill three critical criteria:

1. Expose the reason why they should bother, which results from our displaying the "what's in it for me" value in the places they look first: the captions, headlines, pull quotes. Unless those are loaded with gobbets of irresistible bait, the potential readers won't bite.
2. Organize the stuff for immediate findability and overall typographic clarity, and use signage that pops off the page.
3. Write and design for immediate comprehension.

This blends content with form, editing with design. Our products are a mosaic, synthesizing the meaning of words with the shapes we present them in. What we give our readers and how we show it affects how they interpret and understand it, and later on retain it.

In any conversation, people are readers/listeners/viewers simultaneously and participate in an exchange. Reading is only a one-way conversation, to be sure, but it is a conversation nonetheless. It shouldn't be a lecture. Be aware of how you are "speaking" visually.

The attention must not be on the visual, but rather on the message. Its graphic component should be transparent. Choose the data that are significant to the viewer, focus on them, make them clear and accessible. Do not focus on the containers of the data.

If you manage to do that, does it matter whether in lousy business times the magazine's look is mournful or brave in the face of adversity, somber brown or cheerful pink? Does prettiness trigger first-glance attraction? Not really. Substance does, and our most important task is to make that substance jump off the page and bite the reader on the nose by every technique available.

Success in persuading people to read depends on a blending of writing excellence with the visual logic of its presentation. That design, in turn, operates on two levels. On the higher intellectual level, it has everything to do with journalism and the functional expression of substance. On the lower level, it is really industrial design: styling a product that is right for its audience in its market niche.

Only there does this business of depressed or cheerful colors and their atmospherics come in. Clearly it ought to be considered, but it is by no means the universal panacea. If you manage to get the content to sparkle, then the atmospherics such as happy or sad colors matter less and less.

Jan White, author of the book Editing by Design, lectures worldwide on the relationship of graphic design to editing. After 13 years with architectural magazines at Time Inc., he established his own publication-design firm in 1964. He has written dozens of books on editing and design techniques. He is a frequent contributor to Publishing Executive magazine, where the original version of this article appeared (3-07) and is reprinted here with permission of the magazine.

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Your Good Word

Posted on Friday, July 31, 2009 at 2:53 PM

Here's some magazine capital that even the slumping economy can't destroy. Now is the time to put it to good use.

By John Johanek

There are just a few really "key" pages for any magazine -- pages that deserve extra design scrutiny before they go into print. There's the cover, which should serve as a poster for the magazine -- grabbing attention on the newsstand, shouting its arrival from the stack of incoming mail, or flagging its presence on a coffee table. There's the Table of Contents, which needs to work like an advertisement for the issue (i.e., selling the content) and function equally well as a roadmap that quickly directs readers to favorite departments or major features. And, for some magazines, the closing page is crucial to ensure an issue ends on a strong note or to hit readers with an opening bang if they are the sort that scan an issue from back to front.

Often overlooked is one other important magazine component -- the editorial page. Some magazines don't even have one. Others treat their editor and/or publisher comment like a filler box, relegating that material to a page shared with fractional ads or the masthead (staff listing), or squeezed into a corner of the Table of Contents page.

If that sounds like your magazine, wake up. A functional editorial page may be your magazine's best sales tool -- something every magazine can always use more of, especially in this economy. Even if you have a page devoted to your editor's comment or publisher's note, there are ways to make it work harder.

Establish Rapport

If you don't already have a page that's the voice of the magazine, create one. Whether it's a message from the editor or a note from the publisher, your publication needs to connect with readers on a personal level. One client I worked with never had an editorial page despite repeated suggestions to do so. When it launched, it was the first magazine in its niche. Today it's the only family-owned magazine covering a now-popular, crowded market. The family aspect has become one of their biggest selling points -- but it's barely mentioned in the magazine. Instead, a portion of their marketing efforts and direct mail is devoted to promoting their unique family ties -- the price of never establishing an editorial forum to do so in the magazine itself. Having its readers know that the magazine's producers are not merely story shufflers but rather active participants likely has influence when it comes time to renew, purchase gift subscriptions, or buy an ancillary product from the company. Being able to cultivate that rapport with readers through an editorial each issue is a better and more cost-effective way to reach them.

Quantify Content

All good magazines go to great lengths to create balanced, authoritative, well-researched issues. A proper editorial page often highlights the scope of the issue and explains why the stories were selected and what qualifies specific authors that were commissioned to produce key stories (especially if the magazine doesn't have a contributor's page). This is an especially strong selling point worth informing readers about if you've landed a highly credentialed author, compiled a special selection of stories on a hot topic, or have in some way brought together content that is beyond what your competitors will likely deliver this month. This is the time to toot your horn, and an editorial is the place to toot it.

You ARE Your Brand

In my first year in publishing I read an item in a respected publishing trade magazine suggesting that magazines were better served if their regular columnists never included their head shot with their story. The logic was that a reader's imagination would probably paint a much more flattering picture than reality. That was more than 30 years ago, and I still disagree with that logic. If you're like most editors and publishers, you have opportunities to meet readers at conferences, events, or social gatherings. As a result, editors and publishers often serve as an embodiment of their brand. When readers recognize you, they won't hesitate to engage you in conversation -- about the magazine, the state of your industry, or an article they read. What editor wouldn't want to hear a reader's editorial opinion, or story suggestion, or industry insight? What publisher wouldn't benefit from heightened exposure with potential advertisers and media interests? A few years ago we redesigned a hobby magazine whose editor was considered a leading expert in the field. His editorial each issue had been a less-than-quarter-page box-all type, with a diminutive headline buried at the bottom of a page among fractional ads. In the redesign we gave the editor a prominent space with a photo and full-blown columnist treatment. The new presentation matched the level of respect his expertise warranted. As a result, the editor gained familiarity -- at trade shows and conventions -- and the magazine enjoyed elevated stature as well. When key magazine staff achieve authority status, the magazine benefits. A well-executed editorial in the magazine can be the soapbox you need to develop that recognition.

Head Shots

Several years ago our firm redesigned a large-circulation travel magazine. Although it already devoted nearly a full page to a well-written editorial, the old page design typically sported the same tired "obituary"-type shot of the editor every month. In the makeover we recommended producing a new photo for each issue -- an image that personalized the editor in ways that allowed readers to relate to him better. If his editorial was about rising gas prices, we wanted a shot of him pumping fuel at the local gas station. If the issue had a special focus on family vacations, we preferred a shot of him and his family enjoying the view at the Grand Canyon. The goal: get him out of his suit and tie and show his readers he was one of them.

Relating to your readers is key to gaining their confidence -- a first step in building reader loyalty.


Sign off your editorial column with your signature as well as your typeset name and title. The title establishes credibility and reflects authority and the handwritten signature makes the page more personal and human. If possible, print the signature in blue -- tests have shown that direct mail marketing letters with a blue signature tend to pull better than black. That might seem like a small thing, but in today's economy, every little bit of edge helps.

John Johanek is an international magazine design consultant and founding partner in the design firm of Ayers/Johanek Publication Design, Inc with offices in Zionsville, PA, and Bozeman, MT (visit their website at www.publicationdesign.com). His firm has assisted hundreds of publications, providing design and advice for startups, redesigns, and complete issue art direction and production. Contact him at 406-585-8826 or email him at johanek [at] publicationdesign [dot] com.

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Posted on Wednesday, May 20, 2009 at 3:49 PM

Reference books for editors and writers.

It is important for any publishing professional to have access to the right style, grammar, and writing guides. We have compiled a list of some of the most useful, comprehensive books out there for publishing professionals. Visit our Books page to see the complete list.

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