Editorial design is an omnipresent feature of printed publications, but if asked to define it, only true print professionals will be able to list all its various aspects. So, I’ve decided to give everyone else a helping hand and have put together a collection of the best, most creative editorial designs. I will also be offering you a list of the best tips and tricks when it comes to creating your own editorial design.
Let’s start with a definition: editorial design is the look and layout of an item of printed media – that might be a newspaper or magazine, but also includes brochures and books. In terms of their work, editorial designers focus on the layout of the pages, their task being to structure print materials in an attractive way which attracts readers’ attention, entertains them, helps them to digest the information on the page, and guides them through the publication as a whole.
Whatever the publication, readers should be able to identify with the style. This refers not just to text and content, but also to the overall design. A good design is one made with the reader in mind.
Editorial designers need to have at least a basic grasp of the texts which they have been asked to help lay out. This doesn’t mean deep reading – a brief perusal is usually enough – but there should be a link between the content and form of the publication as well as a coherent composition of text and images.
Regardless of the precise type of media in play, it is important for editorial designers to work with the people writing the text; this is particularly relevant in magazines and news media. Writers, reporters, and journalists think deeply about the texts they produce, and an editorial designer’s role is to support them in presenting their work adequately. As such, communication is the most important skill here and teamwork is the watchword.
Yes, you read right: do judge a book by its cover, because special care should always be taken with it. A good cover is attractive and informative. With newspapers and magazines, there is an added dimension in that it should look good on a newsstand. Given the overriding importance of the cover, designers shouldn’t shy away from being adventurous here, but in general, it always pays to remember the ABC rule: A is the magazine title; B is the headline or overall focus of the issue; C is the other important articles in the issue which might attract readers’ attention.
Good editorial designers use layout grids to reinforce the recognisability of the publication in question, especially with magazines and newspapers. Whether six or nine columns, there are all sorts of possibilities, but sticking to a fixed grid helps readers to keep their bearings; what is more, a grid helps to lessen the fear many people have of an empty page – if there’s already a grid, then there is something on the page for designers to go by. Another tip here is to think in spreads, not pages: i.e. don’t forget to look at the double-page spread, as working over two pages offers plenty more opportunity for doing something different (think of putting a picture over two pages, for instance, or running a headline across both).
In order to keep readers in the text, it is essential that editorial designers respect the basic hierarchy of typography, so develop a standard structure for how fonts and type sizes are used – and don’t use too many colours and typefaces in order to avoid confusing readers. Three different fonts which can be used to reflect the author’s personality and the tastes of the target group are generally enough to start with.
You can – and should – make use of empty space in order to give readers pause for thought (and a rest for their eyes). What is more, white space makes essential content easier to read and automatically directs attention towards it.
The right choice of images is one of the key tasks in editorial design: whether you opt for stylish black and white shots or detailed illustrations will, of course, depend on the topic, but this is definitely a central decision. For news media, images are what allow them to differentiate themselves and stick out among the masses of magazines and newspapers on sale.
To produce quality work, it is important to have some connection to the subject matter at hand, so try to do something you can get enthusiastic about. That is the only way for you to really give your best.
When creating your editorial design, remember that “that special something” on a double page or cover can also be a question of using one single colour – but using it well. Contrasts are one option, with a dark picture and a bright typeface, for instance, or a white background and colours to stand out against it. Referring to point 7, remember that it’s important to give the reader a break every now and then. The design and layout of a magazine can be used to guide readers through a publication and shape how they consume it. As an example, a double-page photo slows a readers’ progression, while a multi-column page speeds it up. It’s up to you to decide.
Although the primary purpose of contents pages is to be informative and functional, there is nothing to stop you from setting your creativity free. Have you got lots of topics in the publication? Then expand the contents page and make two out of it. Is it too messy? Use columns and colour codes. And remember that photos and illustrations help readers to find their way and get to where they want to get to faster.
If you’re working in a team, set up a style guide for your editorial design: this will help all the designers to keep to a unified layout and design for every issue of a magazine or newspaper. This in-house style document might include information about colours (foreground and background), typography, graphics, and forms, as well as various small but not unimportant details such as how pages are numbered.
While applying the previous twelve tips and sticking to the basics, remember to keep an eye on the overall development: you are trying to create a recognisable structure in which content and form appear to be one with each other. Moreover, the reader should be able to recognise the tone of the publication at first sight.
To offer you some real inspiration, I’d like to present this 99u Quarterly Magazine from 2015. While it’s a few years old, I think the design is timelessly elegant, so it’s worth taking a look in any case.
If you are looking for ideas in a news media context, then I recommend this list of the 50 best editorial designs worldwide. Creative Bloq has also published a good article examining six editorial designs and presenting what can be learned from them.
I hope you’ve now got a better understanding of what good editorial design is and that the examples I’ve listed here can offer you some impetus. Why not use the comments section to tell us which one you like most and why!