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Printing Industry Exchange ( is pleased to have Steven Waxman writing and managing the Printing Industry Blog. As a printing consultant, Steven teaches corporations how to save money buying printing, brokers printing services, and teaches prepress techniques. Steven has been in the printing industry for thirty-three years working as a writer, editor, print buyer, photographer, graphic designer, art director, and production manager.

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Magazine Printing: Redesigning a Periodical

A colleague of mine recently received the task of redesigning a magazine for a defense firm. She asked how I would approach this custom printing job.

General Approach to a Visual Make-over

I listed three starting points that I would use if I had just received such an assignment:

  1. I’d consider the goals, mission statement, and overall character of the organization. The redesigned publication should visually reflect all of these, consistently expressing them through all design elements, from typefaces to color usage to design grid to placement of white space.
  2. I’d compare the publication to a selection of current printed and online marketing materials from the organization (brochure printing samples, print posters, print catalogs, etc.). The redesigned publication should either complement these materials, or the other publications should also be redesigned to reflect the new visual identity.
  3. Finally, I’d compare the redesigned magazine to other marketing collateral from competing organizations. The redesigned periodical should conform to the general “look” of the custom printing work from other industry leaders, but it should also stand out in some distinctive way.

Specific Design Elements to Consider

Design comprises a set of tools, or building blocks, including type faces (serif or sans serif, old style or modern), type sizes (contrasts between body type and headline type), the design grid (the number of columns, and their relative size and placement), images, color choice and placement, use of white space, and so forth.

These tools work together to give a tone or mood to the design and to move the reader’s eye around the page spread, from the more important elements to the less important ones.

A Critique of the Initial Publication

When my colleague showed me a sample from the magazine printing run that immediately preceded the redesign, this is what I saw:

  1. The cover included a relatively small headline, the company logo, and a collage of photos. All of the photos held equal weight visually. It was impossible to identify the most or least important photo in the collage. There was no focal point on the cover.
  2. Inside the magazine, there were justified columns of type separated by vertical rules, with multiple screens, color bars, and photos scattered everywhere: a huge number of design elements. There was almost no unused space, and the overall experience was claustrophobic. Many of the design elements seemed to have no purpose other than a decorative one.

What I Told My Colleague

I made these suggestions to help my colleague approach the redesign of the publication.

  1. Choose a visual focus, particularly for the cover. Decide how the reader should navigate through the page. What should he or she look at first, second, third?
  2. Choose one page spread, and simplify the design elements within that one page spread. Take out anything that does not directly support the visual (and editorial) goals.
  3. Choose one typeface for the headlines (perhaps a sans serif, given the crisp, technical air of the defense industry content), and then choose a complementary typeface for the text copy (perhaps a serif face for legibility). Take out the vertical rule lines between columns of type, and make the text ragged right. This is easier to read, and it will provide more white space, giving a looser and less claustrophobic look to the magazine.
  4. Include more white space in general. It gives the reader’s eye a resting point, and it helps lead him or her through the content, from more important elements to less important ones.
  5. Choose photos that also direct the reader’s eye through the page spread. For instance, if the subject of a photo is looking off to the right, the reader will do the same. If there is a headline to the right of the photo, the gaze of the person in the photo will encourage the reader to look at the photo first and then the headline.

My Colleague’s First Mock-ups for the Redesign

My colleague showed me mock-ups for a dramatically improved magazine printing design. Here are some elements she included:

  1. The single cover photo was a composite shot of a group of people sitting in a semicircle, all looking at a globe. The title, the futuristic typefaces, the monochromatic color scheme, and the simplicity of the image all reinforced the expansive atmosphere and technological focus my colleague wanted to convey.
  2. Inside the magazine, the consistent typefaces and type sizes immediately reflected the relative importance of all editorial elements. Photos on the table of contents page were grouped (creating a simple, square shape that contained the four images). My client had positioned page numbers for the articles in the bottom right of the four photos, creating visual rhythm through this consistent treatment.
  3. There was significantly more white space than in the initial design of the magazine, which helped group similar elements and set them apart from type and images used in other magazine stories.
  4. Initial caps introduced the articles, immediately attracting the reader’s eye.

Overall, I’d say the redesign was excellent.

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