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Magazine design: 5 minutes with… Ian Blaza

Design can make or break a magazine. We grab five minutes with Ian Blaza of Raspberry Jam Creative to get his thoughts on what makes good design … and what can lead to bad design.

By Ian Blaza

Magazine design: 5 minutes with… Ian Blaza

Q: What is the secret of great design?

A: As a magazine design professional, I have worked on a number of different subjects across a number of different industries. What I have always found helpful, whatever the subject I was designing for, was to research other publications in the market and ask myself: “if I was into this subject, how would I like this page to be laid out? What would interest me? What would make me want to pick up this magazine? What would keep me coming back for more?”

It’s important to cater for the different types of reader. You have the ‘scan’ reader, who quickly scans the standfirsts, pictures and pull quotes and then reads the articles later on, in bitesize chunks. Then you have the ‘avid’ reader who will read the magazine from cover to cover. If you can cater to both of these types of reader, then your magazine will appeal to a wide audience.

If you provide your designer with great content to work with, then you are more likely to get a well-designed editorial feature. Good design starts at the foundations, and that is the hard work the editorial team puts in to supply the designer with top quality text and imagery.

Finally… don’t forget the front cover.

This is your big opportunity to grab a prospective reader’s attention. Time has to be taken over it. Don’t rush it, don’t do it one hour before it’s due on press. Give it the time and attention it needs and deserves. Like an oil painting, you need to add layers and not just throw something on it and hope it sticks. Sometimes, less is more, sometimes, the more you can put on the cover the better. Either way, your cover is a bit like a mariachi band: everything about it should scream “LOOK AT ME!!!”

Q: What design no-nos should publishers avoid?

A: Don’t try and fit too much on a page. Budgets are tight, but cramming too much in has a very negative effect. The design will be limited and dull. Features need to be given space to breath. If you pour a good single malt whisky into a glass, and drink it straight away, it tastes good… but let it breath for a while, and the taste amplifies and it makes for a more pleasurable experience. This is also the case with editorial design. Another way of looking at it: the more space you give each feature, then the less features you will need to fill a magazine! And that means lower editorial costs…

Don’t make templates two rigid. Again, this will limit your design options and stifle creativity: the reader will get bored, as will the designer!

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that a redesign will solve all your problems. It might just be that your editorial creation needs a fresh approach.

Q: What are the main differences between designing for print and designing for web?

A: Designing for web is a completely different beast and is a massive skillset in itself.

I do find with print that there are no limits to what you can produce on a page (apart from animation) and you are not hindered by code. The only limits are your own!

Over the past few years, there has been a big push on the digital front with the promise of a digital “utopia”. It turns out this “utopia” has a long way to go with print still outselling digital. This focus on digital has led to a shortage of not just designers experienced in print, but also designers who can design magazines.

Q: When is the right time for a redesign?

A: The right time for a redesign would be when your publication is stagnating and not moving forward. This can be monitored by your subscription figures and advert sales.

Sometimes, a magazine just needs a refresh and not a full rebranding exercise. I have worked on a number of magazines where what was needed was a fresh approach on how things were laid out and how the existing fonts could be used to their full advantage. Just doing that improved subscription and newsstand sales.

Q: What top tips would you give a publisher considering a redesign?

A: Make sure you are clear in the direction you want to take the magazine. Talking to your readers is a must; you can rely on them to be brutally honest. When you hear multiple readers giving feedback on the same thing, you know it is something you need to take action on.

Make sure your whole team is consulted and is on board with it. Everyone’s feedback matters. There are two instances I can recall, which showed how NOT to do a redesign.

Many years ago, I worked for a magazine publisher where a small group decided to redesign the magazine because the market was getting very competitive. They didn’t consult with anyone and just went ahead and did it. The consequence… the redesign was very poor and didn’t add any value; readers hated it and within six months, the magazine was discontinued and consigned to history.

Another instance was when a publisher bulldozed through a magazine re-design without consulting the editorial staff. As a designer it was a very awkward and frustrating position to be in and the situation was not conducive to getting the best possible result for the magazine.

So, my tips would be: 1. Get feedback from readers. 2. Listen to your team. 3. Work with the team and get everyone working towards the same goal.

Do these things and you will achieve the best possible outcome.

Also, make sure the person you get to re-design has a good knowledge of the publishing industry and also magazine design. There are lots of fantastic designers out there, but not all of them can design magazines. I have seen seasoned designers tank when given an editorial page to design.

Q: Which magazines show consistently excellent design?

A: As I am an Anime fan, my go-to magazine is always Neo. It is really well laid out and a joy to read.

Another magazine I particularly like is Gentlemen’s Journal. When you first start learning to do magazine design, you’re given lots of “rules” to stick to when creating an editorial page. Gentlemen’s Journal throws all of that out of the window and it looks amazing. My hat comes off for the talent they have there.

Raspberry Jam Creative has been trading for five years and specialises in the design and full production of magazines, with services that include design, editorial, advertising, print and distribution.

Tel: 01536 520654