My advice to next year’s News Design class:
1. Start early.
Designing a prototype doesn’t take a week, or even two. This class requires a semester-long commitment that isn’t just limited to the week-by-week assignments. Yes, you’re working on color swatches and typography/font choices as earlier phases, but that doesn’t mean you can’t already be working on layouts and applying your color swatches and font choices to the content you have planned.
2. Images can make or break your design.
Finding photos is going to be a lot harder than you think. Yes, your images can just be representative of your content rather than being the real thing, but it’s already difficult to find images that are worthy of being used in a publication, let alone ones that are representative of your content. Make sure you don’t rush and settle for the first images you see, because there’s a good chance you’ll be told it’s not worthy of being in a publication. Once that happens, you’ll have to start over and all the time you spent designing with the terrible photo will have been for nothing.
3. Look at professional publications for inspiration.
You already get exposed to this in the first half of the semester with the field notes, but don’t limit yourself to just one publication. There are plenty of publications out there for good design inspiration. Take a look at what they’re doing well and what’s working. Then find a way to incorporate that into your own design. (Not blatantly copying it exactly how it is, but taking it and adding your own style to it).
What I learned about publication design
1. Designs are only as good as your story ideas.
The biggest thing that was ingrained in my head is that the best designs are rooted is the best ideas. I already kind of knew this, but never fully understood it until now. If your story idea has been done before or doesn’t take a new angle/approach to something that has already been done before, then your design is most certainly going to reflect that. For the most original designs, come up with the most original story ideas. Know the type of audience you’ve chosen for your prototype, and go from there.
2. Precision is key.
This is a design class. Attention to detail is highly important. This means you need to use the grid, zoom in to align elements perfectly, and take your time. Don’t stretch photos, and always make sure that they’re proportionate. It may seem nit-picky, but that’s the point. Designing is all about communicating a story or message, but without the focus on technical details and precision, it falls apart.
3. Every single choice matters.
You can’t just add design elements, insert a stroke, or change colors whenever you have. Every single choice must have a purpose — because in graphic design, the purpose is not to make things look aesthetically pleasing and make them pretty (though, of course, aesthetics are important). Its purpose must be that it contributes to the message that the words are trying to communicate.