Advice to the next class

1. Don’t go for the obvious — think of more creative ways to tell your story. For example, my feature story for my space magazine, Astro, was on colliding galaxies with what scientists call “black hearts.” Instead of using a literal photo of galaxies colliding, I used a photo of black human heart to make the design look more edgy.

2. Edit edit edit and then edit again. It’s good to step back from your design for a few days and look at it with fresh eyes. Each time you go back you’ll see something new and have fresh ideas. Some days when I was woking on my prototype I just wasn’t feeling very creative, and other days the ideas came in waves. This requires advance planning, so my biggest advice is do not wait till last minute to complete your design!

3. Don’t be afraid to be a little whacky. Some of my best design elements came from experimenting with bold fonts and colors that you might not see in traditional magazines. At the end of the semester it’s nice to be able to say there is nothing like your prototype on the newsstands. Be creative, be you, and the results will be fabulous.

Other things I learned

1. Every design element on the page should have a purpose. Prior to taking a design class my reason for putting something on the page was “because it looks pretty” — my first drafts ended up looking a little tacky and overworked because I added “pretty” things indiscriminately. I’ve learned that everything you put on a page should have a reason — whether it’s teaching the reader something, creating hierarchy, or guiding the reader. Now when I consider adding a new element to my design I ask myself what purpose it serves, and this helps me edit myself.

2. Headlines are incredibly important! This is a design class, but writing and design have to work together to tell a story. A clever story headline can really enhance the story — I learned it’s just as important to focus on the writing as the design. Researching your topic and having some content knowledge can help with this.



Advice to the next class

Don’t hesitate to ask: Asking is good weather it is asking your professor for feedback and extra help or asking a photographer to use their work. The worst that could happen is that they would say no so there is no harm in trying.

Most photographers are willing to let you use their work for class projects if you ask them nicely and timely. I wanted to contact two photographers I had been following on Flickr for a long time – they had the kind of photos I wanted. I was pretty sure that they would either get annoyed or never get back to me. However, when I emailed them they replied immediately and also sent me high resolution photos.

Print out very often: I waited until the very last moment to print out my magazine in color to find out that colors of the pictures are not appearing the way they are on monitor. While some difference is inevitable but printing early and often helps you avoid surprises. When printed at actual size you are better able to judge if the text is readable or not and it is also easier to find grammatical and spelling mistakes in print.

Plan and organize: Design is creative work but it requires planning and organization. Sketching the idea and then having all your content – text and pictures in hand saves tons of time. Keeping files organized and correctly labeled also saves a lot of time and energy.

Other things I learned

Content is not just text: Most of us assume that content is just text and that text is the most important part of a publication or a newspaper. No one can deny the importance of text however from the time when we don’t even know how to read – we are drawn by the images in books and magazines. Even as adults its images and other design elements which draw us in a story – so in other words it’s like the first door through which we enter the story.

While designing this magazine – I realized that how important it is for a publication to have good images which are appropriate to the accompanying text. Really good photos which badly represent the topic can misguide the reader. Similarly, you might have an amazing story but if it is not designed in a way which makes it readable – no one would read it.

In short content makes or breaks a publication but it is a complete package of text and visual elements which works together.

Knowing the software or tools is not design: Knowing the software don’t make you a designer as much as having a good camera can’t make you a good photographer or having a stove can’t make you a great cook. Tools are here to help – but design principals have always been there even before the software was developed. I have been using Photoshop for a long time for photo editing and I was able to put elements together using the tools. Was it design or was it any good? I don’t believe so. After coming to Newhouse I realized that how important it is to know basic design principals, having a good eye, looking around and taking inspiration from other designers and publications and getting feedback from mentors.

It takes much longer than you estimate: Design is very time taking and it always took much longer that I estimated. It is always a good idea to start as early as possible to meet the deadlines.


Advice to the next class

Be prepared to dedicate plenty of time to this class. 

Always show your drafts to Professor Strong. As a very experienced and successful designer, Prof. Strong will be able to point out areas you can improve on. Her keen eye will notice things that you would have never even thought of. She is always available to help you and this will help you create the best publication possible in the end. It will also save you from thinking you’re entirely finished and you really have SO much more left to do.

Do your field notes right away. As a college student, you’ll be tempted to do all your homework on a Sunday night and if you do, you’ll already have missed the deadline for your field notes. The easiest way to make sure you never forget to do them is to do the same day as your class. This way when the weekend comes, you don’t have to worry about it. [Note from Prof. Strong: This year, the field notes are due on Mondays, but her suggestion to do them the day they’re assigned is still a good one.]


Other things I learned

Publications depend on design. Until this class, I thought the art department wasn’t that important. Now, I see how much influence they have over the magazine. Without design, a magazine would be cluttered and crowded and make no sense. Design helps set hierarchy, organize everything and make a magazine unique. I now have a lot more respect for designers.

It’s best to sketch before you design. If you design before sketching, it will take a lot longer to get things done. Things won’t always turn out as great as you imagined in your head. Then you’ll have to design one thing over and over and over again until it finally looks like the way you pictured. On the other hand, if you sketch it first you’ll be able to see how it looks in real life without all the hard work of designing it. Once you have a finished sketch, you can be more productive with your time.

Design is everywhere. Taking this class was such an amazing decision. It taught me great designing skills and opened my eyes to how design is everywhere. It’s like math, but for the arts. I’m going to think about design with everything I do. It’s a challenging class, but the reward is long-term.


Advice to the next class

Work a little bit each time you get feedback. I would suggest that every time you gain feedback from the professor and from classmates, write it all down and that same week, try and find some time to apply that feedback. Don’t wait until the last minute when each assignment is due to make your changes and see if they work because you will lose more time in the end trying to make everything fit together and look good. Also, as the semester starts to come to a close, you will have most of your changes applied and you won’t have to spend 24 hours in the lab at the last minute.

Always ask for opinions. It’s not enough that you think something works, take a step back and look at it from another set of eyes or ask the person next to you what they think of what you’re currently doing. You might think something looks good in a certain spot but it could work even better in another place and someone else can give you that insight. You don’t need to take their advice, but it’s good to consider it and see if it works better or if your way was better.

Always work with the professor. She’s the expert here and her advice is always good-natured. Constantly ask her opinion on your work and don’t wait until the week before your magazine or newspaper is due to ask her how some features in InDesign work or if something looks good in your prototype. There won’t be enough time to do it last minute and she’s there to teach and help you. Take advantage of that.

Other things I learned

To take a step further. It didn’t matter that I would just complete the requirements of the assignments if my work was mediocre. Don’t just do what you’re asked, but do more. Push yourself to work hard because the effort is shown and you will be rewarded. Don’t hold yourself back because something won’t come out right or you don’t know how to do some things. Ask for help, look up tutorials, and try your best to get the best results possible.

It’s okay to find inspiration in other publications. How else would I know what works if I don’t see it in other magazines? Imitation is a form of flattery and there’s a reason some publications are more successful than others and they win awards for their designs.

You can do it. It can be overwhelming and you might think that what you’re doing is bad, but it’s not. No one ever keeps their first ideas. That’s why drafts exists, so things can change for the better. The end results will be great and you’ll feel bad for ever thinking you couldn’t do it.


Advice to the next class

Don’t wait until the last minute. So many things can go wrong at the last minute, so it’s better to get started as early as you can. Even though big assignments aren’t due until the end of the semester, don’t wait until after Spring Break to start designing your prototype. Good designs take time, and a rushed design won’t turn out very well, so you might as well start early and dedicate a lot of time to it. Also, when designing, you will probably want to take breaks and if you wait until the last minute, you won’t have time to take breaks and then you run the risk of feeling burnt out, and not enjoying the process.

Don’t settle on the first thing that works. Whether it’s an idea, a design, a photo you’ve taken/found, don’t stop after the first one because you think it might work. As somewhat of a continuation of my first point, starting early allows you to design multiple versions of things so that you can see what works. Try different fonts, weights, colors, layouts, images, etc. so that you can be confident that your final product is really the best you can do.

Sketch first, design later. It’s pretty hard to start designing with InDesign right away if you don’t first have an idea in your head. Take the time to brainstorm what you’re going to do, sketch the layout, find the images you’re going to use, write the display text, and be intentional about everything. Then, once you open InDesign, you won’t be staring at a blank screen trying to come up with ideas.

Other things I learned

Good design doesn’t happen by accident. I learned to be purposeful in my design. For example, taking into account how the tone and content of my magazine should influence my design, not just laying things out in a way that looks good. I learned to put thought into the tiniest details, like the weight of a rule, or the opacity of a box. All of the details should come together for a cohesive design, and all of the pages should come together for a cohesive magazine. Just because each spread looks good by itself, doesn’t mean that they look good together or that they represent the brand of my magazine well. I learned that there’s a lot more that goes into a final product than one would think. Nothing happens by accident, the magazines that I flip through have been carefully pored over, pixel by pixel.

Go out of your comfort zone. I came into this class with a working knowledge of InDesign, from GRA617 and work in undergrad. However, that knowledge didn’t necessarily translate to being a skilled designer for this class. I had to push myself outside of the types of designs I’m used to doing in order to create the best work.

Get feedback on your work. After putting long hours into a design or spread, I may think I’ve done the best I can do, but getting a fresh set of eyes on something, I’ve learned, is really helpful. I may interpret a metaphor or clever design element one way, but everyone may not see it that way. I’ve learned to take criticism not as a judgment of myself, but of my work and that helps me not to feel bad about it.


Advice to the next 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).

Other things I learned

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.

Prof. Strong