5 Helpful Publication Design Tips

Publication design is something almost every graphic designer comes across, and for most of us, it is a pretty regular job. It is a cornerstone for graphic design. Whether you are designing a magazine/newspaper layout, or designing a website, great publication design is essential to the success of your creation. If your audience is confused or bored by the piece, their won't be many people reading or understanding the text, and then you have yourself a problem. Creating a new Indesign document can be daunting and a pain in the ass to set up correctly if you don't know where to start. With a little planning you can make it a lot easier on yourself and inevitably a much stronger and aesthetically pleasing piece.  

Throughout this article I will be referring to a project that I am working on for the YMCA of Kansas City. It is not a real fun piece, BUT it does work perfectly for these tips. If you want to see a much more fun publication design piece click here, or just check out the rest of my site. So in accordance with internet traditions, I am going to give you a list of 5 helpful publication design tips.

5. Setting Up the Template

Before you start laying text into your document you need to think of a few things so you don't have to go back and change a bunch of text or styles:

  • What is the document size? It's not always 8.5x11. Web design does not follow print rules. 
  • What are the margin sizes? (The space between the page and the text box) By default it will be 0.5in. Too large of a margin leaves a lot of wasted space and the need for a lot more pages. Too little of a margin means there will be a lot of text from one side to the other and makes it very hard to read.  

  • How many columns is/should this document be? Maximum character length for one column should be around 70 characters. 2 and 3 column articles are somewhere around 40-50 characters per line. Also a helpful, if you want uneven margins go to View>Grids and Guides> uncheck Lock column guides. Then you can click and drag the column to your liking.

  • What is the gutter width? (The space in between your columns?) 
  • What is the best/correct typeface to be used? This is for the most part, subjective. But here are a few links that take you to sites with good body text fonts.

According to Smashing Magazine (They are legit)

According to Smashing Magazine (They are legit)

4. Master Pages

If you don't know about the master pages, they are pages that dictate what is shown on everyone of your pages. They work well for things like banners, footers, and objects that are needed exactly the same on every page. 

On this design you can see I have a banner at the top that is required throughout the document, a note section, and a footer. To get to the master page section, open your pages panel and double click on master pages.

3. Paragraph Styles

Paragraph styles are designed to save you time. Instead of individually bolding a font, changing the case, adjusting point size, leading, and color you can create a paragraph style to change all that will the click of a button. You can find paragraph styles under Type>Paragraph Styles. From here click New Style, then double click that new style. You will see a plethora of options from here to style your paragraph just the way you would like.  

As you can see, I have several different styles to help me layout a very text heavy document. To apply these styles simply highlight the text you want to change, then click on the style that applies. (Hint: naming your styles helps quite a bit)

2. Hierarchy - Dictating What the Reader Sees First 

Creating a good hierarchy is imperative in publication design. It might be easy to distinguish between a main heading and body copy, but what if there are headings that are less important? In the design world the importance of headings are classified into H1, H2, H3, and H4's. H1 is the most important, with H4's being a header the reader should read after the rest.  Normally H1's are the largest heading out of the bunch with H2s being the next smallest and so on and so forth. But that is not always the case. There are several ways to achieve attention on a page without the use of size. A few of these things are typeface, color, case, and position. Also dividers like bullets and numbers play a role in hierarchy. Once you know the specifications and sizes of your headings I would suggest creating paragraph styles for them. Below is an example of hierarchy using different sizes, colors, and styles. 

1. Keep It Consistent - Keep it Clean

After you have your master pages set up, your headers in order, and are flying through the layout thanks to your very helpful paragraph styles, there is still one thing to keep in mind. Be as consistent as possible. That means if your leading between a header and body text is 18pts in one instance, make it EVERY instance. What case are your headers? What is bolded? What is the padding around a photo? All of these examples are things to keep in mind. Every project is going to be different obviously, but a cohesive document means a consistent document. Have you ever been reading an article and the headers are different colors, or God forbid point sizes are different? It isn't just my weird design mind that notices those difference; subliminally these tiny things add up and confuse a reader. Other things to remember to keep your document looking great are: 

  1. No widows - a paragraph that has one word on the last line. You can use tracking to help correct this problem.
  2. double spacing - If you are copying and pasting text from a word document there is a very good chance there are double spaces. A helpful hint for this is press Command>F on a Mac and it will bring up the find tool. Under the Find: form box press spacebar twice. Then under the Change To: form press spacebar once. Then click Find and then Change All. Gets rid of all those extra space and saves ALOT of tedious work. 
  3. Spell Check - Just do it. You may be surprised.
  4. Take a break - Staring at text for long periods of time, surprise, confuses and strains your brain. Take a break every now and then. It will be there when you get back. Promise.

So there you have. Pretty easy steps to help you in creating a great readable publication design. I hope some of this has been helpful and if you already knew all this, well aren't you just a smarty pants?