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    How to Design a Magazine for Your Audience

    I get this question a lot: “How do you design a new magazine?” And what they usually mean is how to start a magazine from scratch as a publisher. It get this question so much, in fact, that I thought it might be a good idea to include a blog post new post on everything from how to design a magazine ideationally to audience selection to visual layout design.

    So then, how do you design a magazine that pleases the most readers possible? Well, it’s about a lot of things, and it’s also about just a few. Certainly, your magazine design will depend on who you’re trying to please and what they really care about. 

    Magazine designer at work

    Before we start, if you’re looking explicitly for how to design a magazine cover, how to think about above-the-fold design, or how to think about whitespace, check out those articles or search our blog, If you’re looking to design the entire concept of your magazine, however, you’ve come to a good pillar article for that. So let’s dive in.

    How to Design a Magazine

    Focus on the audience.

    Red stage as metaphor for audience targeting

    Color scheme should represent the audience psychology. What does that mean? It means if your magazine is about retirement, make the colors reflect the lifestyle retirees are hoping to enjoy, but if they’re gamers, black and red with white and yellow accent colors are better.

    The language should represent the way the audience communicates. So what language is that? There’s more than one way to answer this question. For example, a highly literate audience is looking for nuance, fresh perspective, perhaps even a peak into a more detailed terminology rather than generalist fluff pieces and buzzword-strewn approaches to covering the beat. A top-40 music audience may be quite different, looking to consume your magazine articles like they would a song or a music video.

    Your contributors should all write differing angles from a relatable perspective. If your contributors agree all of the time on everything, you’re not really doing your job as a magazine editor. You need controversy, if not indeed, in opinion and perspective. What you don’t need is to bore the reader with the expected. Many magazine publishers miss that crucial point, though successful magazine publishers understand it quite well. The magazine should seem alive.

    ..If your contributors agree all of the time on everything, you’re not really doing your job as a magazine editor. Click To Tweet

    Never talk down to your audience. They ARE your magazine. Enlighten them on the topics they care about instead of lecturing, even though your contributors. This is not a football huddle, after all, but a form of entertainment and education for your valuable readers.

    Match layout design closely with the aesthetic you want to project.

    The hero's journey in story-telling is like this wooded path leading to the light in the distance
    The hero's journey in story-telling is like this wooded path leading to the light in the distance

    Make your layout indicative of your editorial perspective. If abstract or naive art fits the bill, go 100% in that direction. If your audience is college-educated, appeal to their sense of what’s important via linear elements rather than trying to overpower with the aesthetics. If your audience cares about art in some form, you may need to inspire them with original artwork, heavily stylized cartoons, etc. 

    Just an example I love to give is hotrod magazines. If you know this genre, you know it’s about fiery colors and classic colors, chrome and jacked-up rear ends. 

    However, if you’re a New Yorker reader, you know the tradition of the magazine, the cartoons, the highbrow black and white ambiance and that familiar early 19th century brand theme is what makes it feel like home. It’s safe to say that left-leaning centrist, upper-middle class and upper-class readers are consuming this magazine. It’s safe to say that politicians may be among its readers. It’s not safe to spice things up in that milieu without reference to the narrative of popular culture. What counts in both examples is the feeling of what’s in the background of the content and using images to advantage to illustrate the topic.

    Select magazine article topics with proven search vol. & trends

    Search volume for magazine topic keywords (mobile and desktop graphs)

    Be truly topical. If what you’re talking about is on the tip of everyone’s tongue, you’re going to end up winning converts. If what you’re writing about is much commentary ado about yesterday’s news, don’t expect readers to come back for more. This is just the first step of audience development.

    Don’t be afraid to challenge the mainstream narrative with challenging viewpoints. That’s what magazines are there for. Do something different with some of your contributor choices.

    Use keyword trends tools and play up your editorial strengths accordingly. Make interviews a regular part of your cadence. Take on controversial figures, obscure figures, famous figures, but do something different with all that. Analytics can help you to nail down what drove your readers into a frenzy and what turned them off your site for the day.

    Use the right magazine design tools.

    The publisher's toolset

    Adobe’s Creative Cloud is a great toolbox for a magazine layout designer. If you’re starting out, you may want to jump into InDesign and try to build out in-house design expertise with the tool. The options and intuitive toolset is preferred by most layout designers today. Cost should not be a factor with Adobe’s current pricing models. You pay as you go.

    Pay close attention to fonts. Compare many of the competitors in your niche. Pick the one not spoken for by those on your radar. Or at least get quirky enough with the font-weight to seem a bit different side-by-side, but don’t forget to stay legible by the average demographic you’re targeting. No tiny print for the post-40 crowd!

    Use the right resolution for all formats. Your images should all start at the 1900x width range and scale down to thumbnails or a mobile screen as needed without loading the large image or needing to cache it. Likewise, the print edition would need the full-scale resolution and sufficient DPI. In general, you want to start with 1920×1080 pixel resolution for web-based images, and 300 DPI for print galleys (the actual print edition page layout files in digital lingo). 

    Consider your color palette. Print black is not like web black. Be aware of the dynamics of light and how they impact the human eye. What works well on the screen may not work the same on glossy paper.

    Do a print test of your magazine even if you are strictly online. The reason is you may want to put out a paper issue in the future and you’ll want the consistency of your system to prevail in future issues. Click To Tweet

    Do a print test of your magazine even if you are strictly online. The reason is you may want to put out a paper issue in the future and you’ll want the consistency of your system to prevail in future issues. Another reason for doing this is that if you put out a PDF or print option, you really need to ensure that what they end up with is what you want your brand to look like.

    How do you design a magazine spread?

    A magazine spread can be tricky due to the printing issues that can arise. We know that sometimes you’re figuring out how hard tasks are in-house before deciding to hire. Our own Flip180 layout and cover designer took a crack at showing how for our audience.

    Design a Spread for Food Magazine (InDesign) 😎

    How do you design a magazine cover?

    Once more, Agnes helped us out on this one. Sometimes showing is everything.

    How to Design a Magazine Cover with InDesign CC 😍

    By the way, if you liked the above videos, consider taking a stroll through our video tutorials section of this site!

    Get magazine design/editorial feedback

    User feedback and coffee mug on desk

    Use polls to gain insights from regular readers. You might get weird feedback, especially at first when the number of readers with a diverging opinion is larger, but be sure to give something away just for answering so that you get plenty of feedback. Online polls on the page are good for this but time it so that the pop-up doesn’t appear until they’ve already returned once.

    Poll your subscribers the most. Give them better prizes for giving you inside info on what they love and what they really don’t care for. You’ll find this feedback the most interesting and the most useful as nobody has better feedback than your own subscribers. Polling your subscribers also lets them feel part of your magazine family, so to speak. That’s what you want, after all: the feeling of belonging.

    Poll to grow. When you actively seek and process reader feedback, you have the opportunity to grow your audience-first approach to your readers and eventually understand how to deliver the best audience personalization experience… Click To Tweet

    Poll to grow. When you actively seek and process reader feedback, you have the opportunity to grow your audience-first approach to your readers and eventually understand how to deliver the best audience personalization experience possible. This is carried through via your opt-in-based CRM system which will guide your subscriber-based notifications and lead the subscriber to peak happiness with your magazine as a brand.

    We hope you got something out of this post. Feel free to leave questions in the comments section below. Subscribe to this blog for more great tips like these right to your inbox! We’ll be covering all of your favorite and must-have topics as we go!

    If you’re needing help, don’t hesitate: reach out to Flip180!

    Get help with starting your magazine!

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