After 14 years of running a magazine production company, I decided to take stock. Take stock of what? Well, specifically, to take stock of what I’ve learned about staying awake to layout design.
In fact, I recently made this video all about it, for those who want to chomp and go. I get it. Time is scarce.
For those of you who’d like to take your time and ponder, however, I wrote this blog post to help bring out the highlights a bit more – just some reflections on how these hacks can come to life.
Learning how to create an online magazine is pretty challenging in itself. You love it when you get something right. You want to stop there and savor it for as long as possible, right? I get it. Accomplishments are sweet and hard to come by.
About that “perfect” magazine layout design…
I’ve noticed it can become challenging to keep periodical magazines fresh and beautiful as time goes by, not because you don’t have the perfect design, but because you do.
Simply put, it becomes more and more difficult for the same designer to work creatively and efficiently on the same magazine – especially when it was an absolute breakthrough. Eventually, layouts will become less and less creative and the number of small design errors might increase also.
Sounds quite sad, right? But this is all perfectly normal. After all, we’re all human.
If we keep looking at the same design all the time, we become a bit blinded to the details and might start missing things . Even worse, we simply stop thinking outside of the box. We lose what one famous zen master has called beginner’s mind – that state of mind where you have no preconceived ideas or expectations, and you’re fully ready to bring your full capabilities to what’s in front of you, with all of your creativity and critical capacities ON.
Yes, we all lose our beginner’s mind, and we all become numbed – even creatives! I’ve seen this happen to layout designers time and time again. What can you do?!
At first, I was very upset about this phenomenon in my own business. Once I saw this happened to almost everyone who worked with the same layout for like 6 months or longer, I realized the cause of the problem. So I came up with a few of solutions to fix it.
5 Ways to Keep Magazine Layout Design Fresh
1. Brainstorm layout design as a team
If you have a team of designers, simply ask your designers to collaborate on your challenges. It’s very important to form the request in a way the other designers can feel motivated about, like finding something new and coming up with improvements.
But how to do it? The best way to this is to build such a process in your team where co-workers ask for peer reviews every 2-3 months or so.
It’s key to mention that if you want effective feedback from a fellow designer who isn’t familiar with the publication, that you make sure you provide him a *brand book* of the publication. This will help him understand what elements are the cornerstone and what can be played with.
Don’t forget. Designers are creative people and you will get better results by praising their past work and showing them that they have a very high reputation that they need to maintain by giving feedback on co-workers publication design.
Eventually, your co-workers and they will become more and more blind to your magazine layout design elements. Soon, it becomes hard to think outside the box and take a different perspective. This is especially true if you are running a small in-house design team.
So how do you keep the layouts fresh and professional?
2. Crowdsource layout design creativity
They can be from different design niches (web design, interior design, packaging design, etc) and sometimes that’s even better.
Get a different perspective! Listen to everything they say, every bit of the feedback. It might sound irrelevant at first but try to go deeper and understand why they say that, what makes them feel like that, etc.
You can even create a little focus group or find one in the design communities online.
We are living in 21 century where we have the internet – we can literally reach out to anybody and ask for help. If you are working on the interior magazine, you or someone on your team must know a few designers who give you inspiration and you endorse their work – reach out to them!
Reach out to an outside designer. Send a DM on Instagram or Pinterest or shoot over an email. Tell them how much you love their work and how many times you got inspired, be enthusiastic and honest and they will get back to you. Ask for their help, hire them for a few hours, find your ways to connect. You can’t go too far when trying to create an award-winning piece of layout!
Are you wondering what else you can do? Well, another really great way to improve your layout and bring something fresh to the table may not be obvious for many busy production companies struggling to land clients and keep the work pumping out.
3. Go to design/UX conferences
Send your design team to design boot camps, conferences or online courses. You need to keep your team’s skills up to date. There is an entire industry out there to serve this need for periodicals!
Online courses and webinars are a great way to make more inspiration a company culture, without breaking the budget or losing too much office time. Your magazine layout design team will benefit immensely. And attending these events can allow design-adjacent people learn about the work they impact.
GetFlyWheel.com’s list of 25 top creative conferences for 2020:
- Digital Thinkers Conferences
- Developer Week
- Create and Cultivate 2020
- Experience Design Week
- Adobe Summit
- AIGA Design Conference
- SXSW Conference
- DevOps Talks
- An Event Apart
- HOW to Design Live
- Think 2020 – IBM Conference
- QCon New York by Info Q
- Gartner IT Symposium/Xpo 2020
- The Design Conference
- Front Case Study Conference
- ICON11 | The Illustration Conference
- THAT Conference
- Design Matters’20
- Disrupt SF 2020
The truth about running a magazine is that whatever works for others may work for you. Design conferences can be helpful and quite useful any design-adjacent teams like marketing or social media, as well.
Already doing this one? Then it’s time to consider the next option…
4. Watch out for “R2F” (redesign red flags)
Why do periodical layout designs sometimes get stale?
Yes, that’s a pretty good question, but a more functional approach is better: why do periodical layout designs stop working for the reader?
A fresh observation on your magazine, catalog, annual report, or any other periodical layout will serve as an opportunity to keep up with new quality standards, while building confidence and editorial team morale. Knowing that your team is awake to the current problems of your periodical’s layout design is a huge plus, while fear, uncertainty and doubt breed sluggish thinking and foster layout blindness.
We actually have covered this in another post, and even came up with a great magazine redesign decision tree infographic!
But maybe you’ve already gone through this decision process recently. Or maybe you’ve just finished a redesign recently. Now what can you try?
5. Institutionalize creativity into team culture
Perhaps the best way to make all of this come together into a streamlined higher mode of productivity is to put your creative team culture to work hacking your mag on a recurring basis.
Right about now, you may be asking “But how?”
Schedule a regular annual or bi-annual “hack our mag” session where everyone is forced to come up with 3 politely-worded swipes at the magazine layout design. Make it fun, whip out the donuts and coffee, wear funny hats, make it a game, use funny voices — whatever it takes to get everyone to relax and just play along.
Each person submits a critique in turn. Each critique gets floated around and taken seriously by everyone on the team if only for 5 minutes. If someone on your team can defend the status quo against a critique convincingly to the team, then nobody “lost”, and the team member making the deflected critique has served the team by keeping them on their toes. But if the challenging critique wins, and no topic expert on the team can effectively shoot it down, then it’s time to consider whether and how best to implement it.
If a layout feature or aspect can’t be logically defended, then it should always be up for revision. But if it is easily defended and everyone agrees on the defense, you know that element is still viable and you can mark it off your list with confidence now. This technique merely makes the process more approachable.
Have you actually done all this, but still feel you could somehow be delivering a more amazing layout to your readers? We feel you.
All the tips I just shared are from our own experience. We do this every day to create top quality layouts for your clients, we can handle yours too. Our professional team can poke holes in your mag you never dreamed of, demonstrate them to you, get the solution approved, and then take care of your publication and scale as you need.
Need help? Marketing strategy for online magazine businesses is tough. So is design. Send your questions or magazine layout design over to me at Vee (@) flip180.pub, let us give you free insights and tips on what you could be doing better! We’re design geeks. We love this stuff!