Where is this going?
In all the projects I have posted to my blog, I argue that I can use design principles to communicate effectively with my audience. But if you think about it, thus far I’ve only worked under pared-down circumstances, growing my design skills one principle at a time. It’s true, you have to crawl before you walk, and I probably would’ve fallen flat on my face if I had rushed into using all the design principles at once. But there comes a time when you have to bring it all together. After all, what’s the point of learning something if you don’t know how it fits into practice? In this project, I put everything I’ve learned about design into practice, integrating my knowledge of typography, document hierarchy, and visual-verbal interaction into a system I encounter in everyday life, the magazine layout.
To view these spreads in larger format, click the following link: Assignment Six (12-4 Spreads)
I wrote this feature article in the style of TIME magazine. It felt natural to consult TIME again, not as a reference for writing, but for translating the feature article into magazine format. My rationale was that a news publication as popular and prolific (and old) as TIME would have design figured out. If TIME’s design were majorly flawed, wouldn’t people find it difficult to read and, consequently, stop reading? But let’s be frank: TIME has been publishing since 1923 and although print news has lost much of its following to digital alternatives, TIME is still going strong. They must be doing something right, and it can’t just be breaking news, can it?
Yes, I took measurements. Did you think I could just look at TIME and reproduce the visual experience it provides to its readers. I’m not that good, not yet. That’s why it’s important to have references while you’re learning design, so that you can choose a system you like, see how it’s working, and change it to meet your content and purpose.
I happen to be a devout TIME reader, and what I admire most about the magazine’s layout format is how much space is given to photographs. It’s common practice that a TIME feature article is prefaced with a double splash, featuring a photograph, title, and short news blurb. What isn’t reflected in the double splash I made is the time I invested in finding the right photograph with which to begin the feature article.
I wanted to find a still from the western The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly that had enough negative space so that the title and newsblurb would not feel carelessly placed. For the double splash, I chose a still from the film’s climax, the shootout. Although my Photoshop skills aren’t that great, I was able to put the still in black and white, warm it with a photo filter (which gives it an orange glow), and blur everything other than the gun handle. In InDesign, I increased the still’s size and positioned it so that it was one-third figure (with the gun) and two-thirds negative space.
I borrowed the idea for this caption directly from TIME. The red NATION box introduces every TIME feature article that has to do with events in the United States. Since Dr. Behrmann’s research was done in Pittsburgh, it would fit into this section of the magazine, if it were published. I thought it important to include the red NATION box in the double splash because it is characteristic of TIME and will help the audience contextualize my feature article in the pages of that magazine, which they have probably read before.
Column and Margin Width
While I was designing this magazine layout, there was always the question of how true I should remain to TIME, the publication I was using as a reference. Basically I reproduced TIME’s double splash to the smallest. Although I could reproduce some more of TIME’s visual elements for the second and third spreads, I ran into a few problems with format because 11″ x 17″ tabloid paper is much larger than TIME’s spreads.
TIME’s text columns are 2.875″ wide. So are mine. Column width was one element I could borrow, no problem. You will notice, however, that my layout only permits two columns per spread, while TIME’s generally has room for three…
TIME’s column width fit my magazine layout, but its margins did not. If you don’t mind scrolling, refer back to the photo I posted of the Chris Christie article (above), or trust my word. You’ll see that TIME’s layout doesn’t have much margin to the left and right of the text; only 3/16″ separate the text from the edge of the page. Because tabloid paper differs in size (more perceptibly in height) from the paper on which TIME is printed, I had to increase the left/right margins of my layout to avoid having too much text per spread. If I had stuck with TIME’s margins, I might have been able to fit three columns on my spreads, but they would have appeared more crowded than TIME’s because of the difference in spread height. The reader would have had more text to go through from top to bottom, and I didn’t want my layout to wear them out.
I had never made an infographic before, and the greatest challenge was representing accurately the data I received from Dr. Marlene Behrmann while producing a visual clean and simplified enough for the reader to understand. I decided to make an infographic for a finding from Dr. Behrmann’s study on The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: that while 7 out of 10 neurotypical participants responded the same to clips from the western, all the autistic participants responded differently.
At first, I produced heads that faced the same direction, overlapped, and were positioned in rows (left), as though sitting next to one another in a movie theater. The color indicates the neural responses they are having while watching the western. As intended, the idea behind this infographic was simple, but the looked messy. I had outlined the heads in white so that they could be distinguished from each other more easily, but because there wasn’t much space left in the layout by the time I put in the infographic, the white outlines were subtle.
The solution to this readability problem was to separate the heads. Although this solution weakened the idea that the heads were sitting in a theater, watching The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly–a creative, but impractical idea–the reader would no longer have to squint to make sense of the infographic. I learned once again that design has to be practical, and that innovation is not a “must,” but a “maybe.” It has to work. It was to be usable, or in this case readable. You’ll also note that I changed the color of the heads representing the 7 neurotypical participants who responded the same, from pale yellow to dark purple. No one’s skin is purple, but realism isn’t the goal of this infographic. Again, it’s about communicating information; so what if it isn’t realistic, so long as it’s readable.
Yes, I called an audible with enough time in the game for only one more play. I noticed BOTH a design crime and an inconsistency in the layout, and I couldn’t let them slide…
I was very deliberate in the way I made my modular grid, but I have to admit it was flawed from the very beginning. For the longest time, however, I didn’t know how to fix it. TIME didn’t seem to have the answer either; it was particular to my content.
TIME often prints photographs across the fold between pages, but never text other than captions. In earlier iterations (left), I thought I could put pull quotes and infographics where TIME puts photos, specifically within the center column of the spread (or the fold). The problem is that pull quotes and infographics to need to be read, and the fold interrupts reading.
I thought more about the modular grid I was using and decided that I wasn’t being consistent. In both spreads, most of the central column was occupied with photographs, but I had thrown in pull quotes to fill up the remaining white space. If I expected the pull quotes to be read, I had to relocate them to somewhere they would be readable. The solution was clear to me: move them into the text columns and either leave the white space go or put in some visual element, like a photograph, that the fold couldn’t interrupt. I decided that so long as the infographic did not run across the fold, it would probably work in the center column. Thinking of the fold as a column break, I divided the infographic into visual and textual components. The visual components appear on the left, and the textual on the right. They’re fit into a module that is used in the first spread, for a photo of Dr. Behrmann. The fold runs between the visual and textual components, but doesn’t interrupt how the whole infographic is read.
References are great starting points, but they don’t hold all the answers to your designing problems. You have to think of how your audience will interact with your design to make the best decisions for medium, format, and content.