MagNet Recap: Designing Magazines for Success

By Kimberly Wells, Association of Registered Graphic Designers (RGD)

It’s no surprise that the magazine publication industry is changing, and will continue to change as technology and design trends evolve. Publishers, editors, designers and professionals involved in all aspects of the magazine business must learn to adapt and use this evolution to their business’s advantage.

From June 7–9, 2016, more than 1,200 of these industry professionals gathered at MagNet, North America’s largest magazine media stakeholder conference, to connect and share insights in the form of keynotes, seminars and networking receptions. Sessions focusing on the design aspect of magazine publications expose the vital strategic methods used to attract and maintain readership.

For every publication company, there comes a time when traditional print must begin to coexist with the new age digital mediums. In a session on designing print for social media, the K9 Strategy and Design team outlines the strategic, creative and technological aspects of design to consider when adding mobile publication to your traditional strategies. Here are the key points to remember:

Pay attention to user behaviour. By using a buyer purchase decision process chart, you can focus your attention on where your audience and buyers are, which provides an indication of where you should focus your content. As well, SEO tools such as GT Metrix and PageSpeedexist to analyze how users and the Internet (bots, search engines, etc.) engage with your website or digital assets.

Set specific goals. Creating a strategy road map sets a standard of what your business is trying to accomplish, and encourages you to focus specific content to relevant platforms (i.e. web, social media, copywriting, etc.) based on these goals.

Be channel appropriate. It’s important to pay attention to the social media channel to which you are posting content—you wouldn’t post an entire article on Instagram, but you definitely would post it in your blog. Cater to the platform and the audience to which it tends to reach.

Be consistent and seamless. While it is important to alter posts based on the social media channel, it is equally important to maintain brand consistency. There should be a seamless, but not identical, branding among the channels.

In a later session, we take a step back to review the more basic foundations of strong editorial design, specifically for magazine employees with a small budget and limited design experience. Colleen Nicholson, freelance art director and photographer, outlines the fundamental steps to follow if this sounds like you:

Set up your structure and template. Pick a maximum of two fonts, a cohesive colour palette and set up your page grid and kerning. These basic steps are necessary and should be addressed early on in the design process.

Consider the medium. Magazines are a “browseable” medium; readers don’t necessarily start at the beginning and read through to the end. Rather than having a chronological narrative, capture the reader’s attention through interesting captions, quotes, illustrations or infographics.

Photoshop is your friend. Don’t be afraid to use Photoshop to make photographs work for you. You are encouraged to change a photo’s colour or scale to create curiosity for things that would be otherwise familiar.

Readers judge books by their covers. Spend money on covers and feature pages, and save on the others. is a great source of inspiration for cover photos that are impactful and clear in their messaging.

Taking these basic steps to the next level, Gilbert Li RGD of The Office of Gilbert Li design studio, offers insights on working on editorial design for all types of publications, and advice on getting the most out of these collaborations. He speaks specifically about his team’s work on publications for The University of Toronto’s Faculty of Arts & Science magazine, TIFF’s quarterly magazine 180°, U of T’s magazine for alumni and Precedent magazine.

When working on a magazine publication where there are no advertisements to be included (i.e. an in-house publication), take advantage of the extra space by having a full-bleed spread to capture the reader’s attention.

With a limited budget for imagery, get creative with the content. Use a provocative quote from one of the articles to include on the spine. You can also use existing imagery, rather than commissioning, or take your own photos.

Develop a strong client-designer relationship to achieve better visual results that capture the intended message.

Make the feature page stand out from the rest of the magazine. Take risky, graphic approaches or alternatively, an extremely simplified or distilled approach.

Whether digital or print, the present and future of magazine publication relies heavily on the use of strategic design approaches. As a wrap-up to the design insight portion of the conference, Debra Bishop of Bishop Designs explains the importance of making art and copy feel like it was born together. Design isn’t always secondary to content—sometimes, she explains, content is influenced by design.


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