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Appeal to a New Generation - 11/15/2010 -

Looking for new readers or to boost reader engagement? Grab the attention of younger eyes with a fresh take on design and layout.

 By Jeffrey Lee

For associations looking to grow their publication’s readership by engaging a new generation of readers, a fresh take on design and layout can be a helpful tool.

But as with all design decisions, association publishers must take their association’s core demographics into account before making any decisions that impact readability and usability, cautions Norm Grandstaff, owner of publication design firm Ideas Communicated.

"When you look at most trade association magazines, you have to consider that at least one-third of the readers are going to be 50 or older, and they’re the decision-makers,” he says. "You want the magazine in their hands for the longest time possible, and you want them to have better ad recall and hopefully act on those ads.”

To keep that generation of readers happy, avoid using typographical or design elements that might make a publication appear trendy and younger at the expense of basic readability, he suggests. Skinny, sans serif fonts, for instance, might be a hot design trend, but the harder-to-read fonts may be fatiguing for older readers.

"With readers over 50, the last thing you want to do is give them something that is tough to navigate or read,” he says. "They have a short amount of time for reading with all these other things competing for their time. It’s not that you’re competing against other magazines, but you’re competing against kids’ soccer games or football Sundays.”

High Tolerance for Edginess

Appealing to a new generation of readers is a worthy goal, Grandstaff says, and younger readers are seeking more flash and color in their reading experience. Growing up with high-energy music, television, and special effects, younger readers have a higher tolerance for edgy aesthetics.

So instead of making changes that might impact a layout’s navigation or readability, use graphics that are more stimulating and art that’s colorful and bold, Grandstaff recommends. "That’s a way to bridge the two,” he says.

The Scientific American and The Economist are examples of publications with traditionally stodgy design that were able to appeal to new, younger readers without sacrificing readability, he says. The Economist, for example, uses new graphics that pop without altering the magazine’s familiar layout and architecture.

Age isn’t the only demographic that association publishers should take into account, Grandstaff says. Design tastes vary between readers living in New York City and those in Los Angeles. If you know more of your members reside in one area or another, it is safe to design a little more in their favor. Regional design awards are a quick way to see how design trends vary from region to region.

While it can be tough to know where to land on the see-saw between readability and flash, reader surveys can help. Knowing readers’ ages can help publishers make solid assumptions about their design interests.

In the end, designing strategies for a demographic or region are free from hard and fast rules. However, disrupting the norm, breaking design rules, or doing something out of the ordinary can make an article—and your publication—stand out from the crowd.

Jeffrey Lee is manager of communications, National Apartment Association.



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