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Design Meets Editorial: When Great Minds Think Alike - 10/6/2009 -

Here are five simple concepts for building better collaborations between design and editorial staff—and some additional tips on how to do it on a budget.

By Katherine Wayne

TO CREATE AN AWARD-WINNING PUBLICATION, it is vital for design and editorial team members to build a partnership based on trust, communication, and collaboration. Yet, given that design and editorial are so different in what they do, how can this partnership be achieved?

This was the question that the September 15th Association Media & PublishingChicago Education Program (held at the Association Forum of Chicagoland in Chicago, IL and sponsored by Texterity), titled, "Design Meets Editorial: When Great Minds Think Alike,sought to answer. This interactive seminar identified key elements for building a collaborative relationship, including communication and workflow strategies, as well as ways to stretch a small budget. As a managing editor, I was eager to hear any tips and suggestions for increasing collaboration with design and reducing project costs.

5 Elements for Collaborating

Jeanne Fisher, senior director of communications and marketing for the International Interior Design Association, and Rene Ryan, associate director of client strategy, Association Growth Partners, a division of Imagination Publishing—who partner together on the development of Perspective, the International Interior Design Association's magazine—kicked off the seminar by identifying five key elements for successful collaboration between design and editorial.

"These are simple concepts that are important for building a trusted partnership,” Fisher explained.

  1. Trust. The foundation of a collaborative relationship is trust. According to Fisher and Ryan, the best way to build trust is for design and editorial team members to put their creative differences and personal preferences aside and identify what is best for a publication.
  2. Knowledge. Fisher stressed the importance of design and editorial teams knowing the content and readership of a publication. "Try to get into members' heads,” she suggested. "A weak economy makes members more vested in their organizations.” This is especially true because employers may no longer be paying for membership dues, and members who pay for dues out of pocket may be more concerned about what they are getting for their money, she added. To target members' needs, Fisher and Ryan pursue formal and informal avenues of member feedback and meet on a regular basis to strategize.
  3. Communication. When giving feedback to designers, honesty and specific details are important. "Criticism needs to be validated with reasons,” Ryan explained. Designers need to know what exactly editors do and do not like, she pointed out. Fisher and Ryan also advise against e-mailing back and forth to avoid confrontation and have a policy of meeting face-to-face after the third e-mail on an issue.
  4. Teamwork. Everyone should take ownership of a project Fisher and Ryan suggested. "Forget your job title and look at everything,” they said. If designers see a misspelled word, for instance, they should let editorial know instead of waiting for the error to be caught.
  5. Sense of Humor. "This is your career, so you should enjoy it,” Fisher and Ryan believe. "Keep it fun and celebrate small successes to boost morale.”

Take-away tip: Put personal agendas aside, develop an end-goal strategy together, and don't forget to keep it fun.

Great Design and Editorial—on a Budget

Great design and editorial can happen on a tight budget, Sylvia Lewis, editor and publisher for the American Planning Association, asserted in her presentation during the second half of the seminar.

One way to reduce design costs is to use "cheap” art. "The advantage of cheap art is that the images are low cost in tough times, easy to use, surprisingly good quality, and quicker to add to designs,” she explained.

Take-away tip: iStock and government and university websites are good sources for low-cost images.

To reduce editorial costs, Lewis suggests that association publishers:

  • Build a stable of writers and keep using them at traditional rates;
  • Cut pages before cutting writing fees;
  • Double edit features;
  • Encourage contributions from readers; and
  • Publish book excerpts, especially from your own organization.

Small Changes Can Lead to Big Payoffs

The theme of the September 15th Association Media & Publishing Chicago Education Program was that small tweaks in the way design and editorial teams approach working together can lead to a successful partnership.

"Build morale and people feel empowered to do their best.” Lewis stated. "It's a simple concept that can yield significant results.”

Katherine Wayne is a managing editor for several client associations at Association Management Center in Glenview, IL. Association Media & Publishing thanks her for volunteering to cover this Chicago Education Program for our members who were unable to attend.


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