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Six Easy Tweaks for a Sleek, New Design - 4/10/2012 -

With these simple suggestions, you can soup up your publication's style while saving your design budget.

By Ben Berkey

A refreshing new look for your publication can boost readers’ interest while jumpstarting the creative energy of your publications staff. However, hiring an outside firm for a redesign is costly, which was a challenge we faced at the Oncology Nursing Society (ONS).

The publications staff and editorial board agreed that the Clinical Journal of Oncology Nursing (CJON),one of ONS’s bimonthly pubs, was due for a makeover. However, we wanted to avoid the expense and time associated with a true redesign. Managing Editor Leslie McGee prefers to call it a "design update.”

"We didn’t undergo a redesign, but we looked to refocus the journal’s appearance. The design felt too boxy overall, and we wanted to open the pages up a bit,” McGee says. "We hadn’t budgeted for any outside design support, and because the changes weren’t tremendously extensive—we retained fonts and did not redesign the content itself—we felt confident that we could manage the project in-house.”

The publications staff met for a brainstorming session to discuss what was working in CJON—and what wasn’t. Next, McGee and a copy editor began leafing through other successful publications in search of ideas.

"If your budget doesn’t allow for outside design support, consider your in-house talent. They know the content intimately,” McGee says. "Benchmarking against your competitors can also help in gauging how effective your approach is.”

Armed with patience, a willingness to experiment, and several months of tweaking and revising, we updated the existing CJON templates and unveiled the new design in February 2012. The editor, publisher, and executive director loved the look, and reader feedback has been positive.

Following are the guiding ideas that shaped our design strategy. Compare the design elements in these old and new example articles as you read the tips.

1. Go for condensed fonts in titles and headlines. Using slimmer versions of your current fonts is a simple change that maintains the unique style of your publication but with a sharper look. For CJON, we reduced all occurrences of Frutiger Bold Condensed to Frutiger Condensed, and the result was surprisingly slick.

2. Add or reduce color. Changing up your entire color scheme might seem daunting, but try inserting or removing one swatch at a time. Too little color appears extremely formal—but too much can be distracting. We scaled it back to two or three swatches per issue, which has streamlined the appearance of the overall publication. Also, our table style previously relied on darker background swatches with bold paper fonts—we went with the opposite.

3. Use white space for emphasis. Don’t let your text get claustrophobia. If your current style uses a lot of boxes or background swatches, see what happens if you take them out. We dropped the clunky boxes and let our heads, bylines, and pull quotes breathe. We also ditched the rules in the margins for good measure.

4. QR codes and Web links make easy sidebars. Association Media & Publishing has already covered the usefulness of QR codes, and Web links in general provide additional entry points for readers. Throw in a quick teaser line and you’re done. QR codes also have the added bonus of looking cool and futuristic. Many free QR code generators are available online—we use Esponce.

5. Little graphics make a big difference. Add small photos and icons to liven up content and give research-driven articles a tangible element. If you absolutely don’t have a photo budget, be creative—even using shapes instead of bullets is a nice but simple detail.

6. Experiment, experiment, experiment. Have fun playing around with your ideas. This tip supersedes all others. Don’t be afraid to break rules or try radical changes. If something in your design has always irked you, take it out. You’ll always have the undo button and your old templates if you don’t like what you come up with. Be bold—consider this article an invitation. Good luck!

Ben Berkey is a copy editor at the Oncology Nursing Society and a member of the Association Media & Publishing Content Creation Committee.


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