Layout and design

The editorial function of any publication – whether website, newsletter, newspaper or magazine – has three main elements:

  • Writing
    Which can be divided into “reporting”- or writing of news items – feature and comment writing.  Understanding the different techniques can be helpful and important.
  • Sub-editing
    The checking, editing and improvement of what has been written
  • Layout and design
    The typefaces to be used; and how the material to be used on a page (words and pictures) is to be displayed.

This page focusses on the third of these: layout and design

Critical to the success of your publication is an understanding and application of good design

Whether you are designing online or creating a printed piece, the first consideration is your audience.

Just as you would write for your contemporaries at school in a different way to your local community, so you need to apply the same consideration to your approach to design.

Find out what sorts of news-stand magazines and newspapers your audience read, why they like them and buy them again and again. Is it just because of what is written or the way it’s presented, or the combination?

‘Pictures, abstract symbols, materials, and colors are among the ingredients with which a designer or engineer works.

‘To design is to discover relationships and to make arrangements and rearrangements among these ingredients.’

Paul Rand

Layout for print

If you haven’t designed a publication before you need to start with the bare bones. Literally. These bare bones are your grid. Take time to do a little research on page grids and why they are important.

This page of the Shine website is really only offering a top line of the basics and where to begin and grid theory can get rather in-depth. The main thing is to apply a structure to your page layouts and ensure the magazine has a consistent flow.

The advice on this website is worth having a read through as it explains grids (in print and the web) and why they are important;

Article from the Interaction Design Foundation


‘Publishers, editors and designers place so much effort on keeping the [grid] tradition, not only because it’s known to be the best way but for another large reason. The readers expect to find everything in its proper place.

‘Remember, the human eye is drawn to elements; it is also easily upset if it is confused or made to work out a problem it was not expecting to encounter.’

Mads Soegaard, Interaction Design Foundation

Seeking inspiration

You’ll probably have noticed that the newspapers and magazines that you read all use a grid in different ways, some in a more experimental way than others. The principle we’d suggest here, that in fact can be applied to every aspect of design, is to learn from the experts, then bring your own original approach.

In particular we suggest buying a copy of The Guardian and the Daily Telegraph as examples of particularly fine graphic design. These newspapers produce a completely original multi-page designed piece of print every day – there’s much to learn from how they do this and the boundaries they push.

All around the world every day great newspapers produce incredible design that supports the articles they lay out by applying bold, gutsy design.

We suggest you take a look at Pinterest for some inspiring ideas

‘I’m a big believer in the emotion of design, and the message that’s sent before somebody begins to read, before they get the rest of the information; what is the emotional response they get to the product, to the story, to the painting – whatever it is.’

David Carson

Start by understanding the rules

Everyone wants to make a great, original design for their magazine and we strongly support this. However it’s equally worth considering established accepted rules of good graphic design before you do that.

Creating a flexible grid is the first step.

With an understanding of this core framework of your publication, we suggest taking a look at this excellent article which runs through some great rules;

‘While breaking design rules is allowed and even (in some circumstances) encouraged, it’s important to at least be aware of the rules you are breaking so you can break them the right way.’

Article on Canva

This is a great article from CreativeBloq where experienced graphic designers give their hints and tips. This piece tilts a little towards the more commercial side of graphic design but many of the suggestions apply to a school magazine or newspaper too;

‘From grid theory to the Golden Ratio, there are a set of fundamental principles that are passed down from generation to generation of designers. Every good designer should know them, and any decent design course or instructional book will cover them. But as with anything else in life, as well as written rules, design has a number of unwritten rules. Many of us only learn these from bitter experience when breaking them.’

Article on CreativeBloq

Shine judges give their Top 5 quick hints on good layout:

  • Use a minimum of typefaces:  choose the type you are going to use carefully then stick to it except for emphasis
  • Consider using just two typefaces in the entire publication and then creating variation using weights of type and a good, consistent colour palette
  • The key to the design of a page can lie in the placing and shaping of a picture
  • Use boxes, ‘pull outs’, sub headings or other illustrations to highlight key aspects of the text
  • By all means be original – but remember always that the purpose of design is to make the article attractive and easy to read

Listen to everyone else, then do your own thing

Here are some great quotes from a series of well known ‘design rebels’.

‘The job of the designer is to make things understandable, usable, accessible, enjoyable… important to a public, that involves the public.’
Paula Scher

‘It is very important to embrace failure and to do a lot of stuff — as much stuff as possible — with as little fear as possible. It’s much, much better to wind up with a lot of crap having tried it than to overthink in the beginning and not do it.’
Stefan Sagmeister

‘An electrician isn’t an opinion former, but a graphic designer is. My argument is that all graphic designers hold high levels of responsibility in society. We take invisible ideas and make them tangible. That’s our job.’
Neville Brody