Magazine Design Basics

These magazine design basics are relevant for any magazine, newsletter or brochure, from internal newsletters to mainstream magazines.

Where does your eye go?

The idea is to make the page as easy to follow as possible, encouraging the readers eye to go where you want it to.

Looking at a magazine spread – when two pages are next to each other they are viewed as one and need to work together.

Magazine design - the visible area
The visible areas of a spread. The darker the image the more visible it is, this is where the eye will go first.

With reference to the image above, bear in mind where the eye will go first. The top left and top right are the most visible areas. This is where your important information – heading, images need to go. Bottom centre of the spread is the least visible, ideal for text where the eye is forced to go while reading.

How not to do it…

Magazine design - how not to do it
The heading is out of the visible area and the eye has to search the page to see where to start. With the heading at the bottom below the text it’s not immediately obvious.
Magazine design - exceptions
As always there are exceptions. But the first type on the page is the headline. The eye is drawn to it after seeing the image.

Copy flow

Make it easy for the eye to follow.

Magazine design - copy flow the right way
Columns set out to make it easy for the eye to follow.

How not to do it…

Magazine design - the wrong way
The eye has to search the page to see where to go next.

Using a grid

I would always suggest using a grid system for your columns. Wether it be a simple three column grid or something more complex.

Don’t be afraid to have a number of grids to mix the number of columns throughout the magazine or indeed the width of columns on a page. Just be aware that the more complex the design the more difficult it becomes to make it look ‘right’. Oh, and always use a baseline grid to make sure your columns line up horizontally. All the columns need to line up at the top and bottom of the page.

Magazine design - simple 3 column grid
A simple three column grid.

Magazine design - 2 and 4 column grid
A four column grid. Feature article text spans two columns while the news sticks to single columns.

Magazine design - complex grids
A slightly more complex six column grid. this allows for more variety in the design.

Things not to put up with from your designer

Columns not lining up at bottom, varying column and gutter widths. Both of these were in a recent magazine being designed by a ‘professional’ designer. The client contacted me to ask why it didn’t look right.

magazine bad design example
Note the varying width of the gutters, none of which line up with the grid. Gutter width on the left hand page is twice as wide as the gutters on the right. Vary the width of the columns by all means but make sure it’s for aesthetics reasons not just because the copy isn’t fitting properly.
Bad design example 2
All columns should line up at the top and bottom. Using a baseline grid would ensure this basic mistake wouldn’t happen. Also note the gap at the bottom of the third column where the copy falls short. This was easily corrected by putting the Information paragraph in a highlighted box.

View more Graphic Design tips:

File Types – Know the difference between jpg and eps and when to use them.

Artwork Basics – RGB vs CMYK, bleed and trims.

Typography – The forgotten skills? Kerning and quotations

Magazine Design Basics – A few thoughts you might want to consider if you’re thinking of designing your own magazine. They are also relevant for newsletter and brochure design.

The Eyes Have It – Leading the eye in graphic design