Editing by Design
A most fundamental reading requirement.
By Robin Sherman, ASBPE Associate Director
and Newsletter Editor; Principal, Editorial & Design Services
If there ever was a perfect manual on magazine
design and the presentation of content for both editors and
designers, this completely revised third edition of consultant
Jan White’s Editing By Design is it (Allworth
Press, 248 pages, $29.95).
White is a visual journalist and an editorial
designer of the highest caliber. His book examines the necessary
cooperation of editors and designers and the “how-to”
of product-making and storytelling with a service journalism,
reader-friendly approach. Appropriately, White believes both
editors and designers must understand service journalism.
This most useful book on editing and design
is also one of the most enjoyable manuals you’ll ever
read. White presents the subject with the same verve, wit, and
intellectual stimulation as he does at his conference sessions
and workshops (He’s speaking at our conference on June
Editing By Design has 28 chapters,
covering the full gamut of design topics, such as typography,
columns and grids, margins, spacing, symmetry, heads and decks,
subheads, diagrams, boxes and rules, color, covers, and contents
pages. It’s an easy read — almost all of the text
is designed by White in small chunks and with his hand-drawn
illustrations — a model of service journalism for both
scanners and readers. You can use the book to quickly pick up
tips (and tidbits, too!) even after you’ve read the entire
The opening chapters are a look at how a
magazine is “used” by the reader, a virtual lesson
in physiology, psychology, and common sense.
Tips For Inducement
In one important chapter, on inducement,
White examines the concept that we must edit and design on two
tracks: the fast track and the slow track. The fast track is
“where we show the value of the message by revealing its
significant bits at first glance.” The slow track is “where
we go into depth,” but with hooks and snares to ensure
the reader stops and looks.
Other inducement tips:
- Use infographics to replace long descriptions.
- Put photos above the headline to pull the
- Have a caption for every picture; place
it under the photo, where the reader expects it.
- Make sure every page has an entry point
to show what this particular page is devoted to and pull in
Tips For Using Space
In the chapter on space, White considers
space to be an “active participant in the process of clarifying
ideas.” In other words, space is a “functional partner
in communicating ideas.” Therefore . . .
- Isolation in space creates value. An object
placed by itself is perceived as important.
- Crowding devalues the individual unit,
so consider this unless you want the sheer mass of things
to make an impression.
- Spaces between items need to be strictly aligned
or placed in geometrically precise parallels.
- Closeness explains relationships, so consider
what goes with what when placing items.
Tips For Captions
White considers picture captions to be the
most important words on a page. They get the highest readership
on the page, yet how many of us spend much time on them?
To avoid leaving captions as a last-minute
nuisance, White recommends writing them before writing the text.
Not only that, captions should contain the most startling, newest,
and fascinating information you have.
- Make the headline and the opening caption work
- Make captions as long as they need to be
based on what needs to be said (but no longer than needed).
- Pretend that the first phrase of a caption is a
title. Emphasize it typographically.
- Use a font that will contrast with the
text to help skimmers.
White ends the book with a few interesting
extra sections, which are quite useful and enlightening. First,
there is a section on “checking,” which to White
means getting your publication off the computer screen and onto
paper, so that you can see what you’ve really done, in
terms of the overall effect. He suggests printing your magazine
at 40% of final size, trimming away the excess paper, then hanging
the sheets on the wall. Do a similar process as a “postmortem,”
after the magazine is printed. Dismember it and look at the
full product as a reader does.
Finally, the last section is a vast number
of actionable tips based on 16 topics such as how to redesign,
establish identity and authority, get more for less, encourage
reading, and fight ugly ads.
Appropriate for your editorial and art staff,
as well as journalism and art students, this book must be read.
miss Jan White’s presentation at ASBPE’s
Conference onJune 24 in Philadelphia. If you haven’t
been to one of his sessions before, you’re in for
a real treat!
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