Book cover: Editing by DesignLiterature Review

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 24).

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 book.

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 viewer in.
  • 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 the skimmers.

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.

Other tips:

  • Make the headline and the opening caption work together.
  • 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. Really!

Jan White photoDon’t miss Jan White’s presentation at ASBPE’s National Editorial 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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