Open up any magazine and you will see pages of thoughtful decisions. With each publication, an organization must stick to a limited number of pages and carefully selected content. But sometimes, the amount of content can become overwhelming if the design of the magazine has two many elements and crams information into tight spaces. My own confusion when trying to read through a crammed magazine has convinced me that layout design changes everything in how we make our way through magazine content. A non-profit organization called Mennonite Central Committee has publication design that beautifully exhibits three ways that layout transforms a magazine.
As in any design, content or concept should influence form, making an analysis of Mennonite Central Committee’s (MCC) mission important to understanding their publication excellence. MCC works with people all over the world, helping in the areas of disaster relief, sustainable development and peacebuilding, regardless of faith or cultural background of the people. With their quarterly magazine publication, MCC shares the stories of people in need and news updates on the organization. Magazine topics including the crisis in Ukraine and accounts from people displaced from their homes give this organization the task of committing to factual accuracy and respectful portrayals of the people being featured.
The attention that MCC puts on design in addition to content makes for an easily readable magazine. Three elements stand out as attributing to this magazine’s success:
- The right TYPE of choices
Written publications need a variety of fonts in order to differentiate the information and set up a visual hierarchy. When it comes to choosing how many fonts to use though, less tends to be better. An article from the Creative Bloq says that type choices should “act as a guide for the reader to navigate through your layouts…A handful (or even one family) of complimentary faces can be far more impactful and effective than trying to throw everything plus the kitchen sink at it. Too many varying faces and your design runs the risk of looking cluttered and lacking in voice.”
MCC avoids a cluttered look by being selective in their type choices. Their publications include only two font families, one in san-serif and another in serif, providing additional differentiation with changes in size, color and boldness. A willingness to be choosy when it comes to type selection, gives MCC a design with clarity that allows for the content to shine.
- White space wisdom
In a museum, the pieces of artwork have space in between them for a reason. The museum would be able to display more works of art if it hung pieces closer together, but that empty wall spaces acts as critical moments of rest between art, allowing each piece to shine on its own. The same principle applies to magazine layout in the area of white space, meaning any empty space without content.
When it comes to white space in design, Canva.com has valuable advice on utilizing this element of design. The site explains, “white space funnels your eye towards the content and allows your message to stand out… Avoid design clutter by increasing the size of one significant element within your layout…” MCC uses white space by allowing it to exist on every page, keeping text and image elements at specific sizes to allow for this empty space. The magazine also focuses on one significant element per page, often an image of the people being served. Restraint from filling all available space with content highlights the information that MCC does include, making each story more valuable.
- Guided by a Grid
A third reason for MCC’s successful design involves its consistent commitment to a layout grid. By keeping certain content in specific quadrants and forms on each page, the publication as a whole becomes more unified. In an article about the designer’s guide to grid theory, Cretive Bloq shares that “in print, proportions most commonly echo the size of the media; the shape and orientation of the paper are often reflected in the size and shape of images included within a layout.” By sticking with a grid with patterns, like keeping story text in only the bottom third on the first spread of each story, MCC has a unifying element that unifies the magazine throughout a wide range of stories.
Magazines have the challenging task of sharing information in a way that makes the best use of the print space allowed and using design tactics that keep the reader from becoming overwhelmed. While MCC has plenty of stories to share because of their commitment to people in dozens of countries around the world, its ability to stay concise and focused on the most valuable information for readers leads to a publication perfect for reading. By considering type, white space and a layout grid, MCC has made a magazine that makes difficult topics easy to navigate.
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