It’s inevitable that at some point in your life you will tell someone you’re a graphic designer and they will respond with “so that’s like brochures and stuff right?”
Begrudgingly you will answer “…well, yeah, sorta”.
While “brochures and stuff” isn’t everything a designer does there’s no doubting that it’s important to know about designing for multi-page layouts. Launching into a multi-page project can be a daunting and often frustrating task as you fall into the void of aligning text, recreating a new idea on each page and ultimately finding that it lacks balance. So, before you even think about beginning your design, these handy tips will make sure you’re equipped to create perfect pamphlets, beautiful booklets and mind-blowing magazines.
01. Do Your Research
Research is a simple step that’s often forgotten. It’s so easy (and also a good idea) to jump straight online and scroll through pages and pages of inspiration, but if you’re about to start your awesome cocktail recipe booklet then you’re going to want to first scout out all semi-relatable materials you can get your hands on.
It doesn’t all have to be exactly the same either, maybe there’s a car booklet with a cool type combination or a dinner menu has a nice price section, whatever it is, take it home or photograph it. With this bundle of goodies, spend some time looking at them and making notes – where does your eye go first. What works? What doesn’t work? Type, colour, scribble on them, pencil up some ideas and become super familiar with what you’re about to delve into.
02. Set Your Grid
What you really want in multi-page layouts is a sense of consistency across the pages. This may seem tricky and annoying at first but, like making a cake, consistency comes from the mixture not the baking.
The first step is to set up a grid. Your grid is your friend and everything should sit inside it. It will also help you keep everything aligned and looking like it’s meant to be there. Grids can be divided into columns (2, 3, 4, 7, 8 etc) and you get to choose which one you want to use, so start experimenting!
And the best news? Canva have a grid tool all ready to go for you. Just hit ‘command’ and ‘;’ to bring it up and you’re on your way.
03. Lay Down The Law For Your Document
When designing a booklet, one of the key things you should keep in mind is consistency (unless you’re designing a more experimental, artsy booklet, that is).
Think about novels, coffee table books, magazines, and booklets that you read in your day-to-day, most have a fairly cohesive design, right? In order to keep your booklet easily navigable, readable and looking neat, you need to have a certain degree of similarity in your page designs.
This doesn’t mean you should copy and paste your design 30 times and call it quits, but rather, identify which parts of your design should stay the same and keep them in check.
A big point is page numbers. Imagine if you were flipping through a textbook looking for page 82 and the page numbers were on a different corner of the page each time. How annoying, and how disorienting. So, keep your page numbers styled the same, and in the same space to ensure that nobody gets annoyed or disoriented with your booklet.
Other elements to keep consistent is type. If you’ve got a lot of body copy that spans over different pages, try not to change the font size, weight or style suddenly from page to page, especially if you want to keep a clean and cohesive design. By all means, use different type for different sections or articles in your booklet, just as this example by Studio 8 does.
Check out how while the designs for each article are different and interesting, the page numbers are in the exact same place, the type is fairly consistent, and overall, each spread looks like it belongs in one magazine.
04. Align Your Type
Making sure your type is aligned may seem like a bit of an inconsequential thing, but it’s really effective and useful once you start using it.
Basically, what it boils down to, is the fact type that is not aligned can look messy and a little erratic. Peoples’ eyes follow and consume the type a lot easier when the type is alined neatly.
The image below shows you what type that is not aligned looks like. See how the bottom of the letters of one line of type in the left column don’t align with the bottoms of the letters in the second column? It’s a small thing, but you’ll definitely notice it now that you’ve learnt about it.
For more tiny typographical mistakes that you should always avoid, check out this article.
So how do we fix this? Well, Canva comes to the rescue again! Canva has an automatic alignment tool that will snap your text boxes in line with each other when you drag them across the page, ensuring automatically that your type is aligned, neat, legible and beautiful.
05. Choose Your Font Pairing
Are you having fun so far? Look at all those pretty lines and grids you’ve set up without an inch of design on them! Don’t worry, you’ll get to the good bit soon and you’ll be eternally (or at least a little bit) grateful that you took the time to get that grid structure looking primo.
Choosing your fonts is the next step. It’s vital that you find the right pairing. This article is a great place to start but there’s also a myriad of information out there of type families that go well together.
In general, your headings should work well at large sizes and easy to read and your body copy (the big bit of type) should go mostly unnoticed, in that it shouldn’t be tricky to read, and shouldn’t strain the eyes at all. Open up a novel or a magazine and check out what typeface they use for their article text, does it work? Can you easily read it? If so, consider using something similar.
Check out this beautifully paired slab serif and sans serif by Sidney Lim for some typographical inspiration.
06. The Logistics of Body Copy
Whether you’re designing a multi-page layout for online viewing or for print, the way you set your copy is incredibly important. After all you want people to read the stuff, right? Your body should be invisible, not in a Casper the ghost kind of way but in a way that lets you focus on what is being said not the way it’s designed.
Let’s get a little technical; the optimal length of a line of text is 50 – 75 characters (including spaces), more than this and readers get tired, finding it hard to judge the start and end of lines. Shorter than this and reading becomes too jolted and words are often skipped. It sounds silly but there’s a little subconscious ‘win’ every time we reach a new line – as long as it doesn’t happen too frequently. By no means am I saying you should count the characters on every line of text but it’s a pretty good general guide to get started. The body for this annual report by Amanda Cole is sitting pretty at 50-60 characters per line.
“Type well used is invisible as type, just as the perfect talking voice is the unnoticed vehicle for the transmission of words, ideas.” (Beatrice Ward, ‘The Crystal Goblet, or why Printing should be Invisible’)
For more inspiration on picking out the perfect typeface for your body copy, check out this article for a rundown on all things typographical.
07. Get Their Attention
Pull quotes are a great way to reel in a reader. How often do you read the pull quote to get a grasp of what the article is about? I do it all the time and subsequently read an entire piece that I normally wouldn’t have.
Style your pull quotes with the intent of grabbing attention. They should be incredibly obvious and easily read. More importantly however is the what they say, if you have to pick your own pull quotes it’s best to read the text a couple of times, afterwards think about the points that really stood out. Whether it’s shocking, funny or insightful, the pull quote should possess both the general tone and content of the article.
Saturdays Magazine dedicate an entire page and a brightly coloured background to their pull quotes, this works as a brilliant way to give attention to the article.
08. Making Information Important
How did we know that the royals were more important than the peasants? Because they lived in a giant castle on a hill, wore bright colours and drank wine. The same goes for type (sort of).
Having a ‘hierarchy’ is very important in design, especially for multi-page layouts. Basically, this means, make the most important pieces of information – headings etc. attract the most attention. If your heading is lost in an image then you’ve just sent your King to the mud huts, similarly if you turn the page and the caption of your image jumps out at you before the image itself then you just gave that pleb a seat at the knights table.
Altering type size might be the first way you distinguish hierarchy but there’s actually a number of ways you can keep your most important bits separate from your least important bits. Check out this spread in Nourished Journal, hierarchy is achieved by altering size, weight, position and through varying column widths.
09. Design Your Images
Selecting images is more than just making sure they’re the right resolution. Placement, style and scale of images play a huge role in engaging your audience.
Make sure your images all work together; a good way to do this is by using the same editing techniques, whether that’s black and white with some high contrast, duotone in the brand colours, or a particular photo filter. Using a uniform style across every image will help them blend in with the rest of the design and create consistency. Here’s two great examples of how to use this technique, the first brochure uses black and white images and varying scale, the second brochure uses duotone images and transparent overlayed shapes to tie in the brand colours.
10. The Relationship of Image and Text
Following on from the rambles about images, you should also try to have some “conversation” between your images and your text. This helps subconsciously create a relationship between the image and the text. These “conversations” can be achieved in a few different ways. Consider integrating your type into or on top of your feature image. Select a typeface that complements your image, and has a similar vibe, just make sure that your type and imagery are not separate elements working on their own but two elements working together.
A cool little example of these techniques is in this piece for the city of Berlin. The use of the orange throughout the first image, then through the type brings the graphic elements and typography together. And then, cropping the image at an angle brings life, dynamicism and interest to some fairly simple images.
Experiment, have fun, and let your design work as one whole piece, not a lot of separate bits that just happen to be on the same page.
11. White Space – Take A Deep Breath
We’ve all be there, trying to put all your ideas down, filling every little space and saying things like “maybe we could put something here”. Exercise your restraint when designing and leave what is referred to as “breathing space”, this is the absence of visual information in order to give our eyes room to rest and focus on what is important.
I’m not saying that you have to leave pages full of nothing (although that’s cool too) but simply give the page room to breathe. It’s subtle in this spread by Sidney Lim; a column of space on the far left and far right leaves the page feeling balanced and unobtrusive.
12. What’s Your Voice And Does It Suit?
You’ve just birthed this magical multi-paged creature into the world now ask yourself, does it sound like it should? Is it smoking in a leather jacket with a deep quick wit or is it speaking politely about world issues to both your mum and your grandpa? Whatever it sounds like, make sure it fits. The last thing you want is your child care booklet wearing a bowtie and suspenders.
Take these two examples: One uses sleek typographic elements combined with a single bold colour, it seems quite fashionable and contemporary. The second uses a slew of bright colours, neat infographics and two solid sans serif fonts, this gives it an informative and more serious tone. Obviously your tone of voice is dependent on the brief but once you’ve found your uniform, wear it on every page/issue.
13. Read it! (And Print it)
In the same way you taste your food as you cook it, if you’re designing something that will eventually be printed, print it. Even if it’s black and white on the back of phone bills through your nan’s dusty Xerox, printing it out will give you the clearest idea of what works and what doesn’t.
Some things to check:
- Body copy – give it to someone who falls within the target age bracket and see if they find it comfortable to read.
- Hierarchy – Are you looking at the most important bits first or getting distracted by the little things?
- Images – Colour, resolution, clarity
14. The Cover Says It All
The cover is without a doubt the most fun to design but it is also the most important. The cover is the make or break point for your audience (unless they’re being forced to read it). It should give the reader a kind of visual blurb that makes it obvious what you’re all about.
If you’re in need of some inspiration, check out these 50 awesome book covers and try to not be inspired – it’s pretty impossible.
Treat the cover like a pull quote for the entire publication, this holds particularly true for magazines, booklets, zines and the like, where the cover is usually an excerpt from the main article. It often leaves something for the reader to discover, they want to find out more and so they pick it up. I could list covers here all day but here’s 3 examples of some wonderfully considered, clever cover design.
15. Break the Rules
Know the rules and then break them. A classic piece of advice that weasels it’s way into most creative encounters, it’s corny but it’s still true.
Monster Children is a great example, they broke the mould and created a landscape magazine with a flurry of design elements that went against the basic ideas of readability and layout. Start experimenting for yourself and see if it works, if it doesn’t work, try it in pink! Break the grid, make type too big to fit on the page, flip images upside down, have some fun with it – if appropriate of course.
So there you have it! You’re now fifteen times better equipped to take on your next multi-page layout. Just remember your roots when you’re busy being the next David Carson.