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Hit the ground running with design that gets your new magazine idea off on the right track.

The only way to convert a magazine idea into a real magazine is through design. At every turn,the more your publication looks like it’s established rather than merely a pipe dream,the better your chance of publishing success. Before you approach your first investor,advertiser,or subscriber,make your concept tangible. It will demonstrate a personal commitment to the project,and just as important convey your nebulous idea far better than any verbal presentation alone.

Here are four basic design concerns you’ll need to address if you want your magazine to move from concept to press.

This needs to be your first priority. Nail down the name of the magazine and make sure it’s available for use-then trademark it. There are horror stories of magazines launching (at great expense) only to find the magazine name was already spoken for. Just because it’s not in print,doesn’t mean it’s clear to use. When choosing a name,make sure it accurately describes what your publication is about. The name you select should be succinct-short titles like Dirt Bike or Men’s Health or People are best  Be especially careful of names that rely on jargon that may be unfamiliar to some,or worse,have a double meaning that could be misconstrued.

A good logo should have a distinctive style and personality. Seldom is that the result of merely setting the name of the magazine in a clever font. Whereas fonts play an important part in projecting the personality of the magazine,creative kerning (altering the space between selected characters in the name),character modification such as outlining or shadowing,or intermixing fonts are the things that create some of the strongest brand identities (think Coca-Cola). And although your logo is primarily intended to be used on the cover of the magazine,remember that it also has to work on all other aspects of marketing,sales,and promotional materials,frequently in just one color. Think about how well the logo will hold up when reduced to fit on a business card or business reply envelope,or above the staff listing on the magazine’s masthead.

Armed with a strong logo,you can transform your publication idea into an established publishing entity by incorporating the logo on everything from stationery and business cards to business plans and mailing labels. Until you develop other materials such as mock-ups and prototypes,the logo will serve as the figurehead of your organization and needs not only to project authority but also graphically represent what the magazine is about.

A cover mock-up is an essential tool for approaching potential investors and can be incorporated into the business plan or used as part of any personal presentation. Be sure that the image you select to create the mock-up properly identifies the entire scope of the magazine. For example,if you’re starting a regional outdoors magazine and have a great fishing image,be aware that the first impression might be that this is a fishing magazine rather than a general-interest outdoors publication. The first cover will have a lasting impression and it will be difficult to undo any misdirection that may be unintentionally created,so choose your first cover image very carefully.

Use the cover mock-up to list additional stories that help round out the issue and see to it that the image and copy project excitement and energy no matter what your topic is. For anyone to get excited about your publication it’s going to need to look lively and worthy of their time and/or investment.

Some publishers prefer to create a special cover for advertisers that incorporates sell lines touting the magazine’s benefits rather than its actual content,i.e.: "Reach 200,000 of your toughest customers" or "The only national magazine serving the body waxing industry."

No matter who the recipient will be,the cover should incorporate all of the bells and whistles you’d find on a solid,well-crafted newsstand magazine: buzzwords,numbers,and high-impact colors. Successful covers grab attention,look important,elicit action,and promise a benefit.

Table of Contents
Sometimes the cover doesn’t offer enough space to fully explain what the magazine is about,and a table of contents is developed as a secondary sales and promotional tool. This gives the publisher an opportunity to list all departments,columns,and feature stories to give a more rounded picture of the magazine when meeting with potential advertisers or investors. For any magazine the table of contents is the second most important page in the issue (after the cover) and can often be thought of as an advertisement for the magazine-selling story ideas and getting people to want more,look further,and buy.

In the same way that a real table of contents might "sell" a reader on the stories inside,a mocked-up table of contents should sell potential advertisers or investors on the concept of the magazine. Therefore,it’s extremely important that the visuals that are used in any mock-up provide a complete picture of the magazine as a whole,not just one particular aspect. It must also be presented in a way that conveys the flavor of the publication. If the magazine is going to be entertaining,the design style might require silhouettes,multiple visuals,and lots of color,whereas a business magazine might need longer,more descriptive story blurbs set in justified type,a dignified color palette,and one stately photo.

Often lost in the frenzy of designing the magazine is the importance of design on related launch materials. Media kits geared toward advertisers and direct mail aimed at subscribers both need to not only grab the attention of their respective audiences but also reflect the design style and content of the new magazine. If the look of either is handled by someone other than the publication’s designer,be sure to get the magazine designer’s input and blessing on the final pieces. He or she will know best whether the materials accurately reflect the flair of the magazine and will have the best sense about the choice of fonts,colors,and images used in each.

Likewise,stationery,business cards,websites-anything that’s an extension of,or ambassador for,the magazine must fit in with all the other materials associated with the publication. Some magazines develop a signature font,color palette,or distinctive format that becomes emblematic. Branding is nothing more than taking that aspect and repeating it. It worked for John Deere. It worked for
Old Navy. And it works for magazines,too-like the gold border on National Geographic or the distinctive logo font of Esquire.

At every design stage,check out the competition. Although your publication needs to fit the design style of what else is happening in your market,you don’t want to look like a copy cat,or worse,an off- shoot of something else. Avoid pirating design styles from other products or periodicals. Taken out of context they may do more harm than good.

Launching a magazine is harrowing enough even under the best conditions. Improve your odds of success by doing all design experimenting before anything goes to print. Changing the design of things as you go along smacks of uncertainty and poor planning and that’s not going to impress anyone.

About the Author
John Johanek is a partner at Ayers/Johanek Publication Design,Inc.,and in addition to redesigns and start-up development offers cost-effective publication design consulting and critiques. E-mail him at [email protected] or view the design work of this award-winning firm at their website at