Design process can start when you gather all editorial materials because if you do not have everything set in place you will not be able to create best possible layouts. It is annoying when you start to work and you have to go back to the beginning of the process because new materials that have to be included arrived.
Before you start be sure that you have all elements needed. Editorial copy that was proof read and is complete. Gather all the images and illustrations that you need. When you have everything ready you can start to work.
Read the copy
Most designers skip one important part before they start designing and that is to read the copy which they will lay out. You don’t need to read entire article, you can ask copy editor to explain you what the topic is all about and what are the key concepts in the article.
This knowledge can spark some ideas which will help you in your work. It is really important for a layout designer to know what the topic is about because this will help him present the story in more interesting way. If you’ve ever heard about visual journalism, this is it. You are visual journalist and your role is to present the story to the reader in best possible way. Your design has to follow the tone and voice of the story.
Understand the topic you are about to design
If it is necessary have a meetings with editor in chief, copy editor and photographer (if you will be using original photo materials) and listen to their ideas and present your own. It is always better to work as a team because this will bring better ideas and it will be easier for you to produce great looking layouts.
After you have familiarized your self with the concept of the story, you should start examining the images and illustrations.
Work with your image editor in finding the best possible images and always have few images in reserve. Because design process may take you into another direction which will mean that the images you planned to use in the first place are no longer good and you’ll have to replace them.
Find images that compliment the story, that work well with the text, that emphasize topic and that look great. I do not need to mention that the quality of the images has to be good. So many times I had to replace the images already chosen because they were either blurry or not big enough for my intended layout. Sometimes you will have to ditch these images although you think they are the best. Do not compromise the quality because final result will not be the one you wanted.
If you use images photographed by your in-house photographers keep in mind that they shoot those images in 72 dpi and your image will be 3 times smaller because you have to convert images to 300 dpi. The lowest you can go is 225 dpi.
Prepare your template
Before you start designing have in mind some general idea how will your design look. Decide if you are gonna lay out story on two, three or four column template. Maybe it can be better if you use multi column layout so you can have more options in laying out text. The choice of your template is dictated by the importance of the article. Choice of colors is also important and it should follow the tone of the article.
Make some design sketches on paper, it can save you some time.
Try to produce more than one layout. Sometimes the first idea is not the best one. Play around with images and text and while you are in this process other ideas will come to your mind which can lead to even better designs.
Create sketches if it is easier for you to work in this way. Work on your ideas and try to visualize the layout in your head and then translate it to paper. Offer your suggestions to editor in chief if they are different then the ones you agreed on. Several ideas will always produce better results but try not to go over board with them because this can lead you away from the main concept of the story.
All these factors play a big role in your work and you should not skip them, and if you follow them and take good care of them your design will look better and it will be easier for you to work. Because if you neglect some of these factors your work will be prolonged and production timeline will suffer and this is not good thing especially if you’re tight with time and deadline is approaching.