Pallavi Rao




Communication Design, Design Education

Magazine Design: Monutentally Easy!


Pallavi Rao




Communication Design, Design Education

What is magazine design? A magazine is a collection of written work (articles) published periodically (weekly/monthly) either in print or online. A magazine is not a newspaper or a newsletter and therefore, magazine design is the design method unique to magazines: how to present information better, be aesthetically pleasing, and yet establish it as an entity to be bought by its target audience.

Designing a magazine isn’t as hard as it appears, and this is because magazine production is simple, straightforward and (with the right financial management and marketing), sustainable on a small scale.

A magazine is seen as a medium of depth i.e., a magazine gives you a large amount of information, facts, and opinions on its field, and if the content is good, and presented well, it can become a force to reckon with.

Look at The National Geographic, a juggernaut publication that spawned a television channel and is now viewed as the premier voice on environment, exploration, world culture, and conservation.

March 2017 Issue of The National Geographic|Magazine Design

The March 2017 issue of The National Geographic

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Many organizations choose to have in-house magazines. One of the primary reasons is that it provides an outlet for in-house news dissemination. In addition to this, it also encourages employee contribution and creates a sense of a ‘living’ organization; one that is exciting, relatable and ever evolving.

Knowing how to design a magazine can give one an edge in any organization one finds oneself in. Content can always be rustled up and found, but the design makes it a complete product. Something to be bought, something to be owned, something that could help inform, connect and inspire people.

Two most popular platforms used for magazine design are – Adobe InDesign and QuarkXpress – both are very accessible and do not require a technological skill-set to navigate your way through.

Design tutorials will teach you how to use these software tools to achieve the desired results. Here are a few pointers that will help your magazine look professional and at par with the industry standards right from Issue #1.

Tips of the Trade

1) Structure
The structure of a magazine is known as pagination, a rather boring (but necessary) table which organizes the contents of the magazine, page by page, specifying what content goes where, even the advertisements!

Spend time on pagination, because once it’s set, the design process begins, and it becomes increasingly difficult to change it at a later stage. Pagination will include what kind of content is being published, where it’s being published and how it’s being presented.

A simple pagination detailing page number, story, type, as well as reference layouts.

Image Credit: Representational image created by author

Feature-heavy magazines for example, (political/general magazines) need other kinds of content like listicles, infographics, interviews, quotes pages, etc., in order to break the monotony of large, endless features placed one after the other.

Categorize content and keep it in the same section. For instance, if you consider the layout of a lifestyle magazine, bear in mind that the content about fashion should not be placed adjacent to the content on health and fitness.

A thorough pagination smoothens and accelerates the design process and aids in making your magazine a cohesive literary work rather than just a hastily tied jumble of written content.

2) Fonts

One of the most overlooked elements by neophytes are fonts that essentially form the backbone of magazine design. A font conveys the content to the reader well; it also establishes the tone, mood and style of your magazine. While gimmicky fonts (like the Star Wars font) are cool (and fun!) for posters, or funny video montages, most magazines stick to simple, elegant fonts that are easy on the eyes.

The Star Wars title font; good for posters, not for magazines.

Image Credit: dafont

Body fonts are vital in helping your reader connect with a large amount of information provided to him/her and cannot be too distracting or bothersome.

Helvetica Font|Magazine Design

Helvetica is the most widely used body font on presentations, web pages, magazines, and posters due to its simple eye-pleasing design aesthetic.

Image Credit: dafont

Headline fonts can be the fun, provided they stick to the theme. For example, one can avoid using the ‘Star Wars’ font in a magazine about photography. It might be better suited for a video game themed magazine instead.

Serif and Sans-serif Fonts|Magazine Design

The difference between serif and sans-serif fonts.

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

There are two kinds of fonts – serif and sans serif. The only difference between the two being the presence of a serif; a small line attached to the end of a letter in serif fonts. The jury is still out on which font is easier to read on what medium, but most print publications stick to serif fonts, while online publications stick to sans-serif.

Example of Serif Font and Sans-serif Font|Magazine Design

Here, the strapline is a serif font and the body copy is a sans-serif font.

Image Credit: Representational image created by the author

You can always try mixing up serif and sans-serif fonts, for different elements in a page like the headline, body, captions and pull-quotes, in order to add variety to your design!

3) Images

The other backbone element of magazine design are undoubtedly the pictures! No matter the kind of magazine, pictures are essential to a good design.

Pictures convey stories, underline implicit themes present in the written work, add colour to the design, break the monotonous flow of long features, and help in setting the mood for each article.

While the kind of image to be included in the magazine depends entirely on your theme, make sure you stick to high-resolution images only. In case you do not have any, keep the size of the low-resolution ones small so that their pixilation is barely noticeable. Nothing is as distasteful as a pixelated image for a reader. This would only end up doing more harm than good.

A full-page picture should be between 200-300dpi. To check if a picture if pixelating, it’s a good idea to zoom into 150-200% on the software on which the magazine is being designed.

Image Credit: Representational image created by the author

Another integral aspect to magazine design is to use images from a credible source. Ideally, one should avoid using images taken straight off the internet, especially when it is to be used for a commercial purpose. Most pictures on the internet are subject to stringent copyright laws and require a certain financial remuneration or giving due credit to the photographer before use. In an ideal scenario, magazines should have a dedicated team of photographers and only use their original work.

Google Images Filtering Tool|Magazine Design

While sourcing images from Google, make use of filtering tools that allow you to use images legally. While the default doesn’t filter by license, other options are present to find you images licensed for reuse. 

Image Credit: Google

4) Cover Page

The page that should take as much time (in designing) as all the other pages put together is the cover page. It is the first – and most often – the only thing that a majority of the potential customers see.

Good cover pages aren’t crowded, rather they are informative and eye-catching. Nearly all magazines will have their cover story featured heavily on their cover-page, but the more eclectic and small scale ones (especially educational, and corporate magazines) will underscore the theme of the magazine rather than highlight one particular story.

The cover dedicates the most space to the cover story of Novak Djokovic. Both the Cover Story and Features are aligned left in the empty space and the other stories are aligned to the right in a reduced font size thus demarcating the order of newsworthiness. The two-colour scheme is consistent to stand out against the background colour in the picture.

Image Credit: Representational image created by the author.

Placement and alignment of text should not change from one cover page to the other across different issues. The title should be prominent, and the features being carried inside should be aligned, either to the left or right of the magazine edges.

Having a bold, conspicuous, cover picture can allow a lot of empty space to be present, and add to the gravitas of the cover, without making it seem half-done.

5) Consistency

The most important part of magazine design – consistency. This goes for colour schemes, font selection, image crediting, structure—everything!

It’s important for the magazine to be designed as a whole, rather than individual articles designed separately and put together. Maintaining a design style sheet is as important as a content style sheet.

Here is an article from a mock photography magazine, “Frames.” The font colour of the subhead and the pull-quote are the same, creating familiarity.

Image Credit: Representational image created by the author

Article from a mock photography magazine|Magazine Design

Using the same style for a different story in “Frames:” once again placement of the pull-quote in a column on its own, as well as the same colour for the quote and the subhead, shows consistency in design across stories.

Image Credit: Representational image created by the author

In another story from Frames, the placement of the caption is the same as the previous image, as well as pull-quote placement and colour coordination.

Image Credit: Representational image created by the author.

Have a basic template to follow, and add or remove elements to suit the needs of a particular article. This template can become the character of your magazine and have it stand out from others for good design sense!

In this article from the Technique section of Frames, the title, strapline and photo caption are all aligned left, with the featured picture taking up the most space.

Image Credit: Representational image created by the author

In a different article from the Perspective section of Frames, the same design template is used with a few variations: the title is centered, the tag is bigger, and an additional image is used on the top right. However the basic premise of the featured picture taking up the most space, along with a left aligned strapline and caption remains the same, once again creating consistency.

Image Credit: Representational image created by the author

Most magazines – barring a few in sports, pop culture and entertainment – go with a simple white background and black font aesthetic. Coloured backgrounds and fonts are used either for frivolous pieces or in parts or sections of the magazine to break the monotony, but too much is headache inducing and comes off as childish.

Article from mock photography magazine|Magazine Design

Colour is used only for the title, and the background is an image, unlike the previous white backgrounds other articles in Frames.

Image Credit: Representational image created by the author

Page number and tags (section) placements shouldn’t change at all in any issue, nor should the order in which certain content appears: the editor’s note, table of contents, and cover story.

A good consistent design breeds familiarity in the reader and goes a long way in creating a loyal reader base!


While these Tips of the Trade are far from thorough, they will establish a good base for any magazine designer who is starting out. More important than any specific instruction, it is recommended to refer to as many magazines as possible—particularly ones that appeal to you/are in the same field as your future magazine—and to use them as a reference while designing. This helps you master all the ins and outs of the software, gives you practice, creates a body of work, and instills a design aesthetic which you can personalize to create your own style.

Magazine design is a useful skill to have, more so when starting out in colleges where one can hone the talent and interact with fellow designers, and who knows, maybe one day, you too can design the next Sports Illustrated or National Geographic!



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