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    Russell Viers is a Transition Expert in the publishing world. Since 1997 he has helped newspapers and magazines adapt to changes in the industry. Read more...

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  • Defining Design and Theme

    September 19th, 2008 by Russell Viers

    I was in Moscow speaking at a conference for Adobe and I was pulled away at break and told I had an interview with a local IT magazine. Good thing I had a translator…I trust he answered my questions correctly.

    Anyway, the reporter started out by asking me where and how I find inspiration for my designs. I told him “I will often go to the CD shop and look around at different covers to see if one jumps out at me. I don’t look at specific artists, just the design. Then, if I like the design, I might buy the CD, not knowing anything about the music just to try something new.

    “Sometimes I’ll buy music that fits the design I’m after,” I continued. “For example, I was doing a project with a real retro look so I was listening to a lot of Esquivel and Yma Sumac, space-age pop stuff.”

    He then asked me if this was a technique I learned in school or if I had invented it. I told him it was just something that inspired me, I didn’t learn it anywhere, I just do it. “Oh, and sometimes I get a haircut,” I added.

    One way for a yearbook staff to find inspiration for a design is to choose a theme that fits the school.

    First I’ll clarify the difference between Design and Theme: The Design is the look that you carry through an entire project to give it direction, feel, consistency… whereas a Theme is the overriding concept that should drive the design.

    For example, you can have a GREAT design for a yearbook, or other product, and not have a theme. I see it all the time. Choice of fonts, colors, cover, folios, borders all add to a design, whether they fit a theme or not.

    Now if you have a theme, like “What’s that smell”, for example, you would tailor your design to fit the theme as closely as possible so the design carries out the theme and is understood by all and helps give the yearbook more direction and excitement.

    So maybe “What’s that smell” isn’t a great example. I’ll go to my new Walsworth Yearbook Kit and look at the Portfolio Catalog which is behind the first tab labeled “Covers & Endsheets.” On page 6 and 7 is a nice long list of theme suggestions. I’ll pick one at random…“Off the Record.”

    Okay, so now we brainstorm. Keep in mind we aren’t even close to a design…just brainstorming any idea that fits “Off the Record.”

    What comes to mind? Reporters, ledgers, notebooks, old vinyl record albums… Let’s say you have narrowed it down to this record album theme. Okay, now maybe you start talking about the design.

    Perhaps you want to use album cover style art modified for your school. Maybe you want vinyl record looking icons behind your page numbers in the folio. After a quick internet search I found a few sites featuring the best album covers of all time:

    My vote is for The Beatles White Album, but it wasn’t listed so I’ll go for Breakfast in America by Supertramp.

    I would also suggest a stroll over to the local bookstore and look at the music section to see if there are any ideas that jump out at you.

    I LOVE the Taschen book series. Regardless of your theme, they have a full line of books covering ads from different eras, album covers, architectural designs, interior designs, product designs, website designs, old cars and more. Ask the bookstore clerk where to find them and just flip through the pages and take notes.

    I’ve bought a few of the Taschen books. Right next to me here is “The Golden Age of Advertising-the 50s.” The also have them for other decades and they are all great stuff. Great source of inspiration.

    Now that you have your theme and some design ideas, you can start playing with them as you create your template in InDesign. Body font, headline font, colors, borders and more.

    To sum up, the Design helps deliver the Theme throughout the book. You can have a well-designed book with no theme, but I wouldn’t suggest a well-themed book with no design. What’s the point? You’re better off with no theme at all if you aren’t willing and able to carry it off with great design.

    By the way, you can read the entire interview mentioned earlier here:

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