Strong editorial design doesn’t just decorate text or make something look pretty, but it takes into account its content and its readers. In 2014 I was hired to be the new designer for The Avalanche Association’s winter publication The Avalanche Review, and over the summer of 2015 I was tasked with redesigning this publication. For the redesign I carefully considered who reads this publication and what they find in it. I wanted to be able to communicate better with the new layout and make this publication even more useful to the people who receive it.
The Avalanche Review comes out four times a winter and is a trade and scientific journal aimed at professionals in the avalanche forecasting and education industry. Topics covered range from control techniques, advances in forecasting, and avalanche education to rescue dogs, accident reports, and search methods. This content can include very scientific research followed closely by humorous, poignant, and personal accounts. See the archives of this awesome publication to read articles and see a taste of the design as it has evolved over the years.
For my first winter as the designer of this publication I inherited the design template from my predecessor. I made minor changes to the template and spent my first season becoming familiar with the content and the workflow.
The four newsprint issues of TAR that I worked on my first winter, using the pre-existing template.
My second season, the winter of 2015-2016, I redesigned the entire publication, changing the format from 11×17 half color, half black and white newsprint to a large format, full-color, saddle-stitched magazine. Our new printer, Johnson Press of America, specializes in niche magazines and does an outstanding job. The print quality is very slick. This was a much needed change. It transformed The Avalanche Review from a dated looking newspaper to a professional publication that truly expresses the importance and level of engagement that the people working in this field exhibit.
The goals of the redesign were to make each issue easily scannable and digestible as well as fun and professional. Readers tend to pick up a publication and read it in a few stages with varying degrees of involvement. First they glance at it, flip through the pages and see if anything catches their eye. This is when people notice photographs, headlines, and pull quotes. If this reader finds something interesting, they will look at the page a little longer, reading sub-heads and captions. Finally, if they decide this is an article that really interests them, they will read the whole piece.
I wanted to build these different levels of engagement into The Avalanche Review. Since the tone of the content can range from dense and scientific to light and humorous, I wanted to allow the content room to speak for itself, and let readers choose how deep they want to go with each article. I wanted the design to make the already excellent content more engaging and more accessible to the readers.
Here is an example of a call-out that leads the reader into the content while also adding an element of visual interest.
To design the template, I started by setting up some ground rules. In reality, a template design is really just a collection of rules. The first rule I decided on was flexibility. (I know, that doesn’t really sound like a rule.) I wanted to have a clean and solid framework for the whole magazine, but let each issue have some individuality. The feature articles in each issue have their own color palette, own unique typeface, and can even have a varied grid treatment. This prevents the magazine from becoming boring issue to issue and allows for excitement and something unexpected in each one.
After deciding upon this flexible concept, I built the framework of the rest of the magazine using the basic elements of layout design: identity, fonts, colors and grid.
The older issues of The Avalanche Review had a hand drawn banner that was used since its inception in the 80s. Though this banner had a very tactile quality to it, it looked dated. I wanted to give The Avalanche Review a completely new identity that is clean, recognizable, yet modern.
Here is the banner used on issue 1 of TAR.
Here is the banner used on Volume 33 during my first year as the TAR designer.
I chose one of my favorite clean typefaces, Avenir, to use as the primary typeface and identity. The cover image and text will change with every issue, but the magazine’s title and identity will remain the same every time. I wanted it to be recognizable but also enough of a chameleon that each cover and each issue’s style can speak for itself. I chose to set the type in Avenir, all caps, and used a slight transparency to differentiate “Avalanche” from the rest of the headline. Here you can see how this headline is used on one of the first covers along with the feature article’s headline and extended photo caption.
Typefaces and Standard Headlines:
After choosing the identity for the cover, I had to decide how to implement standard type treatments on the inside of the magazine. I chose a standard headline and byline treatment in Avenir for department articles, leaving feature articles the flexibility of having their own headline treatment. I also chose a serif font, Bembo, as the primary text typeface. This serif font is easier to read in blocks of text than a sans-serif font, and the classic typeface makes for an elegant contrast to the clean sans-serif headlines and bylines.
This palette includes 3 warm colors that contrast with the predominantly white and blue photos of snow and sky, and 3 cool colors that complement wintery photos. When used on the kicker, these swatches add a splash of color to the pages that are very text heavy and will be mostly black and white.
The kicker is a tag that helps to orient the reader and labels different subjects frequently covered in each issue. Frequent readers become familiar with these subjects and labels and may even search out content in certain departments. I used the color palette to define kicker tags that appear at the tops of pages. These categories also help to organize the content appearing in each issue, which before had some organization, but felt a little scattered.
Finally, I considered the grid, which is the underlying framework of every issue. I wanted something a little more interesting than standard 2 or 3 column treatments, so I developed a flexible 3 column grid that can be used as an uneven 2 column grid with a larger column, a thinner column, and a blank column in between for call-outs and pull-quotes. This allows for a perfect space to add secondary information such as references, definitions, and links to source presentations or articles. This also has the benefit of adding a lot of white space and breathing room to the pages, which in a scientific journal, is a welcome rest to the eye. Here are two examples, zoomed in and zoomed out, showing the uneven column widths in practice, and how secondary information can be housed in the smaller column on the outside of the page.
So far the response and reception to the new design has been extremely positive, so I hope that the readers are getting more out of each issue. And as I work on each new issue, I continue to learn to communicate better through editorial design. Luckily, each time I have the opportunity to play with the design and mature these concepts even further.