The last project of the 2 semester long Project Studio class goes into a subject that at first glance is not directly related to branding. However like all major graphic design projects it still concerns itself with creating a system in which all parts (in this particular case the individual pages of a multi-page document) work together under one holistic matrix, while at the same time producing variations of this umbrella system on different pages that cover different topics which would need design flexibility in order to be laid out correctly.


In this project we will put together a paper print based, commercially sold or distributed life style magazine for which we will design a number of sample pages that will accomplish such a holistic and yet varied system: 7 double spread pages (and we will get into the contents of these pages in just a little while) and one A4 vertical sized cover.

These are the many printed magazines that are sold at newsstands, book shops, airports, train stations and many other places. Many of them, in fact most of them get published monthly, while there are also magazines - especially the kinds that deal with current affairs and politics - that get published on a weekly basis. 

While most magazines cater to specialized audiences and / or interests, there are those that have a broader content. These are called life-style magazines and a very good example to them are in-flight magazines that airlines give out for free to their customers. However, life-style mags are not limited to airlines since many women's and men's magazines can actually also be defined as life-style magazines, although of course they are limited in this definition in that despite the fact that they cover a wide range of topics from health, to shopping, to travel and fashion; they still target only men or only women and not everyone. 

The reason we will be doing a life-style magazine and not one that is more specialized in a topic or a demographic (even a broad one such as men or women) is that this type of mag gives us a very broad range of subjects that can be housed within a design system. In other words, learning how to create a design system for a publication that has a diverse range of topics will be a far more fulfilling educational experience for you. If you learn to pull this off, a more specialized mag will be much easier to do. And when learning something new, it is always better to learn what it is hardest, at least in my experience.

We could of course be designing a non-print medium mag, one that can be viewed on a tablet. However, my experience tells me that there are things to be learned in terms of layout when it comes to print based magazines that do not seem to come into play in the non-print medium since non-print media is far more template oriented than print media which allows for far more diverse layouts that vary from page to page. 

Having said all this, let us now look at the content structure of a commercial magazine. Not just life-style, but all mags have similar structures when it comes to their content which is divided into departments (bölüm) and Features (konu) to which are added a cover and a contents (içindekiler) page. 

Defining a commercial (sold or distributed) paper-printed magazine. 

These are pages that repeat in every issue such as for example an astrology page, or a health page, or an events page. Movies, music, art. Any topic really as long as it repeats in every issue. The content will of course be different from issue to issue. So, as an example, a "beauty" page could talk about suntan lotions in one issue, and mascaras in the next issue. The thing is that in a department page any content is approached in a light way. Small, informative pieces of text, lots of images. In the three images above the first one is an example as to how these pages are constructed. As you can see there is relatively little text, only superficial information that it won't take long to read or to look at. 

Department pages (Bölüm sayfaları)

The second and third images in the gallery above are examples of feature pages. These are pages that have content that will only be covered in this one current issue and will not repeat itself. But this is actually not the main difference: Feature page content is far more in-depth. The content is usually spread over multiple pages and very often there will be a special cover page with a beautiful photograph or some other fancy design stuff such as the one you see in the middle image above. The follow pages will have a lot of reading material. So, while you are only expected to spend a few minutes, maybe not even that long, on a department page, you are expected to spend quite a bit of time reading on a feature page, if it is a topic that interests you. 

In addition to these 2 main categories a magazine will have a cover of course, and also a contents page. These we will be doing once the actual content pages are completed. They will still be under the same design system, but since they are isolated pages they will also need additional special treatment which is why we are leaving their design process to the very end of the project.

Feature pages (Konu sayfaları)

The challenge in designing for such a diverse content that incorporates 2 different ways of consumption (one fast and superficial, the other lengthy and in-depth)  is in creating a holistic and yet flexible system that will cover the needs of both of these types of pages, as well as other areas of the publication such as the cover and the contents page.


Creating a flexible Holistic System

Step 1 _ Understanding Modularity

Systems that are flexible enough to allow for different layouts on different pages (which is what we need when it comes to magazine design) are based upon a principle of modularity in which the components of a systems will work in combination as well as separately. 

A very good way of understanding this is to look at shelving or kitchen / wardrobe systems that are manufactured by companies such as IKEA:

As you can see, a modular system allows you to create a lot of variations since the units of the system all have the same vertical measurement or multiples of it. So it is "X" and multiples of "X" such as "2X", "3X" and so on. You can also see that while the vertical measurement is fixed the horizontal shelves have more more flexibility. And that is exactly how magazine layouts work in graphic design also. The vertical spaces of the wardrobe system becomes a column, the vertical separating walls between the spaces become gutters. And then there are few additions such as margins, the central gutter and so on, into which we will go in order.

Step 2 _ Understanding Columns, Gutters and Margins

The way in which I want to show you this at first is by looking at the magazine that Yeliz Fırat designed in this class 3 years ago. You will see the layout as it is, but then I have also added an overlay that shows you the columns, the column gutters, the page gutter and the margins in different colors which you can identify through this legend:

Page Margins: These are the spaces that we leave on either side of the page as well as the top and bottom.

Page gutter: This is the empty space that is left in the middle page since there will be a fold here and we will not be able to read the type or see details of pictures that fall into this central area. So, naturally this space is left empty.

Column gutters: We need small spaces between the columns so that the texts inside the columns don't touch each other. 

The column. This is the central, most important element that corresponds to the wardrobe space in an IKEA shelving system. In short, it is where we put stuff. The content is designed around this vertical system. Body texts always stay within it. Other elements such as headlines, sub-heads, images, spots, etc can go outside of these spaces. But more about all that later.

What you see when you look at these layouts is that each is quite different, and at the same time we can immediately tell that they belong to the same publication.


The reason for this is that Yeliz has a matrix of columns, gutters and margins which are the same on every page, that is what makes us aware that these pages belong together. They are all manifestations of the same system, which is this vertical matrix. However, they also look different from one another since on every page Yeliz has utilized this matrix for different placements and also for different values of "negative space" (more about this later). And yet, while she did this, moved things into different positions on the page what you need to look at very carefully is the placement of the "body text" (which is the name we give to the small long texts that often consist of more than one paragraph). While other elements such as headlines, sub-heads, images, and so on, can go outside of the column matrix, the body text always stays inside the column areas. And that is the trick. That makes each page part of the bigger system. 

Step 3 _ Understanding the Stylesheet

While this underlying vertical column matrix is crucial - without it we simply would not be able to create the system, it is not enough. What we also need is a stylesheet of elements that are consistent throughout the publication. When we put together such a stylesheet we try to come up with typographic and visual material that will have a strong consistency, but at the same will be flexible enough to be able to work with from page to page.


In order to explain just exactly what is meant by this idea of a "stylesheeet" I will use one of the past years' student projects as a visual guid. This is the magazine designed by Leyla Mutlu, also 3 years ago and her spreads are very good examples when it comes to putting together a stylesheet that works really well. Below the gallery you will find detailed explanations on her choices which will make it clearer as to how you should be making your own choices.

The Typographic elements: You will probably already have a pretty good idea from your branding project about the importance of a consistent set of typefaces that run throughout a project. Editorial design is no different in this regard. (In fact, no graphic design project is different). So, what you will need to do is to pick a portfolio of typefaces that work well together and that will be used on every page. In editorial design there is almost always a typographic hierarchy which means that quite a few different typographic elements will need to be considered:

  • The headline: This is the most prominent text on the page, it is what we see first. It is usually big, however doesn't always need to be large. What is important is its placement in relation to the elements that are further down hierarchically. Leyla has chosen a sans serif font that looks a lot like Futura, but is a contemporary adaptation of that rounded letter sans-serif style. However, it isn't only the choice of font, it is also how she uses it, which is always all capitals and in the same font weight which appears to be a 'medium' or a 'semi-bold' weight. 

  • The subheads: These are the same font as the headline, but are used in a much smaller point size and also in a different font weight which appears to be a 'regular' or a 'light' weight. 

  • Introductory paragraph: This is the text that is the start of the body text which is written in a larger point size and is usually placed at a transition point between the body text and the headline or subhead. Leyla has introductory paragraphs on almost all of her pages but you can specifically look at the Chiara Ferragni page, the Santorini page or the Scarlet Sails page to see them very clearly. For these she has chosen an italic serif font. This makes a very nice contrast between the sans serif headline and also ties in very nicely with the body text since it is the italic version of the body text font.  

  • The spots: Spots are little bits of text that is usually taken out of the body text and is highlighted. To give examples, the quotes that Leyla has put in the Chiara Ferragni page and the Post follow page inside the photo of Meryl Streep are spots. For these Leyla has continued using the serif font she is using for the introductory paragraph and the body text. But she is making a variation by using it non-italic and quite large so that there is a nice differentiation between these 3 different typographic elements - that is, to repeat, the introductory text, the spot and the body text. 

  • The captions: These are the things that explain what the photos are, so these text pieces belong to the photos and are usually placed quite close to them. Leyla has used the same serif font that she has used for the body text and she has also kept the same point size. However, because these pieces of text are placed very close to the photos there is no confusion, we know right away what they are. 

  • The body text: These are the long pieces of text that we are meant to read at length and at small point sizes (these can vary from 8 to 11 points and usually do not go bigger than 11 points with most typefaces), so the really important point with these is that they should be made out of a font that is easy to read. Serif fonts are much easier to read than sans serif fonts because of their structures that gives them little shoes. These shoes form an automatic baseline between the letters that makes it very easy for our eyes to slide along the lines. Normal width sans-serif and grotesque are usually very hard to read because there is a lot of space at the bottom between the letters. An exception to this narrow sans-serif or grotesque fonts such as Arial Narrow for example. These are quite easy to read also when it comes to long pieces of texts. However, the important thing, if you want to pick a narrow (or condensed) sans serif font for body text is to pick one that is not too condensed. The font I am using on this page is Barlow semi condensed which is just the right narrowness - narrow but not squished. And there are plenty of semi condensed fonts out there to choose from. 


So, to summarize what Leyla did with her typographic elements: She picked 2 fonts with families (different weights). One is the rounded, Futura-like sans serif which she used in all caps on her headlines and subheads. The second is a serif font (my guess is Cormorant but I cannot be sure) which she used for everything else with different variations. She seems to have chosen wisely since 2 font families is usually the most sensible way to go about this, although there are many cases where really nice mags are designed with only one font family. And there are also many mags that have 3 font families in their stylesheets.



Now let us continue to the other elements of a stylesheet. In order to get a very clear understanding of this I am going to go over this with more examples from previous years' student work. Leyla and Yeliz will continue to be with us but now we also have work by Aleyna Tezer and Irmak Pehlivan, again from the class of 2019, 3 years ago.

The Visual Elements: Typography is always the first place where we start in graphic design, however it hardly ever ends with typography. Equally important are the visual elements when it comes to a stylesheet in order to create a continuous system that is capable of transforming audial content (the words that conveyed in the texts) to visuality. For this we need visual material

  • The photographs: It isn't just a case of putting an image on a page, there are many different ways of using photographic material. So, let us look at the ways in which your friends from previous years did it:

    • In the spreads called "Scarlett Festival" and "Akvaryum" Leyla and Aleyna used images as full backgrounds. This is something that is especially used for cover pages of magazine feature articles. (Konu sayfası) When you do this what is important is to find a photo that has enough empty space to place text on it. The text you put on the image should be fully legible of course. So, you really do need to make sure that the image you want to use as a full background will fit this requirement.

    • Photographs can be used as straight rectangular boxes of course, which is in fact the most common way of using them. In the best examples the designer will probably crop the original photo to format that better fits the layout or that focuses on part of the image. I am not going to point out specific layouts in the gallery above for these, many of them have these which is to be expected since this really is the most common usage

    • A fancy way to use photos is to crop them in a way that creates non-rectangular boxes. In the "Etkinlikler" page by Irmak Pehlivan you can see that the photos have been cropped into trapezoids or other shapes. This way of displaying images is ambitious and it may get quite difficult to do this for a continuous system such as a magazine since a crop like this may work on one page but not on another. But, by all means, no harm in experimenting. Play around!

    • A really good way of bringing movement to a design system is by silhouetting some of the visual material the way in which Yeliz has done on her "Mayıs" page. This can be especially good on department pages (bölüm sayfası) that contain shopping tips or display new products since on such pages you will need to show a lot of visual stuff and silhouettes will give you more negative space.

    • And of course, even needless to say, combinations of these different types of photo material usages which is in fact what you should do. That is of course what works best, doesn't get boring. What you do need to do however is to decide on a "usage strategy" and keep to that throughout. 

  • Shapes _ lines, boxes, dropouts, background elements, and even typography as shape: When you look at the spreads in the gallery above you will see that there is plenty of stuff aside from text and photographs. In graphic design we need shapes in order to create hierarchies, in order to separate things from one another and also as directional axes or pointers that let the viewer's eyes go from area to area within the layout. Shapes are also very good contributors to a visual system.

    The thing to always bear in mind however is that shapes need a function. So, as an example, if a line does not separate two distinct areas of a layout, or 2 distinct types of content, if it doesn't contribute to a contentual hierarchy, if it is put there just because you felt like it, because it "looks good" it probably won't work. And it probably won't look very good either since it will be a superfluous element.  That said, almost all layouts have distinct areas and content separations, and hierarchies, so almost all layouts will benefit from the placement of shapes that emphasize these.

    • Lines: In the layouts above lines of various thicknesses are used in almost all of them but I am going going to go into a detail explanation in only one usage, which is Irmak Pehlivan's work. Irmak uses them as separators between different content in both the "Etkinlikler" page and her "İçindekiler" page. And she also uses them as diagonals which give them a distinctiveness as a design elements. They aren't just lines they have a visual identity - they are diagonals. Since she uses these diagonal lines consistently on all her pages their distinctiveness also adds to the system. They become objects of continuity within her system that hold things together from page to page.

      In most of the other usages above the lines are used as separators between text elements that emphasize textual hierarchies. So, we see lines between headline and subhead in Leyla's work ("Scarlett Sails" and "Jumbleberry"), or as a separator between the headline and subhead group and the body text in the continue page of "Akvaryum" which was made by Aleyna Tezer.


    • Boxes: We see that Yeliz in "Mayıs" and "Renklerin önemi" used boxes in order to embed her subheads into them. Embedding certain text elements inside boxes can be a very good strategy since it can work both as a hierarchical element, and a separator. So, what Yeliz accomplished here with the boxes is this: Her actual headlines are big. And also they have very distinct placements which make them stand apart (placements is a topic that we will go into separately later). But while her headlines are the first object of her hierarchy (in other words they are what we see first when look at the page) she also wanted to emphasize her subheads - of which she has quite a few. So, instead of just placing them straight on the white background she boxed them into thick black lines. So, while we see the headline first, our attention is drawn to the subheads afterwards. 

    • Dropout Boxes: These are boxes that are placed on images or other shapes in such a way that they create a box within other visual material into which you can then put text, especially captions but other text also. We see them above in Leyla's "Jumbleberry" page on the left side where she placed a white dropout box on top the photo and placed her text inside it. Yeliz does it with the word "Tatlımsı" as well as the caption text which she places in dropout boxes over the coffee cup on the "Mayıs" page. And Aleyna does it on her "Fast Food" page where she places the word "food" inside a drop out box over the photograph.

      These dropout boxes can also of course be semi transparent if you want to still show a bit of the image that they are placed on. However, be careful that the opacity is enough to make the text placed inside them fully legible. 


    • Background shapes: You can also use background shapes, or dividing the pages into color fields, very effectively - both in terms of separating different content and creating hierarchies. When such a usage is spread across all pages you also end up getting very effective systems. On this page I try to use examples of my own students' work as much as possible. But it appears that in past years none of them have used background shapes. So, here are a few links for you to check out where this has been done: 

    • Illustrations and clipart: The visual material used in magazine layouts does not have to consist solely of geometric shapes such as lines and boxes. Many very successful mags also use vector illustrations and clip art alongside (and sometimes even insted of) photographs. Here are some examples I found online:

      If you want to do this, put vector illustrations in your design, go for it. However, please bear in mind what I always say: Do not spend time doing it yourself. It is more than likely that you will find the components of what you are looking for on resource sites such as vecteezy and freepik. All you need to do is take the parts and combine them into "your thing". This is not an illustration class. Our objective here is not to create original illustrations, it is learning to create editorial design systems. So, what we are doing is hard enough as it without added shenanigans like that.

    • Using typography as shape elements: In the gallery above the one who did this to good effect is Aleyna Tezer with her layouts called "Fast Food" and "Alexa Chung". And we can also see such typography as shape element usage in the contents page of Irmak Pehlivan where the numbers 7, 10-11, and 20-21 have been used not only as numbers but shapes. You will see this type of usage of numbers as shape elements on many contents pages. The idea with this is not make random numbers larger simply because it looks nice, instead you emphasize the numbers in order to direct attention to the feature pages of that particular issue. So, working with numbers on a contents is something that addresses a hierarchical need. 

      There are tons of examples of typographic usage for shape creation if you look online, in places such as pinterest. Such projects have also come out of previous years' project studio classes such as the magazine designed by Meha Shahid a few years ago that I am showing below. What Meha did was use headlines in very large point sizes which turned them from being simply text into shape fields. In a few of her spreads, such as the "Eating Healthy" spread she played with the typographic arrangement. 

Note: While this strategy of "playing with type" can have good results there is rather limited application for it in a normal, commercially based magazine. It tends to work better in specialized design mags, especially those geared toward typography. Which doesn't mean that it cannot be used in commercial design - Meha has done a pretty decent job of it. That said, here are few more examples of it:   

Step 4 _ Configuring a layout