Design… Layout… Publication

As an in-house designer, you will create a design, convert it into a layout, and eventually print a publication. Prior chapters discussed the terminology, processes, and philosophies of publication design. Now, we are going to explain how it all comes together to result in a publication.

Determine Your Message

You need to know why you are designing a publication, for whom, and what you are communicating. A design begins with the answers to these questions. Notice that why you are creating a design is a more important decision than what you include in the final document. These decisions build on each other.

Set a Goal

Your goal must be a one sentence mission statement. Too many goals, and nothing is communicated. Commercial publications exist for one reason: to sell advertisements and create a profit. Other publication might have any number of goals.

A publication from Greenpeace might exist to encourage donations, educate the public, or to organize existing members. Still, each publication should have one goal. A publication without a clear purpose falls apart.

While high-minded and noble goals read great on paper, in practice they are inappropriate for most business publications. Business documents exist to persuade clients to do something or to encourage employee productivity. A few business documents, such as employee handbooks, exist because governments say they must.

Target an Audience

Target an audience based on your goal. Every publication, from business cards to newsletters, must be designed with an audience in mind. With longer publications, tageting’s importance increases.


Your audience determines the method of distribution. Before you design a publication you need to know how you can best get it into the right hands.

If you plan to mail a newsletter or catalog, you need to leave space for labels and postage. Catalogs might be handed out to customers in a store, mailed third-class, or inserted into newspapers.

Choosing the right location for an advertisement affects the realization of your goal. Distribution is the foundation for everything else.

Form and Purpose

What you are trying to communicate affects the design of publications. You decide what to communicate based on your audience, as well as how content matches your goal. Never plan content first, then work backwards.


Make a list of the information and opinions you need to communicate in your publication. Brainstorming and then prioritizing is one approach to organizing documents.

Start by randomly writing down one sentence summaries. Then, group related ideas. We use colored highlighters to indicate relations. Finally, write down the items in each group in descending order. Use descending order so you know what to drop if the publication runs out of space.

Reserve Space

Some material requires infographics and photographs to be clear. Other material can be communicated best with text. Know that a design must accommodate the required types of elements.

Gather Contributions

If you design layouts without also having to collect and edit contributions, you are very lucky. Most in-house designers are one-man bands. Regardless, as a designer, you must know what materials are available for a layout. Never assume any assigned article or artwork will be on time or useable.

Keep Organized

Organization throughout the entire in-house publishing process is important, but organizing content is a Herculean task. Deadlines are your enemy – and your coworkers might not come to your aid.

Assignment Logs

Since high school, we have always kept assignment logs for publications in progress. You can use a notebook, a spreadsheet, or a customized form. The important thing is to keep a log.

Asgnmnt Assgn To Editor Artist Date Out Date Due File Name

In the first column, write a description of the assignment. Next, write the name of the person responsible. For larger works, you might also log the name of the editor or supervisor in charge of that person. Finally, log the date assigned and the date due. We suggest setting a date due with enough “wiggle room” to finish tasks yourself.

Never Design First

Never isn’t quite the right word, but you should avoid basing a design on assumptions – like all the assignments will be completed. Flexibility is a trait all successful designers share.

Before the assignments are on your desk – or in the computer network – you can only sketch dream designs. The quality of assignments might rearrange their order in a layout. Also, events might change the publication’s focus.

Edit, Crop

Before paginating a layout – placing text and drawing within frames – edit the individual articles and graphic elements. Editing before you place text adds a layer of protection.

If you have graphics and photographs, edit and crop them for artistic affect. Do not worry about their placement in the finished layout. Crop aggressively, without damaging the meaning of the image.

Everyone Does It

We know you followed our great advice and have shoeboxes and file folders filled with sample clips. After determining your message, evaluate how others have communicated the same ideas to an audience.

Every type of business document has been created before by a skilled designer. Borrow the good ideas – but don’t snag any logos or artwork, which are copyrighted.

Your finished layout does not need to resemble one other good design. In fact, you could not then call yourself a designer. Take parts of good designs and create one better design. Since you are taking concepts and elements from other documents, you are free to select any reasonable format for your document,

Select a Format

Publication formats say a lot about the designer and the information. Formats convey tradition or experimentation. Of course, getting too wild can annoy an audience. For example, odd-sized business cards may not fit into reference filers.

Design by Numbers

Ah, traditions. At least they indicate a safe choice for designers. Most computer software ships with predefined templates of layouts. These layouts were designed by professionals, but are quite generic. Using a template ensures your document resembles thousands of others.

Software wizards, coaches, or experts are templates customized interactively. You indicate a type of publication, then answer questions. Your answers determine frame positions and basic text element styles. We suggest using interactive templates a few times to learn about design. Remember, these layouts were developed with professional designers.

Be Creative

After a few dozen designs, you will want to be more original. Do not stray far from tradition until you are comfortable doing so.

Prepare a Dummy

Before creating a document, you should first sketch out a layout. This layout serves as a guide. Publishers refer to these sketches as dummies. Working without a plan can result in sloppy documents. Dummies should be as detailed as possible – the more detailed your plans, the better the final layout.

Use paper to sketch the dummy. Some designers might disagree, but we find that working on paper gives a better sense of the final layout.

Grids Galore

The rectangles drawn on a dummy sheet are frames. Most modern word processors and layout programs allow for the creation of frames. These frames indicate maximum limits – computer programs generally do not reduce the size of a frame if it is not completely filled. You can also place frames within frames to create special effects. This method allows for effects such as drop caps and pull quotes.

First Might Not Win

Create more than one dummy. Your high school English teacher told you to revise, revise, and revise. In design, that’s great advice. A great design is never done – you just surrender to deadlines.

We suggest creating at least three dummies. Once you have a basic design, always consider improvements. Gradual adjustments may result in a new look over time that you and your audience like better.

Select a Tool

After you select a proposed design, the rest of the process is easier. You might think working on the computer and getting the kinks out of a layout is the real work. Actually, getting contributions and keeping on schedule is the real work.

You can make your life miserable by using the wrong tools for the job. We do not use one software package to convert designs into layouts.

Each designer develops his or her preferences. We have found each program has strengths – and a lot of weaknesses. No one program ever seems to get the job done.

Layouts and Tools

These are our personal choices. Many designers dismiss programs like Publisher as toys, but our experience is that it can be as useful as PageMaker for quick projects. Corel Draw is also ignored by many professionals, but we have learned it can do everything Illustrator or Freehand can do — and sometimes more.

PageMaker is no longer being developed by Adobe Systems. The replacement is InDesign, which curiously enough behaves like Publisher or Corel Draw in many ways, but with more text controls and power. You will notice that InDesign is suited for almost every text-intensive publication form. The reality is, the Adobe Creative Suite is often all a designer needs. There are several “editions” of the suite, each with a mix of applications for print, Web, or multimedia content.

Document First Choice Second Third If We Must…
Business Cards Corel Draw InDesign Illustrator Publisher
Newsletter InDesign Quark XPress Publisher MS Word
Flyer Corel Draw Illustrator Publisher MS Word
Brochure InDesign Quark XPress PageMaker Publisher
Book InDesign FrameMaker MS Word Quark XPress
Manual FrameMaker InDesign Quark MS Word
Catalog Quark XPress InDesign PageMaker FrameMaker
What about free software?
With free software becoming more popular, can a designer use “open source software” (OSS) instead of spending thousands of dollars? Only if you don’t need to share files with other users and don’t mind some missing features. OpenOffice, Scribus, and GIMP are all good applications, but you cannot always share files — which is essential when you might need commercial printing services. For some tasks, free software is fine, so it never hurts to experiment. You might save some money.

Our Criteria

Our first choices support color separations. The ability to take a document to a professional printer is essential in our work. Also, each of the favorites is easily configured to our tastes. We do not want to have to change rulers every time we start a program.

Business Cards

For business cards, Corel Draw’s ability to print multiple copies of a design on one page makes it ideal. The print shops we work with can print sheets of cards from our Corel Draw output, since several local shops use Corel products on Windows.


As proof that no product leads forever, until Adobe shipped InDesign, nothing could compete with Quark XPress for newsletters, newspapers, and magazines. With a frame-based approach to design, XPress debuted just as major publications were adopting modular layouts. Most publication art departments we have encountered use (or used) Quark XPress.


We selected Publisher for brochures because it is almost like a smaller brother of XPress. Microsoft has taken ease of use and power and made it available for the masses. Serif’s PagePlus is another great, easy-to-use alternative to the “professional” (expensive) tools. The only reason we don’t suggest PagePlus for more documents is that the program is not wide-spread among commercial printers. Then again, if you really love it, offer to buy your print shop a copy – it’s cheaper to buy two copies than one copy of many of the other packages.


Books and manuals are the domain of Adobe’s FrameMaker and Corel’s Ventura Publisher. Designed for long technical documents, FrameMaker runs on almost every major computer system in use today. There are Mac, Windows, and Unix versions of the software. (Though only the Windows and Linux versions are likely to be sold in the future.) Long documents, especially those broken into smaller pieces for team writing, are easy to maintain using FrameMaker.

This book was initially created using Microsoft Word because we’re cheap. Actually, for one person, using a word processor to create a book makes sense. However – and this is a big point – Word does not support color separations directly. To publish this book using color, Adobe Acrobat Distiller, PageMaker, or FrameMaker becomes necessary.


Finally, we recognize Corel’s Ventura Publisher for its one real strength. Ventura can handle databases, such as catalogs price lists, with ease. We have yet to fall in love with Ventura, however.

Create a Layout

Having selected a tool, you are ready to ties things together. We realize that we have discussed the layout creation process in great detail, so we’ll keep this section brief.

Create a Grid

Read the chapter on grids and either create one or load one you’ve stored for reuse. Never work without a grid – not even for a flyer. While you might choose to completely ignore the grid, you never know what patterns it might reveal.

Anchors Away

The first objects to place on a layout sheet are rules, lines, and permanent frames. These elements are known as anchors. Anchors form the skeleton of a layout.

Designers have names for various anchors, such as braces, supports, and poles. We won’t bother defining the terms, which refer to page positions. Just remember to place anchors, those elements that are consistent from document to document, first.

This Space Reserved

After the anchors are in place, create empty frame for text and graphic elements. In programs that are not frame-based, reserve blank space for text elements that will eventually be placed on the page.

Do not place text on the page. Graphic elements naturally attract more attention. For this reason, we place graphic elements before text.

Size Up Graphics

Having cropped and stored images for your layout, they are easily placed within frames. Unless your luck is better than ours – which wouldn’t take much – you need to further adjust graphical elements once they are in a layout.

Most layout software accommodates simple scaling and cropping. If you find extensive corrections are necessary, load the image in a program tailored to the image type and make the changes there.

It requires a great deal of computing power to alter an image in a layout program. Editing the image in another program and re-saving the file reduces the burden on the layout software.

Paste-Up the Pieces

With text frames in place and graphics on the paste-up board, it is time to import the text. Text is poured or placed into text frames. Usually, you click a mouse button while pointing to the middle of the frame. A dialog box requests the text file’s name. Magically, the text appears in the frame.

Frames and columns too small to accommodate all the text spill over their limits. Layout programs indicate this with symbols. You then select another frame and the text continues to flow. Yes, the terminology is all wet.

Print Proofs

A layout appearing to be perfect on screen may not be. Always print a copy of every page before you relax. No matter what they say, what you see is not necessarily what you get.


In school you were taught to always create a rough draft of documents. Few of us actually did, but with business publications it is essential. In the printing world, any document printed expressly for editing is known as a proof. A final proof is sometimes called a galley. Galleys closely resemble the proposed final document.

Do Not Read

Study your completed layout from a distance. Do not read it. Consider the visual flow. What looked good as a dummy may be horrendous as a proof. Look for the following problems:

  • Gray matter – pages with too much small text.
  • White holes – white space that draws too much attention or makes the page look incomplete.
  • Black blobs – graphic elements appearing too dark.
  • Lack of balance – graphic elements all on one side of the page.
  • No soul – pages that seem to lack creativity or style.

Correct any major problems now, before the world sees them. There’s no need to study the page further – your audience wouldn’t. You might have to start from a new dummy to fix terrible results.

O.K., Read

Once you have a layout that looks good visually, read and re-read the content. Check every word, sentence, and paragraph. A lot of designers forget to check the little things, like captions, bylines, and credits. The person who took a photo or wrote a story might want to send a copy to Mom.

Deliver to Press

After all the work and effort of creating a layout, it’s about to be out of your hands. Large jobs and most color publications need professional care.

Good Impressions

Locate a print shop other designers and publishers use. If a print shop handles a large amount of commercial work, then you can probably trust them with your projects. We do not recommend printing chains.

Real print shops use complex presses, have graphic artists on staff, and know a pica from a pea. Chains use photocopiers and poorly maintained presses. Ask to see the equipment and examples of recent print runs.

When the printer calls with the good news, rush right over and check the results. If there is anything wrong, ask for a reprint. Printing presses are not perfect, but most print shops monitor jobs as they print.

Review Your Work

Let a few days pass after your document reaches its audience. Then, ask some readers what they liked about the look and feel of the publication. Do not defend the layout – listen carefully.

Let some more time pass. Finally, sit down with a beverage, relaxing music in the CD player, and review your own work. Be cruel, but not unreasonable.

You are now an in-house designer.


Sites Linked to Here…

Writer: C. S. Wyatt
Updated: 21-Oct-2017
Editor: S. D. Schnelbach