Articles > The visual voice in print and on screen

The visual voice in print and on screen

by Elizabeth Elsas Mandel
Elizabeth Elsas Mandel is a professor of graphic design at SCAD-Atlanta.

Savannah College of Art and Design

Central to the mission of Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) is preparing students for professional careers. In the graphic design department, we accomplish this by having strong foundational design courses, teaching the importance of research and critical thinking, teaching current and emerging technologies, and introducing students to industry leaders and experts. Publication Design, a senior-level elective in the Graphic Design Program of SCAD-Atlanta, aims to encompass all of these objectives. Through research projects and studio assignments, students learn how to synthesize content, structure, and design to create a magazine with a compelling and unique visual voice. In the past, the course focused only on print magazines, but I felt it was crucial to integrate a digital magazine assignment into the course. The class culminated with a presentation and critique from Eric Capossela, the award-winning Design Director from Atlanta Magazine.

Guest Presentation and Critique with Eric Capossela, Design Director of Atlanta Magazine

Projects and process

The 10-week class is divided into two main projects. The first is a research assignment in which students analyze the distinctive visual voice of an existing magazine. The second asks students to create a new magazine on a topic of their choosing. The deliverables of this original magazine include a logotype, a table of contents, three feature articles (five spreads each), three cover designs, and a proposal for a screen-based magazine. Students use Adobe® Creative Suite® throughout the term — InDesign® for layout; Illustrator for logo design, information graphics and illustrations; Photoshop® for image manipulation and digital-magazine mock-ups. The seamless integration of Adobe software makes it possible for students to successfully realize their creative vision.

Student work by: (clockwise from top left) Andrea Gill, L'Oreal Simmons, Kyler Johnson, Steven Walters, Deanna Denham, and Octavia Warren

Project 1: Researching a Visual Voice

To understand the elements that comprise a publication’s distinctive voice, students are asked to analyze the content, structure and design of an assigned magazine. This includes describing the demographics of the magazine’s audience, and elaborating on the way the publication reaches that audience through layout, pacing, imagery, color, typography, and materials. Students also examined how their magazine’s screen-based incarnation was (or wasn’t) enhanced by interactivity. For example, did the designers simply reproduce the print magazine on screen, or did they utilize digital capabilities such as video or user-generated content to add value to their publication?

Excerpt from an analysis of Readymade Magazine by Mark Ziemer

Then the students were given a studio assignment: to design the first two spreads of a feature article that would appear in the magazine they had analyzed. However, they were required to take the text for this feature from one of their classmate’s magazines. For this exercise (adapted from a project given by Jandos Rothstein at George Mason University), I forced odd combinations — for example, designing an article from W in the style of ESPN magazine. By putting their research into practice, students gained a greater appreciation of how numerous seemingly small design decisions create a unified visual voice that speaks to a target audience.

Opener spread of an article from Esquire in the style of Readymade by Mark Ziemer

Project 2: Creating a Visual Voice

Armed with the knowledge they gained from their research, students had eight weeks to design the print and digital versions of their original magazines. Since my background is primarily in print design, I worked in collaboration with Digital Design Professor Holly Quarzo to devise the assignment for non-print media. She emphasized that students should consider what platform is most appropriate to their magazine’s audience. Students could choose to propose a website or a smartphone or iPad app for the digital delivery for their content. The digital publishing informational resources available on the Adobe website were invaluable to the students as a way to understand the interactive and visual potential for digital magazines.

What follows are four examples of how different students approached the challenges of contemporary editorial design in print and digital form.

Nomad

Chia Yu Hsu designed “a magazine targeted towards traveling enthusiasts, backpackers, and people who have a taste for under-appreciated exotic locations.” Luckily for him, his photographer cousin recently returned from a trip to Thailand and Vietnam. Chia Yu proposed an iPad application of his magazine that featured interactive maps and augmented reality.

Net

Mark Ziemer designed Net, describing that it "goes beyond gadget reviews and machines to examine the personal side of personal technology. We are focused on how technological trends enhance our lives and the impact of new media on society." Appropriately, the core component of his iPad application proposal was a "social tray that displays live feeds from Facebook and Twitter and gives users the ability to share articles and opinions."

The Red

LaTiesha Caston’s music magazine The Red “strives to be a platform and voice for independent and unsigned artists across the southeast.” Her iPhone app and website proposal fittingly center on audio content and listings of concerts around the South.

Claw

The mission of Rebecca Lovinsquy’s magazine Claw “is to inspire artists by providing them with information on how to distribute and promote their work. It also is a forum for showcasing emerging and established artists.” She pushed the materiality of her magazine, experimenting with die cuts and tabs. Her digital magazines focused on providing information about upcoming exhibitions and events.

Real-world connection

In Atlanta we are fortunate to have an engaging and well-designed city magazine, and I was delighted that Atlanta Magazine’s Design Director Eric Capossela was able to be the guest critic for our final class. In addition to reviewing the students’ work, he gave an insightful presentation about the process of putting together the magazine each month. It was invaluable for the students to see a cover design evolve from a sketch to final design on the newsstands. He also discussed the future of magazines and gave an overview of how a number of periodicals are using new technology in innovative ways. Having a professional design director as the guest critic helped my students learn not only about real-world design challenges, but also about the scheduling, economic, and technological practicalities of publishing a magazine every month.

Conclusion

Teaching publication design is a challenge, for like many aspects of graphic design, magazines are a rapidly changing medium. By focusing the class on researching and creating a visual voice in print and on screen, I was able to guide the students on a path that led to some exceptional magazine design projects. Also, by staying connected to the professional world and using educational resources such as those available on adobe.com, SCAD is able to provide our students with the skills and knowledge that they need to thrive in their professional careers.


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