Woman Reading MagazineAs a whole, the magazine publishing industry covers just about every kind of topic conceivable. Literally. If you can think it up, there’s probably a niche magazine that specializes in it. Among such eccentric titles are Practical Sheep, Goats and Alpacas, Portable Restroom Operator, Miniature Donkey Talk and yes, the unforgettable Girls and Corpses (I kid you not — and this is just a small sampling).

But hey, who am I to judge? The beauty of niche magazine publishing is being able to create a readership around a common interest, however “interesting” that subject may be.

Here at Picante we’ve created magazine designs across a wide variety of subject matter over the years: family and women’s lifestyle magazines, bridal magazines, car-enthusiast magazines, hospital magazines, biker magazines, hip-hip magazines, trade journals, eco-friendly lifestyle magazines, teen magazines, local-interest magazines, travel magazines, and much more. And when it comes to developing designs for such a broad range of topics, we’ve found that a few general guidelines apply to all of them — and to laying the groundwork for success with any publication.

Start by Developing Unique, Professional, High-Value Content

With so much competition in the media marketplace these days, from blogs to news aggregators to print magazines and countless other sources, consistently producing content that is unique, compelling and valued by your readers is essential. No matter the topic, intriguing articles and commentary make up the foundation on which a magazine is built, and astute publishers are always on the lookout for editorial insight and visual content that no one else can provide.

As a side note, whether you’re outsourcing your editorial copy or writing your own, it’s a really good idea to hire a copyeditor or proofreader to ensure that your content is grammatically correct and has an even stylistic feel and flow throughout the magazine. You’re publishing your magazine presumably because you hope to serve as an authority on your chosen area of focus, and you probably won’t come across as very credible if your readers find themselves grimacing over sloppy writing.

Choose a Solid, Experienced Magazine Designer

Once your editorial content is under way, it’s time to tackle the design, which every bit as important to your impact with readers as the editorial, and another area in which you don’t want to cut corners. So be sure to interview potential magazine designers thoroughly and ask the right questions — doing proper due diligence here can make a world of difference to your entire venture going forward. If you don’t end up working with an experienced, versatile, flexible magazine designer (which is really a subspecialty within the graphic design field), that will most likely come through loud and clear in the final product. Remember: You’re competing for the attention of your audience with a staggering array of online and offline media options, so choosing your magazine design team hastily will likely put you at an immediate disadvantage, no matter how valuable or authoritative your content may be.

Define Your Audience, Connect With Readers

An effective magazine design incorporates certain assumptions about its readership into the design, so when you start to think about your magazine’s desired look and feel, first you need to figure out just who your readers will be. At Picante, talking with our clients to determine the right stylistic fit for each publication’s unique audience is a key early step in the design process (in fact, this conversation always takes place before any kind of actual design work begins). Design possibilities are virtually limitless: Some publications may have a bolder, rougher, edgier feel, while for others a softer, lighter, gentler design approach will be more appropriate — and you definitely want the intended audience to connect and identify with the design as quickly as possible. Readers of a magazine about, say, body piercing trends most likely aren’t going to identify with a design that looks like it was meant for knitting enthusiasts (and vice versa). You want readers to feel comfortable with your magazine’s look and feel immediately, whatever the topic is.

And just as bad as a design that fails to speak to the audience’s predispositions and tastes is a design that comes across as generic, predictable and flat. Far too many publications these days, it seems, (particularly smaller niche publications) look much the same as one another and project a bland, lifeless feel. This problem is entirely solvable, but you need the right designer to help lead you down the path toward a look and feel that will resonate. Even if you’re trying to appeal to a broad spectrum of the population and can’t get too edgy with the design, you want readers to remember your magazine and look forward to each new issue. Properly developed, a design should be visually appealing, fresh, engaging and readable — for any intended audience.

Make Use of Striking Photography and Illustration

The quality of photography in a magazine is so important that we created an entire post on the subject, so be sure to give it a read. For the purposes of this discussion, however, you should be aware of the central role that great photography can play in a winning magazine design. Avoid taking “quickie” shots with your smartphone and shooting in dimly lit environments, as poor photography likely will overpower an otherwise gorgeous design. If you need to, hire a skilled professional for important photo shoots, and make intelligent use of the vast inventories of excellent and very affordable stock photography and illustration available on the market. Photography should support and enhance the design, helping to bring the magazine to life, rather than working against and devaluing the overall presentation.

Ensure the Quality Control of the Final Publication

Even when the design and layout of a magazine are seemingly completed, the production process isn’t over yet. For digital and printed magazines, at Picante we always put the file through an additional series of thorough checks to help ensure that the issue is truly ready for your readers. Known collectively as “prepress,” these checks consist of about 20 different, detailed procedures that iron out the final wrinkles, so to speak, and enable us to deliver immaculate files to the printer or digital magazine outlet. Going through these extra steps allows us to deliver world-class products, issue after issue, and helps us maintain exceptionally high quality standards for all the magazines we produce. Sloppy production will be noticed by your readers — and this is definitely a step you don’t want your magazine designer to take lightly.

Magazine Design Case Studies

The following three brief case studies illustrate many of the concepts discussed above and demonstrate some of the design techniques used to help target different publications toward varying reader bases. Be sure to take a look at some of the sample spreads from each magazine.

Eco-friendly Lifestyle and Home Design Magazine: Energy of the City

A major Washington, DC-area utility company hired Picante to design a lifestyle magazine that would serve as a great read and also help promote the benefits of environmentally friendly living. Targeted readership was mainly area residents, with copies of the magazine distributed at Metro stations around the city, as well as retail locations related to home design and renovation. The desired design sensibility was an elegant, upscale feel that would grab readers immediately — so richly styled, in fact, that the magazine would become somewhat of a coffee-table showpiece. The client provided scores of rich, beautiful photographs (professionally taken) to act as centerpieces for stories about residential and neighborhood topics, and our job was to pull everything together into vivid, striking layouts. Along with the large-format photos, sophisticated design elements and typefaces set the tone, and ample use of whitespace (an important factor for editors when determining word counts for articles) give the layouts plenty of room to breathe. Picante has been designing Energy of the City Magazine annually since 2008, and it’s always a fun, fulfilling project to work on.

Energy of the City magazine design
Click here for a slideshow of samples from Energy of the City Magazine.

Car-Enthusiast Magazine: Modern Mopar

A magazine by car fanatics, for car fanatics, Modern Mopar is truly targeted to the gearhead demographic and is a feast for the senses. Design elements, color palettes and layouts tend to be bolder, brighter and grittier, emphasizing a sense of power and toughness throughout each issue. Once again, the client regularly provides us with lots of rich, professional photography to design with, which makes a huge difference in the look, feel and authenticity of the final product (almost no stock imagery is used here). The magazine’s high-energy persona also allows us to experiment with some much less traditional typefaces. We’ve been producing issues of Modern Mopar since 2011, and it’s a genuine pleasure to design and produce for car lovers out there.

Modern Mopar Magazine design
Click here for a slideshow of samples from Modern Mopar Magazine.

Nonprofit Charitable Organization Magazine: OUTREACH

A nonprofit organization that does amazing work to help eradicate extreme poverty around the globe, Outreach International produces a magazine to share stories with donors and profile some of the real people who benefit from the group’s diligent efforts. The entire design mindset is obviously quite different in this magazine from something like the two publications described above. Large-format photography still plays a big role in communicating the stories of the people Outreach strives to help, but the photos by and large don’t have the same polished feel — a choice that was very much intentional. The imagery, color palette, typefaces and design elements all lend to a more earthy, natural, modest sensibility. Everything is meant to feel accessible, tangible and real, in an effort to create an emotional connection between the reader and the subject. (We’ve also designed annual reports for Outreach, with much the same ideas in mind.)

OUTREACH Magazine design
Click here for a slideshow of samples from OUTREACH Magazine.

So no matter what your niche magazine topic may be, get your publication off to a strong start — or rethink your existing magazine — by developing a design that pulls your audience in and forms meaningful, lasting connections with readers.

Have questions about developing your magazine design? Feel free to leave us a comment below, call us at 1.877.296.3181 or send us a message.