Donna Manfull, Retired Adviser from Washington High School & Jostens Associate, Washington, Iowa

Photography, Design, Graphics

“I think it’s very important for anyone who is advising high school newspapers and/or yearbooks to take a basic class in design or a course that addresses design elements. It’s the best investment you can make if you are going to deal with all that comes up in layout design,” Manfull said. Very true. I also think that practice is essential. In order to teach anything, you must have experience using it. Right now we do our book online through Josten’s Yearbook Avenue. It is incredibly user friendly, and thankfully I have very talented editorial staff that I learn from every day, but I still have to experiment with layouts and putting together spreads so I can better help and advise my students. You have to learn the technology first before you can effectively teach it–that’s my philosophy. I also took a couple courses over the summer with Jack Kennedy which was incredibly helpful with design, not to mention the wealth of information I am getting from this project. Truth be told, design is an area that I want to improve upon, and thus, I am planning to take a workshop course this summer to help improve my skills in this area.

“Once you have the basics (and they don’t change: good design is good design), you have a zillion resources out there from magazines to Hallmark cards to advertisements to college handbooks to movie posters, etc. with great (and awful) visual examples to choose from. You then take those that you like, borrow a concept, adapt it for your needs and go from there. The importance of the design class come when the kids come in with something that is terrible for a variety of reasons,” she said. “You usually can’t just say, ‘That is terrible,’ and get them to say, ‘Oh, yes, you are right.’ But if you say, ‘What is it you really like about this? Let’s look at this from a good design standpoint. Is it really good design? Could we take the concept that you like and revamp it so it better fits with our theme and style?’ Without knowing basic design rules and teaching them to our students, it’s hard to do that. Everything becomes a battle,” she said. I agree with this wholeheartedly. How can any adviser critique, provide suggestions for improvement, or see the positive in a student’s spread without having a firm understanding of the design rule.

Design Principles

by Idea File Staff from Walsworth
Posted in: Design


  • all elements need to be balanced
  • each page element has its own weight
  • horizontal vs. vertical
  • formal vs. informal
  • modules are your friends


  • contrasting element weights, type form
  • avoid too much gray


  • place the most important elements in the most prominent positions
  • be sure to have a dominant photo-center of visual interest


  • stick with rectangles-no squares
  • all pages should be unified through type, design style
  • form always follows function


  • your computer is a tool-not a toy. Remember, the motivation behind strong design is readability

Design Checklist

  • The spread contains photos, captions for all photos, copy and a headline
  • Elements are placed within a column format, observing column lines
  • The two facing pages are linked into a single unit by an eyeline
  • The reader is guided across the spread by real or implied lines
  • There is a dominant photo that is 2 to 2 1/2 times larger than others on the page
  • The other photos in a variety of sizes repeat and contrast the shape of the dominant
  • Photos are bled with purpose and direction, no more than one on each margin
  • Consistent external margins are maintained and are defined with at least one element touching
  • Consistent internal spacing of 1 pica is used with larger amounts of white space to the outside
  • Copy blocks and accompanying headlines are planned as solid rectangular units
  • Captions touch the photos to which they refer and are placed to the outside
  • No more than two captions are stacked or grouped together
  • Any graphic technique enhances the content and does not merely call attention to itself       What I look for in a spread:


Spread follows columns/grids

Spread has a dominant and secondary element

Spread uses elements of design well

Spread has an eyeline and/or unifying elements

Color is meaningful and used appropriately

Space is used effectively; no trapped white space


Spread uses technically superior photographs

Subjects in the photos face gutter (middle)

Photos are cropped to reflect the subject

No posed photos are used

All photographs have captions and photo credits

All necessary photos are indexed


Captions/stories are anecdotal in nature

Captions/stories use strong, interesting quotes

Captions/stories use inviting leads

Captions/stories use descriptive nouns and action verbs

Captions/stories use active voice and present tense

All copy contains correctly spelled names

All copy is edited for grammar errors & misspellings

Copy follows font size and type guidelines

“You definitely want a balance[design, writing, photography]. Our whole aim is to tell the story of the year. You can do that somewhat in photos, but photos alone raise as many questions as they answer. You can do that somewhat in writing, but no one is going read a full book of body copy without visuals. Remember: A photo without a caption is like watching TV with no sound. A book without photos would be like having the TV on with your eyes closed,” Manfull said. I spend a lot of time working on writing with my students, I introduce them to the famed 300-word feature writer Brady Dennis, and have them practice writing anecdotal captions. We know that time is of the essence for any reader, so short pieces are better and when you can provide alternatives to text in the form of infographs, stat boxes, and captions, the better. But words are the only items in yearbook that tell a story, so does the photography, which is equally as important. You want to capture the moment, and the emotion in that moment to accurately tell the story, and this is how I teach photography.

“As for white space, it is always your friend — if used properly. The thing is a page with too much on it is just as bad as one without enough on it. Balance is very important. Trapped white space is bad. The eye, however, is drawn to white; so used effectively it can be a powerful tool. Even increasing leading in body copy will insure stories get read more often and easier,” she said.

What do we want people to know about yearbook that should come through with each and every page:

a) this is hard work

b) we have lots of fun

c) we won awards

d) we met all our deadlines

e) we set a new record for ad AND book sales

f) six of our staff have been on three years.

Using online spaces for yearbook

“…With kids posting everything on Facebook today and seemingly have no regard for what it means to have something ‘out there’ forever, I think it’s harder for yearbook advisers to be the voice of reason to say, ‘This isn’t really appropriate for a high school yearbook.’ It becomes a real teaching moment. And, I’m sure another stress point,” she said. Manfull raises a good point, and this is something that I am struggling with, with my staff right now. Deciding what to use on our Facebook fan and group page has been a real dilemma, one that we are still hashing out the details to. Students want to do a preview of the yearbook and its content, especially to help build excitement about our theme, but we are having a hard time deciding what is appropriate to use to help promote our book without giving anything away.

“I think it’s hard sometimes in the ‘heat of battle’ of creating the book and meeting deadlines and getting work done to remember always our lofty goals when we first set out in the fall to create something wonderful for our school. How we succeed in our isn’t always evaluated — we hear more about misspelled names, someone left out, someone in too much, unfortunate photo choice that somehow got by us, “humor” that went bad with the general public, etc. All the complaints,” she said. I remember coming into this position, as we are a spring delivery book, just as the new book arrived. It was almost every day once that book hit the hallways, that one of my students came up to me extremely upset because another student had approached them about a misspelling, or some other inaccuracy. I tried to be as positive as possible, but it was heartbreaking to watch this happen. Being a journalist myself, I know how quick the audience is to point out mistakes and so I told them that we are all human, and that we all make mistakes and now we knew what we were going to work on this year, but I know that next year once this book comes out I will hold my breath while the scrutiny of each and every page begins.

How do all the best sellers get their products sold?

“They let people know what they are getting. Look at all the infomercials on TV. They tell you EVERYTHING. You don’t have to tell kids EVERYTHING, but I think it’s great when you have all kind of organized ‘leaks’ to the public so they can say, ‘Wow. I really want a yearbook this year. They’ve got some cool things going in it,'” Manfull said. I couldn’t agree more, and right now my staff and I are trying to tease the entire student body by giving them glimpses of the yearbook. Our theme this year INSIDE THE STRIP, a comic book theme, and we have been promoting this theme through Facebook and fundraising. Just last Friday we had our Superhero Day, where students and staff had the opportunity to dress up like their favorite superheroes to promote the yearbook and staff. It was a great turn out that got a lot of attention. Now, my staff is using Facebook to highlight some of the photos they took of students in their superhero costumes, and the staff will vote on the best picture. The winner will get $10 off their yearbook. I thought this was a great cross promotional idea that went over quite nicely.

Manfull says it best when she says: “Yearbook is not for the faint-hearted, irresponsible, or disorganized — although we seem to get our share of them on our staffs. The key word is ‘dedicated.'”


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