Creating a Magazine Prototype - Illustration by Marina LindermanIt’s More Than Just Layout

Many who are starting a new magazine move too quickly into the creative phase. I suspect this is the case because most people who have the desire to launch a magazine are somewhat visual people. They get excited and want to see their ideas come to life. Something they can show their friends and hold in their hands.

Just like almost all business endeavors, proper planning, research and strategy should be completed before moving to the fun stuff. If you have addressed the long list of items I mentioned in my article “How to Start a Magazine,” you might be ready to begin the design process.

Start with defining the goals and uses for the prototype. Is it to acquire funding for the magazine launch? Or for your ad sales representative to sell ad space in the first issue?
Once you have defined the purpose of the prototype, it will help you determine what content it should hold and how many copies you will need to produce.

For either of the previously mentioned purposes, I feel it is important to make the prototype as representative as possible of the real magazine being proposed. To do this, it will be critical that you have a defined content strategy for the new magazine. Understanding the structure of your new publication and the kind of content you will feature will provide the foundation on which to build an appropriately designed prototype.

As you work through the creative process, think about the editorial content and imagery. Where will it come from, and should you use real articles?

Our recommendation is to pull together a sampling of real content that might appear in the actual magazine. The table of contents should be a full issue’s listing with real headlines and abstracts. This will give the potential investor or advertiser a clear understanding of the direction the magazine will take. On the rest of the pages, we recommend creating real content for all main entry points, at least — for example, use actual headlines, pull quotes and introductory paragraphs, if not full articles. Show examples of your ad sizes and how they would work with the editorial, even if they are just gray boxes in the layout.

Imagery is a critical element in and of itself to showcase in the prototype. The photography and/or illustration that appears will play a large part in establishing the look and feel of the publication. Use images that are of the quality your readers should expect. Use conceptual approaches if that will be the tone of the magazine.

With these goals in mind, you should be ready to determine how your content will take shape on the page. Your finished prototype will be an important investment, so it is equally important to spend the appropriate amount of time and money to develop a strong, well-defined design with appropriately targeted content. If done right, the design should still be effective long after the launch of the magazine. Redesign should not be planned within the first couple of years at least.

I would suggest requesting at least three design concepts to choose from before building out the entire prototype. The presentation should include the logo (also known as masthead or nameplate), cover, table of contents and several other types of pages in the magazine, such as department samples and feature spreads. The idea is to see a breadth of pages to determine how the brand, structure and style should be applied across the magazine. Once you have chosen a design comp that you are comfortable with, you will be ready to build out the remaining pages of the prototype. Add some hard work, a great team and solid content, and you are on your way to launching your new magazine.

This may sound like a lot of work for a prototype. It is. However, if you cannot produce a good sampling of the magazine concept in this initial stage, you may never be able to make it a reality and keep it going. There is a lot to be learned from going through this process. Find an experienced, creative designer who is familiar with publishing to lead you through the process, help you ask the right questions, and seek the resources to fill in any gaps you may have along the way.

Many of you may be starting an online magazine. Some of these philosophies and processes are the same. Look for us to address that topic in a future post.

As you chart your course for launching a magazine, be strategic in your thinking and innovative with your design and content. Only the best will survive.