Student Magazine Crit

Hi guys!

I design for a business student magazine that puts out monthly issues. We print the magazine and also put it online (

The designers on the magazine aren’t design students and have minimal designing training/knowledge. So we just wanted some feedback/critiques/advice on the designs! (don’t worry I got everyone’s permission to do this) We want to improve our designing and make the magazine look more professional.

Please look at our newest issues:

Another thing, is that we usually just design our own articles without following any guidelines. This sometimes makes the magazine look “all over the place.” I was wondering if it would be better if we followed a template for each design so they would all flow together.

thanks! we really appreciate it!

  • Melania

You recognize the core problem. Everyone designs their own thing and no one is following set layout styles. It does look all over the place. Branding is about consistency, and if you don’t have consistency your brand doesn’t have value.

Work in Indesign. Become familiar with templates, master pages, paragraph styles and character styles. Research magazine and newsletter style guides. Good magazines have rule books for how they are supposed to be written and designed. That way when you have staff turnover, it doesn’t throw the publication into chaos. The next team picks up the style guide and they have clear rules for how it should and shouldn’t be built.

What are you really trying to accomplish with the magazine? It looks like Xerox underwrites it, but you have a hard time coming up with enough content to fill all the pages. Where are the photos? Everything is the basic headshot/person standing in front of wall genre. The photos don’t show any thought going into them. You can reveal more to your audience by shooting ‘environmental portraiture’.

In the working world, writers don’t get credit for every little paragraph they write. Crediting the layout of every article, especially when there is nothing really distinctive about design, makes the publication look amateurish. Designers can be mentioned on the staff page, but identifying them on every page they do is excessive.

Is there any reason why you don’t have design students on staff? Does your school have any design classes that you could talk to?

If they had design students do it, it wouldn’t be “for business students, by business students” in the strictest sense of the term. But business students who don’t recognize the need for good, professional design are limited in their sense of what’s important to “business.”

The content can still be by business students, for business students, while being designed by others.

I’m sure you’ve heard the old maxim about form following function, so what is the purpose (or function) of this magazine?

After skimming through, it seems to be associated with a university college of business, right? Is the magazine part of a business class or program? Are the participants undergraduates or are they graduate students working on MBAs? Are they getting business school credit? Is writing the articles and designing the layouts associated with classwork? Is someone grading or evaluating the students’ work? If so, who? What expertise do they have in writing, editing, design and publishing? What criteria are they using to grade the work? Without a professional editor and designer on staff, who’s the expert guiding the students? You seem to have described something of a free-for-all.

Given that it’s a student publication involving business students, what are the students supposed to be learning from their participation? Are they learning how to write marketing copy? Are they learning how to think through and write down business concepts? Are they learning the value of good design as it relates to business and good marketing?

You’ve asked us specifically about the design of the publication. But with the concept of form following function in mind, the design should stem directly from the purpose of the magazine, and I’m not so sure that purpose has been clearly defined — at least to us.

At the risk of heading off on an unwelcome tangent, working with recent MBA graduates can be a pain in the butt. I’m generalizing for simplicity’s sake, but they tend to be over-confident in their abilities regarding things they know little about. They take a wide range of classes in various things that touch upon the basics, then graduate thinking they’ve mastered subjects in which they’ve barely scratched the surface. In other words, they’ve learned just enough to be dangerous.

So how does that observation relate to your magazine? Well, you asked whether or not the magazine should have a consistent design? Do you not have an actual designer advising this group to ask — as in someone with experience and a degree in publication design (My MFA is in publication design)?

Likewise, do you have advisers with relevant (non-business) degrees in writing, editing, communication, journalism and photography — publishing professionals with experience? Maybe you do. I don’t know, but I do know that without these people, it’s amateurs leading amateurs with little being learned.

I don’t want to criticize a student publication too harshly. Business students aren’t expected to be great writers, editors, photographers or designers. So with that caveat in mind, the magazine’s writing isn’t great. There are lots of run-on sentences, looping paragraphs, awkward phrases, misplaced punctuation and other oddities. The photography lacks imagination, isn’t engaging and seems to be mostly ignored or perfunctory at best. The layout, as you mentioned, is all over the place with little consistency (generally a bad approach unless it’s done intentionally with a well-thought-our rationale behind it).

So back to where I started, what is the purpose of this magazine? The answer to this question should underlie and guide the magazine’s design (as well as its content). If it’s a learning exercise for the participants, what are they learning and from whom? Are they learning from experts in the field that publishing a magazine is hard work that takes lots of talent, expertise and specialization? Or are they just picking up unwarranted confidence through an amateur publishing project? Or maybe I’ve missed the entire point and inferred a bunch of stuff that isn’t the case in this situation? If so, it’s not the first time. :wink:

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The first thing I’d develop for your magazine is a visual style guide. This is a set of guidelines that help to shape the structure of the visuals and layout so the magazine will feel more cohesive. I would consider having an outside designer create this for your team.

Once the style guide is created, your team can continue to design their layouts, but they should be more restricted in how different they appear. This will help with keeping consistent margins, colors, and typography, regardless of who is doing the page layout.

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