Light Bulb Moment
Adviser and staff change the way their yearbook takes shape.
His light bulb moment happened in church.
Willamette University’s Cone Chapel to be exact. That was the site for Yearbooks Northwest’s 2015 opening session, and where adviser Chris Wells had a revelation.
“Sitting at Willamette — it was the first camp we’d ever attended — we saw these blue boxes and pink things on the screen. It was revolutionary. We realized, ‘This is what we want to do,’” the Cottage Grove High School dean of students and yearbook adviser said. “We wanted to cover all these things, get all these kids in the book and still have the book be beautiful.”
Those blue boxes and pink things are a part of Herff Jones’ Square One™ approach to space allocation and page production modeled after how professional publication designers work. Yearbooks Northwest is one of the Pacific Northwest’s top workshops, and it turns out, was a perfect testing ground, among others around the country, for the pilot.
“Until we switched to work with Herff Jones in 2014, our process was ‘Let’s make stuff look interesting. We like this. We like that.’ We had no rhyme or reason. We had no template for how to make things look cohesive,” the Oregon adviser said.
Seeing Square One™ for only minutes, Wells said he watched his staff members have light bulb moments.
“It was clear. It was design with purpose. It set us on our way.”
Wells and his Lion Tracks staff members produced their 2016 book as part of the Square One™ pilot group, and while they always had natural strengths in coverage, these before-and-after images show the staff’s progression to more refined scale, space use and all-important coverage or more students.
“As a teacher, it made my life easier,” he said. “We can snap spreads together. The approach lets me be more efficient with my time, and the kids are more attentive to their duties. For the designers, for instance, it made it so we didn’t have to think about it. Back in the day (meaning, oh, before May 1, 2017) we had to over think every decision, each spread started almost from scratch. Now, it has become part of our DNA. It’s just what we do.”
2016 LAYOUTS WITH SQUARE ONE™
Wells and his staff already had a well-developed workflow, which was only enhanced by the logical, “real-world” adoption of Square One™ and its modern, grid-based approach to formatting spreads.
“We follow our own set of principles creating modules,” he said. “Save it. Drop it in. Rotate it. Flip it. Once you get something going it just becomes a game of shapes. At first, we were nervous about reusing something. Then, at camp, we saw how leading yearbook staffs and the top magazine designers artfully repurpose to create consistency. As long as the mods are on different pages, it still looks good.”
If you’re worried the approach is hard to learn or takes too much time, don’t be Wells said.
“This is the first year I have four designers. When it finally clicks, one can show the other and say ‘Hey, let’s work together.’ They are able to carry things through because they work together and follow the same principles. Three of the four had never used eDesign before, and three weeks into school they are collaborating and making these beautiful spreads. It’s that simple — if you follow your principles.”
And at Cottage Grove, those principles are clearly outlined.
“We are in our third week of school. We had a week of writing, a week of photo — all my kids have to be able to shoot, write captions, upload and tag images. Now we are into design. It was so quick. Instead of design grinding out over months, I have inexperienced designers churning out pages within a week of actual training.
“The separators are key,” he said referring to the pink strips of paper in Herff Jones’ industry exclusive hands-on packet, and to the pink pop-ins in eDesign and InDesign libraries so named after the graphic design premise of having “separation space” between elements. Separators separate.
“The kids see the spacing, and it’s so nice,” he said. “Then, they just drop modules in. It’s been incredibly quick. It’s always been my goal to get me out of driving the design process, and this is the first year the kids are confident enough to drive it. Finally, I have the inverted pyramid staff structure we hear about at Yearbooks Northwest where the kids are focused on creating that meaningful content, feeding that to leaders, editors and designers and then it comes to me to review before they submit. Square One™ has set all that in motion.”
Lion Tracks staff members design their own modules, sometimes using one from more than 500 supplied examples as their starting points.
“We have come to the conclusion it’s a book done faster, so we can focus on turning zeros on the coverage report to ones. It’s super fast to use the modules and to teach the kids how to create their own following the design principles we’ve learned. I see a lot of original stuff this year, now that they are more confident. We are varying from overly modular (or “digest”) spreads to intentional feature spreads leading into sections. But, our rules still hold true. The separation space between copy packages and dominants, for instance.
“They had no place to start before,” he said. “This gives us that. They see it right away. They reach decisions and regenerate existing ideas to fit the modular spaces. Again, it’s revolutionary. I can have a ‘legit’ staff where the kids can just go get ‘em. I can advise. One of the most foreign things was always setting up all the different components of a page. To have all that at your fingertips gives us time to focus on getting photos and stories. We don’t have to spend late nights trying to get what we want.”
Following their hearts to have an impact on their community, staffers have seen their yearbook can be an instrument for social change by telling more students’ stories and including more student voices — making students feel included, important and heard.
“The best thing I realized is Square One™ let us create more than a yearbook,” Wells said. “My staff is now showing kids at our school they matter. It’s bringing kids into feeling a part of the school.”
Chris Wells is in his fifth year advising the Lion Tracks yearbook at Cottage Grove High School in Cottage Grove, OR, where he also teaches graphic design and serves as dean of students. He took over the school’s print media program in 2013, his first experience with yearbook since graduating as the yearbook editor in 1999. A graduate of the University of Oregon with a degree in philosophy, Chris’ pastime has been graphic design and digital illustration for the last 15 years.
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