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Tips to demystify InDesign

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Student Magazine Front Cover

One of the main stumbling blocks to learning a professional software package is being overwhelmed by the interface. There are so many extra features that even an expert can struggle to use them all.

However, you do not need to know a lot of the tools to create a professional product. InDesign makes it easy to create interactive or print magazines with limited knowledge. If your aim is to create a magazine, brochure or eBook then you can start with a few tools and return to the program later to learn the remaining tools if needed.

I teach media students how to design and create magazines and have included the following steps as a guide.


  1. The most important aspect in creating a document is understanding your target audience – who do you expect to read your magazine and how will the design, layout and content appeal to them? This is the first task I set my media students. One particular student wanted to create a magazine based on the popular Franke for an under 25 audience. Another student believed there was an opening for combining gaming and music, whilst another wanted to focus upon the stories of musicians living and working in an isolated community.
  2.  Pre-planning solves a lot of time-wasting and it is really important to view a range of magazines both online and in print to help define a style. I ask my students to answer questions including:
  • What color schemes, photography and typography captured their attention?
  • How were pictures displayed on a page?  Did the image fill half a page,  full page or a thumbnail size?
  • How did the typography add to the design of the magazine?
  • How did the images fit the story?
  • What use is made of white space?

I ask my students to keep a visual diary to record their thoughts about various magazines. They can then refer back to designs that they liked or inspired them as well as use them as a reference to imitate.

Story Angle
Once they have selected a style for their magazine they then think of the articles. What sort of angle are they going to take about a particular subject? How many interviews do they need to conduct? Who is to be featured in the article?

Once all of these tasks are completed the students only need to use a few tools in InDesign to create a magazine. Their time is limited and there is no point learning all the software to complete their major folio piece.

The Tools
Here are my suggestions for the main tools that you need to create a professional looking magazine.

Fonts: most magazines might use decorative fonts for headings but the bulk of the writing will be in something readable.  Minion Pro is one of the best fonts as it is easy to read and contrasts smoothly with more extravagant headings and captions. Don’t over-font your magazine as it can look untidy and amateurish. Keep it simple.

Word Wrap: This tool is used to wrap words around images. This is a great tool to give your layout some visual interest.

Design Tips

  • Use Captions and Quotes
  • Use original quality images
  • Understand how to use text flow. This is the crux of InDesign and it is very simple but does confuse a beginner. Learn how to break text flows as well as there are times you don’t want the text to automatically flow over the page or another column.
  • Use the fitting command to make slight size changes to images (do most of the formatting and resizing in Photoshop or similar image manipulation program)
  • Use Master Pages so you can insert page numbers and the magazine title so that it appears in the same place on every page.

That’s all you need to get you started.  I suggest becoming familiar with more of the software if you wish to continue creating a variety of documents.

Remember: don’t be deterred by the interface, become familiar with the tools you need and then learn the rest at another stage. The main thing is to start creating a professional product and be encouraged by the result.

To view the full magazines you can go to this link

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Article Example

Related Post:
Indesign For Self Publishing (resources created by midlifexpress to get you started).

There are many resources for learning InDesign but I’ve found the ones listed below particularly helpful:
Adobe TV

Author: Sue Bell
Sue Bell is an entertainment writer and author of Backpacked: A mostly true story, Beat Street and When Dreamworks came to Stanley.

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