Yearbook Design Ideas

I’m pretty sure that, while I consider myself to be creative, I’ve probably never had an idea that somebody else hadn’t thought of first.

In terms of almost everything in the world (except maybe technology) there are no more original ideas. There are just reenactments of old ideas with a new generation as the audience.

Movie themes…  what’s new there? Fashion… how many times will we repeat plaid? Or bell bottoms?

One of the most unique things I ever did was when I began to create customized photo collages for parents of athletes. Even this was not my original idea, though. A parent suggested it.

It was truly a success for several years until a few other local photographers mastered Photoshop to enough of a degree that they could copy my idea. But the main point here is that it was not my idea in the first place!

So since I’m no Steve Jobs, I’ll just continue to be as creative as possible and, when it comes to ideas, try and be on the front end of a trend.

This is extremely important in the world of yearbooks. I want very much for our yearbook to look like the year during which it was produced. Nothing bugs me more than picking up a yearbook and wondering whether it was made in 1993 or 2013.

“We’ve always” should NEVER be part of your vocabulary when you are planning your yearbook. I know you will get some flak from your administration if the design is a little too “out there.” But that book really needs to look like the year it is, and yes I know that students do not have the same level of First Amendment rights as the rest of us. Your administration needs to understand that this is not your grandma’s yearbook!

That being said, there are some things you really need to watch out for when you make your modern design. So please allow me to share some of our mistakes so you do not make them:

If your school is really in love with its school colors, it might be financially devastating to deviate from that on the yearbook cover. I think back to our mostly green cover in 2003. There are dozens of that book left in my closet at school! Our customers expect red and black. We can’t really change that much. But we have found that white and gray work, too. So as long as we have any of those four as the dominant color our books will sell.

Can you guess which of these yearbooks did not sell at a school whose colors are red and black? Be very careful with your color choices!

Can you guess which of these yearbooks did not sell at a school whose colors are red and black? Be very careful with your color choices!

If you’re thinking of not putting the school colors on the cover, please, please, PLEASE make sure that you are very careful not to choose a color palette that even remotely resembles a rival school. Color is such a powerful thing. Do lots of research before choosing a palette.

If “everybody” used a font or a design element in last year’s book, then don’t use it! It’s old! That’s what we did in 2008. We used a font that everybody used in 2007. It wasn’t that fun anymore.

Speaking of fonts, there are some you should NEVER use. Consider them retired. Permanently. Never coming out of retirement. Comic Sans and Times New Roman are not allowed. Capisce?

And please limit yourself to just one font family or just two fonts. Nothing says 1998 like a different font for every section of the yearbook. When you flip through your yearbook pages, the whole book should look like it is from the same school! Do your research when making font choices.

Make sure that your one font is easy to read, and don’t make your captions so small that it takes a magnifying glass to read them.  Some of the most gorgeous yearbooks I’ve seen in the past few years have had type that I cannot read. I need 8-point type. I understand that young eyes might be able to read 6-point type, but a yearbook is forever. So you’re going to need to make the type a little bigger for when your customers become less young and invincible!

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The four P’s of marketing

One of the best marketing lessons I ever learned was so very much by accident that I just really must tell you the whole story.

I had just arrived at the hotel in Charlotte, North Carolina after a L-O-N-G bus ride from Florida that began at the crack of dawn. I was in Charlotte with a few yearbook students to tour the Charlotte Herff Jones yearbook plant.

We had about an hour before we were leaving to go to dinner and I was so tired! I thought I would take a little cat nap. When I am in a hotel, I almost always find that the Weather Channel is a great sleep-inducer. That Allman Brothers song that they play as they are showing the weather radar across the country is just very soothing to me. (Weather Channel and Allman Brothers, please do not take offense).

On this particular day, though, I never made it to the Weather Channel. I instead landed on PBS. At the time I had no idea what the name of the show was, but it seemed to be a kid’s show. And it was about marketing! Later I found out that the name of the show is Biz Kid$ (http://bizkids.com/show). I’ve watched many episodes since then, and many, many of the episodes provide valuable information that would benefit a yearbook staff.

This particular episode on marketing focused on the four Ps of marketing: Product, Price, Placement and Promotion.  To be honest, this is about all I really know about marketing. But it is also really about all anyone really NEEDS to know.

Product: Are you creating a yearbook your customers (the students) want to buy? If not, how can you make them want it? My answer to this is almost always coverage.

Price: Is the yearbook priced right? When you offer it on sale, is the difference in price significant enough to make customers act? We offer a coupon at the beginning of the year. These days, people go crazy for coupons. We sell nearly ALL of our books during our coupon sale.

Here's our 2014 coupon, just one part of our yearbook marketing strategy.

Placement: Do your customers know where to go to buy the yearbook? Establish a location and always offer it at that location. Make sure your yearbook is visible throughout the school though. The best “place” for the yearbook to really be is in the minds of everyone, every day.

Promotion: How are you letting your customers know about the yearbook? If you are only hanging signs, that is not enough. If you are only putting it on the morning announcements, that is not enough. Promote your yearbook everywhere you can. Make it visible, not only from the minute somebody walks onto your campus, but also in the community. Even if your staff is not allowed to have a Facebook, staff members can still post, Tweet and create a buzz on all the social media sites.

After the yearbook is finished and we have compiled a complete index, We create a sign with the names of all the students who are in the book three or more time and have yet to purchase it. The sign gets a lot of attention in the hallway.

After the yearbook is finished and we have compiled a complete index, We create a sign with the names of all the students who are in the book three or more time and have yet to purchase it. The sign gets a lot of attention in the hallway.

A yearbook can’t be successful unless people know it exists. It can be full of the most gorgeous images and the most awe-inspiring writing and design. Market it!

We then follow up with a postcard to let students know what pages they're on.

We then follow up with a postcard to let students know what pages they’re on.

The most important part of the marketing strategy

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We are adding a coverage editor to our leadership group this year. We will be surveying the entire school and calling students in for interviews. We will supervise as a “quote book” gets circulated among students who are tough customers when we try and get a story out of them. We will continue to think outside the box for unique stories.

Do you always have a page in your student life section on cars students drive? What about the ones who don’t drive? Do you have walkers, bicyclers, motorcyclers, bus riders? Find ways to tell their stories. Who has the longest bus ride to school? I bet that student isn’t in very many clubs or sports! His parents aren’t going to drive all that way to pick him up after practice.

How can you incorporate birthdays into your coverage? Who was born on a holiday? What is the most popular birth date on campus?

Are you doing a page on students’ favorite restaurants? This may also limit you to only covering students who are able to drive. What about a page on pizza instead? Almost everybody likes pizza. What’s everyone’s favorite pizza joint? Favorite topping? Weekly pizza intake? Who can’t eat pizza due to gluten or lactose intolerance?

Go out and find these stories and more. Think outside the box when you plan your pages. Ask yourself, “Is this page topic going to leave people out?” If it does, change it!

Coverage is the single most important marketing tool. It is the most important job of the yearbook staff.  If a student is in the book, then he or she will want to buy the book.

Coverage Matters

We began to really make an effort to cover everyone in our 2011 yearbook. Even on the first page, we got lots of people!

We began to really make an effort to cover everyone in our 2011 yearbook. Even on the first page, we got lots of people!

A few years back, a yearbook adviser contacted me about her concerns about being able to pay her bill at the end of the year. It seems that, with just a few weeks to go, she still had quite a lot of money she has to raise. “How much?” I asked. “Oh, about $8,000,” she answered.

Wait, what?

As a yearbook adviser for 15 years, there have been some tough years, but NEVER should you get within weeks of the end of the year with that much debt to tackle.

There are a million ways to be successful with your yearbook marketing. I’m a firm believer in NOT doing any fundraiser that does not directly relate to the class objectives. In other words, no candy sales, bake sales or car washes. Just book sales, ad sales and photography.

But the very BEST advice I offer that should guarantee financial success is one I came to understand as our school population began to grow:

You must cover EVERYONE in that yearbook.

Over the 15 years I’ve advised, our school has grown from about 850 students to 1500 and then back down to 1100.

When I first started advising, digital photography had not yet taken the world by storm. If a student wanted to remember the school year, that student needed a yearbook. Somehow we managed to get just about everybody into the book without even trying. I guess it’s not that hard with 850 students and 200-some pages. Do the math. That’s just four or five students per page.

We attempted to get one "group"-type image on each page.

We attempted to get one “group”-type image on each page.

Our tough lesson came not with the post 9/11 economic collapse, but after a bookkeeping incident wiped out our coffers in 2005. Suddenly we were struggling to make ends meet. Had we not had the issue with the bookkeeper, we would have had a nice little nest egg to cushion us and we might not have noticed…

These pages were not winners when it came to design, but we sure managed to get a lot of people on them, and that's what sells yearbooks.

These pages were not winners when it came to design, but we sure managed to get a lot of people on them, and that’s what sells yearbooks.

As our school grew, our coverage was not improving. Suddenly, we had over 1,000 students, but we were selling fewer books.

It took time for me to change my opinion on how we should do things. But then I realized if we did not change, we would fail!

My old opinion was that students should join clubs and plays sports. If they would only get involved, then they would get into those pages.

My new opinion is that some students are not ever going to join anything at school, but we have to find a way to include them anyway.

If we fail to include everyone, then how can we expect everyone to want a yearbook?

How do you get everyone in the book? Well, trust me, there will be those who make a huge effort to remain anonymous. However, most students are just wishing your yearbook staff will make the effort.

Even our opening pages had lots of people on them.

Even our opening pages had lots of people on them.