I prepared a visual research session as pupils are about to start producing their GCSE magazines. They have already chosen their preferred magazine themes – primarily sport, fashion and gaming. Only one pupil surprised me with her theme, in choosing magic. Even though she doesn’t practice magic, she wants to create something novel and different.
I prepared for the session by collecting a huge range of different magazines – including sport, fashion, news, food, consumer, travel, science – and there were some additional spare magazines at school. We spread these about across the pupils’ tables as a kind of visual feast.
Firstly we considered the cover page, paying close attention to the image(s), the masthead, and the colour palette. I invited pupils to select two contrasting magazine covers and to analyse how the design differed in each case, and what the effects were for the reader. They worked in pairs, noting the key difference and the impact this had. They found that most magazines have a dominant single image (usually a photograph), especially fashion and consumer magazines which tend to have a portrait of a model or celebrity. Pupils noted that gesture (including pose, use of hands and eye contact) as well as colour are used to draw in the reader and lead their eye around the different visual elements on the cover. Magazines commonly use contrast and layout to achieve a sense of balance from the many different elements on the front cover. I explained how our eyes look for symmetry around the vertical rather than horizontal axis. All front cover layouts are organised around the vertical so that even where this is contrast or difference on the left and right hand side, this balances out.
We then went on to look inside the magazines, to find examples of the relationship between image and text. Pupils chose three images they liked within the magazine, and cut them out. They pasted each onto a blank piece of paper and then considered a range of questions that I put on the whiteboard:
– what is the size, scale and position of the image on the page?
– what are the dominant colours in the image? how do they compare with other colours on the page?
– how does the subject of the image relate to the content on the page?
– what is the relation between the image and other images or text?
Pupils observed the huge variety of design strategies used. They noticed that the impact of the image is dependent on its relationship to all the other elements on the page. In addition, they found that images have no fixed relationship to the accompanying text – they can contrast, explain, illustrate or even sometimes contradict the text.
I asked each pupil to make a note to themselves of one thing they had learnt which they wished to apply in designing their own magazines.