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Design structure for discipline

Watching this publication over the years, I've been impressed by the designers' ability to adhere to "the rules" with underlying grid and structure; yet breaking the rules to give editorial features a striking visual departure.

Although this is a splendid visual treat for the reader, it is probably a steep challenge for the design team. Since there is no advertising, every page is totally dependent on the editorial threads to develop a rhythm, depart, then return again.

Did I say the photography is stunning? With no advertising to break the visual flow, these designers utilize superb photography to do the heavy lifting. They use everything from dramatic close-up spreads to carefully planned and arranged photo montages to move the reader's eye through the story line. Each issue is a visual treat -- giving new meaning to photo-journalistic story telling.

Ultimate Covers

Cover design is one of my favorite areas of concentration. After all, it is the cover of any publication that plays a decisive roll in getting readers into the inside pages. What has impressed me most about Airman's cover design is the subtle adherence to axis lines and careful positioning for reader eyeflow. While the June issue utilized a traditional 'center' structure notice where the "Olympic Dreams" typography falls. Does the athlete seem to be looking at that type? (photo at right)

There is a master designer at work behind these covers -- even though most viewers will never be aware of it. Notice in the series of covers, how strong, visual axis lines are established, and the action of each photo leads to an intended target. Good design doesn't happen by accident, folks.

Fit To Fight: in this cover (second right), note how the lighting of the subject has been carefully planned to form a circle. (Squint at it!) Notice where the circle points.

talli spread Tick Tock at Tallil: here the subject gives the action for the reader... give a squint and watch the strength of movement flow through the man's face, through the arm and right into the article head. The light diagonal shape and the orange seem to form an arrow -- pointing where? Into the magazine, of course. Masterful.
Then watch how the feature spread brings the story line together with color, type styles and image through this wonderful full-spread photo. (Above left, click to enlarge)

Eyes on the Skies: (At right #4) takes a completely different approach. (At right, 3rd) Notice how the green reflections and the nose gizzmo on the face mask (whatever that is) tend to form a strong axis that aligns the red type above with the editorial typography below.

Warrior Spirit: (At right #5) Note the dynamic part played by the feathers in the "Warrior Spirit" cover -- see how they force the eye to look at the warrior's face... then into the headline?

Strong Visual Clues: (At right #6) You'll pick up a strong vertical line which runs from the rifle scope of "Running with the Pack" up through the banner and into the type at the top. Powerful stuff; but subtle at the same time.
      A designer might argue that the rifle points away from the entry point of the magazine. Yet the Airman's face is so compelling, we're pulled back to it again and again. How about that little blush of magenta? What's that doing there? Pulling us around the corner into the magazine, of course!

You can't do that!

These designers don't mind taking risks either. While many other publications with advertisers and political agendas tend to play it safe, Airman magazine plays no such games. From issue to issue, page to page, we see strong style sheets, heavy black sans and compelling graphics. You come to expect to turn the page and be surprised with a sneak attack of monumental display type closely integrated into a background photo-spread -- or 16 point white body text, reversed out of a photo with a black drop-shadow. Everything about the selection of typography says strength -- no mincing about anything -- no detail vague or unimportant. The overall design of each visual spread smacks with emotion and feeling. We don't read the storyline, we feel it. Exactly what editorial design is supposed to do.

I have never seen an issue I didn't fully enjoy thumbing through. However there have been times when a jolt in layout, or one of those incredible photo-spreads shocked me to say out loud: "Whoa... they can't do that!" But then the design drives the editorial right over the top... and I realize I can't tell a U.S. Airman "you can't do that!" Obviously they can -- and do.

Until next time...
      Thanks for reading
fred showker

Follow-up:

comment from Jerry R. Stringer, Editor for Airman Magazine

      Fred: Thanks very much for the "Salute" for Airman. Steve Ingram and I still talk about the seminars you and Alex White conducted. We're trying to continually evolve the magazine and believe we're doing better. It's been a team effort by all the staff members.
      Thanks again.

Airman is published monthly by the Air Force News Agency (AFNEWS) for the Secretary of the Air Force Office of Public Affairs. Editorial offices: Airman, AFNEWSINSPA, 203 Norton St., San Antonio, TX 78226-1848. Airman can be found on Air Force Link, the Air Force's official World Wide Web home page (www.af.mil/news/airman).


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