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Creating Layouts That Tell a Story

Creating layouts and templates that look great and effectively tell a story is a lot like being the director of a movie:

You might have some beautiful scenes on film, you might have some noteworthy performances, and you might have a great script, but if you can’t tie all those things together and present them in a way that is both attractive and understandable, people aren’t going to enjoy your movie!

Doing Yearbook layout well is very much the same thing; it’s choosing and laying out the various elements of the page (e.g., headlines, pictures, text, fonts, graphic elements, etc.) in a way that guides the reader through the “story” of the activity you’re showing, whether it’s Homecoming or Halloween or the Women’s Basketball season. At United Yearbook, we encourage you to remember three key elements when doing layout:

Functionality: The overall effect of the layout is compelling and attractive to the reader;

Clarity: The story behind an activity is effectively communicated through the layout, and reflects the Yearbook theme;

Consistency: There is harmony not only within this layout but also between all the

layouts used in the book, so the entire product has a visual continuity.

A layout that is well done should become a template; that is, a layout that can be used more than once and can become a pattern for other pages throughout your Yearbook. In order to achieve consistency and visual continuity throughout the book, we strongly encourage you to use templates. However, if you use the same template for every page, your book will become redundant and won’t be compelling or attractive. So, developing a handful of templates is recommended. In this way, the words layout and template are often used in tandem.’s choosing and laying out the various elements of the page (e.g., headlines, pictures, text, fonts, graphic elements, etc.) in a way that guides the reader through the “story” of the activity you’re showing...

The Spread

One of the primary things to keep in mind is that, since Yearbooks are primarily visual, your layouts should be done as spreads; that is, two pages seen together:

This means that the left page and the right page have to work really well together. In the example above, a single photo serves as the background for the entire spread. But that’s not the only way to create an effective spread.

Below is a template (the black boxes are picture placeholders) which mixes larger and smaller photos.

The left page and the right page are mirrors of one another, so the connection between them is pretty obvious. That’s not a bad template...but maybe a little boring. There are ways to mix it up! Here’s a different look, using the same number and sizes of pictures:

And a few more options, with the same sized pictures!

They’re all different, but they feel like they go together. The similarities and the differences give these templates visual interest, but still maintain a sense of consistency and continuity. This is your goal when doing layouts.

Here’s a different template:

This one starts with a balanced asymmetrical design on the left page, and it’s then mirrored and then flipped on the right page. The pages appear to be different, but they look like they belong together. The variations within an asymmetrical design can bring energy and excitement to a spread without making it too confusing to understand.

Don’t Lose Your Story!

Once you start considering layout and creating templates, it can be easy to get lost down the rabbit-hole of wilder and more out-of-the-box designs...and we certainly don’t want to discourage you from being creative!

Your style should serve your story, not the other way around.

However, there are a few things to keep in mind:

Consistency is a key part of a successful Yearbook. A lot of pages that are wildly creative but have nothing in common with each other will not look like a book; they will look like a bunch of art projects stapled together with a cover. The key is balancing creativity and consistency.

● Don’t let your style overwhelm your story. Remember, the purpose of your Yearbook is to tell the story of this school year, and that story has a lot of sub-stories within it (like Homecoming or Halloween or the Women’s Basketball season or the Spring Play or…). If your layout is so extreme that the readers can’t really tell what’s going on or what story you’re trying to tell, then it’s probably too extreme. Your style should serve your story, not the other way around.

● Even though you’re not creating a novel, you are creating a book. English speakers have been taught to read left-to-right and top-to-bottom, and your book will be seen in the same way. So, when doing layout, remember that your readers will start at the top left side of your spread, and will likely finish at the bottom right.

● Don’t forget about the theme of your Yearbook. Sometimes we think about theme when it comes to the cover and the colors, but we lose track of it when we’re creating our pages. In this way, whenever possible, your layouts should connect back to your theme.

An Activity to Teach Layout

One way that United Yearbook has taught this is with a simple 30-minute activity that lets students design their own layouts. Supplies required are:

● Cardboard or heavy-stock paper, ideally 11x17, but smaller will work. This activity would work best if conducted as is a small-team (or paired) activity, so one paper for each team will be needed (with extras just in case).

● Rolls of scotch tape, one for each team.

● Pictures pre-cut out of magazines. Size: A set of 2x3 pics and a set of 4x6. Quantity: More than enough so that each team has a selection to choose from.

○ Option: if you trust your students with scissors (and you have enough for all teams), give each team a photo-laden magazine and have them choose and cut out their own pictures.

Tell the students to create a spread using their pictures and the tape. They should use the principles and concepts discussed above.

● Option: You may choose to limit the type of layout (mirror, mirror with flip, etc.)...or not!

Then ask each team to present their layout, pointing out its features and why they did it the way they did. If you’d like to make this a graded exercise, we can provide a grading rubric for you!

There’s More!

We have more to say about layout and templates! You can contact us at 1877-489-7462

or visit our website at


Dr. John Tuttle, Curriculum Specialist & Lecturer

Dr. John Tuttle is a lecturer for UYB’s in-class workshops, and also works with curriculum development, podcasts, and blog posts. He holds an M.A. in Philosophy of Religion and a Ph.D. in Higher Education Administration from Biola University, where for ten years he was Director of Student Communications. For several years, Dr. Tuttle has also worked as an adjunct faculty member within Biola’s “great books” program.


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