How can I creatively organize my yearbook content?

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If the Shoe Fits

It used to be that there were formulas for all aspects of yearbook. Today's approaches offer lots more flexibility. If it's logical and provides a better way to tell the story, it just might work.

I'm older than Helvetica. In the 37 years I've been involved with yearbooks, a lot has changed. In production we've gone from copy sheets to electronic submission with InDesign. In design we've gone from columns to grids to modular design.

One of the most significant changes has been in our overall approach to planning the yearbook. We've been freed from the days when section size and order were predetermined and a sectional template meant placing a quote collection on every spread. Today, concept drives coverage which drives design. Yearbooks can provide the readers with a great range of meaningful information while maintaining strong, reader-friendly designs. It's all in the planning.

What the idea of concept has done for the world of yearbooks is open up more possibilities for organizing our content. Instead of just renaming the traditional sections with spinoffs, we think in broader terms - more conceptually.

Formulating a theme/concept is probably the first decision a staff makes. Once they make that decision, they need to decide how to organize their content. The decision on how to organize the story of the year should be based on the unifier. The theme/concept gives us the angle or focus of our whole-year story. The next question is how to organize that story so it is easily accessible by the average reader and makes some kind of sense.

It's an important decision. Here are some things to think about when making it.

Explore the Possibilities
Options for organization range along a kind of continuum. On one end would be the traditional student life/sports/academics/groups/people format. The other end of the continuum would be pure concept. In between would be different ways of grouping the standard sections.

Chronological order presents another option that has regained popularity in recent years. With chronological organization, the book is organized by time, and the story is told by days, months or seasons as the year progresses.

Be Creative but Logical
After exploring all the possibilities, think about what might make the most sense to the reader. The best answer may be the standard, traditional five-section format, and there is nothing wrong with that. Don't feel you have to do something different just to do something different.

On the other hand, your theme/concept might logically lend itself to another form of organization. If your theme/concept is 'Pieces of Eight,' for example, it would make sense to organize into eight sections. If your theme/concept is 'Eight Days a Week,' some kind of chronological organization might make more sense. These kinds of unifiers present easy choices.

But what if your theme/concept doesn't deal with numbers or time? Those choices take more thought and discussion. Let's look at the process the East Lansing staff went through a couple years ago to illustrate how that process might work.

In 2006, our theme/concept was 'Freeze Frame.' The editors decided on a pause sign (two vertical bars) as their graphic element. For months, as they planned, they discussed having four sections: life, sports, academics and groups. The people would be placed in a separate reference section. Then one day, as they were struggling to organize those four sections, it hit them: two words, two shapes in a pause sign, two sections!

But what would those two sections be? So the question became 'What are the two big pieces of high school?' Living and learning. Student life fit logically in living. Academics was a no-brainer in learning. So they decided to just repackage the traditional sections. They placed sports along with student life in living and clubs along with academics in learning.

East Lansing HS Living section East Lansing HS Learning section
After they decided on the two vertical bars forming the universal "Pause" symbol, the Ceniad staff at East Lansing High School in East Lansing, MI realized that meant two sections made most sense. They linked student life and sports in Living and Classes and Clubs in Learning.

Be All-Inclusive
Whatever plan makes the most sense and opens up the best ideas for coverage, be sure it allows coverage of every aspect of the year. You are, after all, creating a yearbook.

Be Reasonable
First, remember not everyone is a yearbook nerd. The story - and the way we organize it - needs to make sense to the average reader.

Last, don't force the fit. Every aspect of the theme/concept from organization to coverage to design should work together to make the story stronger. Don't restructure your sections just because the idea looked cool somewhere else. You'll be sorry as you try to fit things into a structure that just doesn't work.

Lynn Strause, Herff Jones Special Consultant
East Lansing, MI
Yearbook Discoveries Vol. 12, Issue 3

Eat Lansing HS Gatefold
In 2007, the staff returned to regular sections (academics, clubs, sports and student life) plus a reference section which included all of the mugshots. In this gatefold opening, they introduced the sections of the book.

Herff Jones PlannerHJ Planner
No matter how you decide to organize your book, HJ Planner makes it easy to track content, assignments and page status. Elisha Strecker, adviser, Eureka High School, Eureka, MO said, "My editors and I love HJ Planner; it has saved us as much time as HJ Index Builder did. Right away we gave all the staffers the individual reports showing everything they had due for the entire year. Being able to color code and detail the assignments is great. And we used to create the folders individually and build each template manually... HJ Planner is brilliant."

Yearbook Discoveries Vol. 12 Issue 3