Commitment to Design

I love music. I have tremendous admiration for composers. How to write a song- especially a good one- is a mystery to me. But I’m seeing a parallel in my design class that might explain why Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue is my #1 choice for the “Song I’d Want to be Stranded With on a Desert Island” compared to, say, MacArthur Park. Like a pleasing magazine layout, a good song probably begins one element at a time, and then deliberate features are layered and massaged into the music until the end product is a song you’ll listen to and maybe add to your playlist. Again, I don’t know much about writing songs, but I can walk you through the steps I traveled to create a magazine spread that will hopefully entice you to read the whole article and maybe add it to your favorites.

Here’s the end result, small and tidy. It meets all the requirements: 3 pages, 1 spread, 2+ columns, 1+ pull quote, 1+ word wrap, 2 photographs that I took myself, 3+ subheadings, contrasting typography, consistent headings and body, a 600+ word article from with no headings… all put together in Adobe’s InDesign program.  Looks pretty simple, actually.  Well, my friend, it wasn’t. Come with me and I’ll show you.

Choices, Choices

The first task was to choose the article from– one with no subheadings. Because conference talks today are published immediately on the internet to be studied and read, most modern church leaders write using subtitles. So I went back in time to my favorite apostle, Marvin J. Ashton, and found my favorite talk by him: “The Word is Commitment.”  My target audience is my fellow class members in my Self-Reliance Initiative class, and this message is ideal for living gospel principles or paying off debt. Next I studied it, divided it into sections, and chose subtitles. Then I decided on the quote pull. I liked “Dale Carnegie once said, ‘If you are not in the process of becoming the person you want to be, you are automatically engaged in becoming the person you don’t want to be.'” However, it didn’t seem right to quote Elder Ashton quoting Carnegie, so I went with “True happiness is not made in getting something. True happiness is becoming something.” Because that’s good, too.

I researched color and found that charcoal grey is a great for making a solid first impression at a job interview. I figured I’d contrast it with yellow. I chose two contrasting fonts that seemed a little uncommon without being weird: Bodoni 72 Smallcaps (A Modern typeset for the titles) and PT Sans Narrow (A San Serif for the body).

Worth a Thousand Words

Mini Incline; Caste Rock, Colorado, photo by Connie Wilson

The pictures were the hard part, and they played a key role in the rest of the layout. For the title page I wanted to use a photo I took of the Mini Incline in Castle Rock. I went there with my friends during the lunch break for Time Out For Women on October 9th. It’s called Mini as a contrast to the Incline, which is an old cog railway that climbs 2000 railroad tie steps up the side of a mountain in Manitou Springs. The Mini is 200 steps and 178′ increase in elevation, whereas the Incline is a mile high and over 2,000′ elevation gain. But I digress…

Originally I planned to enlarge the steps and use them as a border on the right side, with text on the left. The problem was the stunningly blue sky. The steps lost their effect if I cut the sky out, but the colors were too bright to write over, and the picture seemed too harsh and sharp for the layout. But the steps displayed the message of the article so I  kept working with it. While playing around on InDesign, I found the fx button that allowed gradient colors, and the radial option toned the sky down enough for me to insert the text over the picture. It also allowed me to not worry if the resolution got fuzzy with the picture enlarged.


Farish Recreation Area, Colorado, photo by Connie Wilson

The second picture took a couple of days and about 10,000 steps. We had rented a little cabin up in the mountains for my birthday last week. While there I hoped to find something visual that showed “commitment.” It occurred to me that I’ve seen trees that grown straight out of boulders, and that would be perfect. I took my camera and hiked all over the place. There were plenty of trees growing out of rocks, but most were aspens and we missed the golden leaves by a couple of weeks. I didn’t think a dead tree really worked with my message. I took dozens of photos of fir trees growing from rocks, but none of the pictures worked quite right. So I went with this photo of a rock pushing an aspen, or maybe the aspen is holding the rock in place. Either way, there’s commitment..

I took pictures of this from all different angles in three different sessions of daylight. That’s commitment, too.

InDesign: the Magic, the Mystery

Next it was a matter of putting it all together. InDesign was a steep learning curve for me and I can’t even tally the hours or the tears or the tutorial youtube videos I watched. But I came out with a product I like. Rather than charcoal grey and contrasting yellow, I kept the muted blue sky theme going in the colors.I grabbed the blues with the eyedropper feature. I wanted the inside spread to have partial borders along the top and outer margins. I found the slanted lines by fiddling with the text box borders. Again, the blue was too bright so I used the radial gradient features on the borders, too.

The trickiest part was altering the text box on page one to slant at and angle so there would be no words on the stairs. L-O-N-G story short: I accomplished it not by cutting the text box, but by inserting another text box of triangular shape over the stairs, which somehow forced the words to scurry to the left side. I did the same thing on the right hand side for the words on that side of the stairs.

Elder Ashton shared great insights regarding goals in this conference address. I hope the layout I’ve designed to highlight his message is intriguing enough to motivate you to read the entire talk. That would be music to my ears!

A Very Particular Set of Skills

Back in the ancient days of my youth, a person actually had to have a camera with them to take a picture. But today’s generation has photos at their fingertips by merely pulling out a cell phone. Taking a selfie or a snapshot is effortless. But by applying a few photography techniques, one can take the quality of those photos up a notch. I’m going to discuss three particular skills: Rule of Thirds, Leading Lines, and Depth of Field.

I found this outstanding photograph in the August 2017 issue of Adventure Cycling magazine. It’s on the title page of the article “Canada’s Great Trail: A dream at 125 years is ‘connected’ at 150” by Ellee Thalheimer. The photo was taken by Jean-Marc Carisse and is courtesy of Trans Canada Trail. The caption reads “Trans Canada Trail Board Chair Paul LaBarge shares a misty morning with some very appropriate avian traffic.”

I love this photo! The cyclist is herding geese, with a barren tree in the foreground and hazy outlines of trees in the background. It has a pleasant feel to it from calming colors, and is an excellent example of the Rule of Thirds.

My next photo is an ad in the May 2017 issue of Backpacker magazine, printed on page 55. The featured company is eno, which turns out to be a brand of hammocks. I chose this picture because of  its strong Leading Lines that draw the eye to the waterfall.



My third professional photo is from the cookbook Asian Cooking: Chinese, Thai, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese and Indian Recipes. The inside cover states “Favorite Brand Name Recipes (trademark) Presents Vol. 1, No. 62, February 16, 2016, published by Publications International, Ltd. The specific photo is found on page 41 alongside the recipe for “Bean Threads with Tofu and Vegetables.”

Depth of Field is the most recognizable photography tool to me, because it’s used in absolutely every photo of food. Whether it’s a recipe, menu selection, or Pinterest food, depth of field is employed. I chose this Asian dish because the background is more cluttered than other examples, so it clearly demonstrates the advantage of using this tool.


Rule of Thirds

The first analysis is the Canadian picture that uses the rule of thirds so well. This composition rule involves laying an imaginary tic-tac-toe grid across a photo. The four places where the lines intersect are the strongest focal points. In this picture we see the cyclist at one of those points and diagonally from it, we see the center of the tree. The grid lines themselves are the second strongest focal points. Here we see the horizon with the line of geese and the bicycle.

For comparison, my neighborhood didn’t have the same misty, soothing elements. To showcase the rule of thirds here I took a photo of the freeway and telephone lines outside the YMCA in Monument, Colorado. The semi truck becomes the focal point as its at the lower right intersection. Not particularly exciting, but there you go.


Above photo by Connie Wilson

Leading Lines

The next analysis is of the eno ad, with a photographer relaxing in the hammock. This picture showcases leading lines. The bright, contrasting color of the hammock causes the eyes to naturally sweep towards the edge of the clearing, which reveals a waterfall. Although dark, the shine on the camera is a line pointing straight up, and it takes the eyes directly to the eno brand logo.

The picture I took to mimic the leading lines example is of my daughter relaxing on the front porch. Her legs form the lines that direct the eyes to the stunning autumn leaves on our tree.


Above photo by Connie Wilson

Depth of Field

Depth of Field is used to draw attention to the object in focus, whether it’s in the foreground or the background. Often the object in focus has more light reflecting from it, which also makes it more noticeable. In this photo of “Bean Threads with Tofu and Vegetables,” the details of the food are more sharply in focus than the napkin, glass and other dishes in the background.








The photo I took to mimic the one above is of a typical Asian recipe prepared in my home. Note the food in the foreground is sharply in focus, while the background method of cooking is blurred. This allows the mind to grasp all the elements of the meal, while the photo spotlights dinner itself.


Above photo by Connie Wilson

Daily we are exposed to countless photos– in advertisements, social media, books, newspapers, etc. To make a photo stand out and be memorable, the photographer uses techniques that help steer the reader to what the artist wants him to see. Skills such as Rule of Thirds, Leading Lines and Depth of Field help accomplish that goal.