Modular Means More

John Cutsinger

Jostens Ambassador
John's contributions to scholastic journalism over the past 35 years have included advising award-winning yearbooks, newspapers and magazines, authoring yearbook curriculum, and sharing ideas with thousands of advisers and staffs.

Little things mean a lot. When combined, they mean everything.

Module coverage and modular design empower staffs to enhance storytelling both verbally and visually. More than ever, mass audience appeal strongly motivates successful yearbook planning, production and promotion/selling.

Whether you plan single topic ideas in either a traditional or blended spread concept or as a contemporary, chronological spread, the modular content and design recipe works effectively for both and results in more meaningful storytelling.

A module content/modular design approach not only offers readers different angles to all stories but also a variety of content formats. The combination of fact-, figure-, and feeling-focused packages, combined with photograph and captions, expands coverage appeal both in content and design.

For the traditional single topic spread, modules effectively present diverse angles of the story concept. In the sports section, for example, tennis modules could present these aspects of the sport:

  • Singles versus doubles versus team
  • Individual perspectives on team season successes and challenges
  • Practice and game-day routines and/or rituals
  • Brand allegiance in equipment, uniforms and related accessories
  • Anatomy of a tennis racquet and balls
  • Single tennis athlete personality profiles based on merit
Blended spreads provide a themed concept with stand-alone stories. An example would be a spread featuring “clothing.” Modules could include ideas from all areas of yearbook coverage:

  • Lifestyles — fall fashion trends and/or work uniforms
  • Academics — physical education uniforms or science safety gear
  • Organizations — t-shirts promoting the value of membership
  • Sports — comparison of sports uniforms

Chronological spreads offer readers a variety of stand-alone stories from the most important activity or event of the time frame to lesser important, but equally informative and interesting, ideas. Planning for coverage still requires careful forethought, but also demands greater attention to daily activities and events.

Content drives design. Once you have your spread content refined with the best storytelling formats, design follows logically. The integration of design principles visually assists your readers in moving organically from one element to another within each module and from one module to another on the spread.

Hierarchy is crucial in determining reader-value for each story in content and then design. Each spread incorporates a dominant module, more valuable in content and prominent in the design. Other modules contrast in size and shape to cue readers into the importance of each story and to create visual variety. Any integration of contrast between elements creates the same visual energy.

Alignment establishes and maintains a planned look for both elements and modules. It requires attention to detail making sure that positioning clearly indicates to readers the relationship between content elements and modules. The use of horizontal and vertical eyelines can assist designers to manage effective alignment.

Spacing signals the relationships between both content elements and modules. Closer, or tighter, spacing creates a more cohesive bond between the elements. The more spacing logically indicates different content. A popular design concept, “layout within a layout”, opens up additional spacing options that create a planned, yet informal appearance. This also establishes more individual module independence.

Repetition and reflection of content elements and graphic enhancements create a sense of continuity both within a single spread and throughout the whole book. The “graphic three-peat” strategy takes a technique such a color and enhances three deserving content elements to advance the story and unify the spread. For example, a navy blue could bring more attention to the primary headline of the dominant module. The color could be tinted to a 20 percent and used as a background for the second most important module on the spread. Finally, it could be used as a line around another second module. Remember to balance your three-peat application between the left and right pages.


Modular content and modular design! There’s a lot to consider — one little thing at a time.