Why We Did Not Start Designing the Yearbook Until December

I noticed a trend with my yearbook staffs. By second semester they were often frustrated with the process; it’s a story I’ve heard from other yearbook teachers as well. So I evaluated the situation which led me to a solution that we are trying this year.

For the first three years of advising the yearbook program, our typical schedule progressed as:

  • August-September: Sell ads, teach basic photography, and start designing spreads.
  • October-December: Students do not appear on the same page with theme. Details of the theme are changing and developing to best fit the year. Spread deadlines are altered regularly to accommodate the ever-changing theme design. Copy is altered multiple ways to fit journalism standards, causing the spread design to alter (yet again) to accommodate additional changes.
  • January-June: Everything completed first semester has changed drastically and the work no longer looks the same. The original work is altered to such an extent during the second semester that it is a shadow of its original form. Everyone who designed spreads prior to January begin resenting the editors and graphic design team leading to tension among the staff members.

Clearly, something had to give for our staff to function more harmoniously, and the structure of the 2017-2018 staff made it possible. We only had three returning yearbook staff members, which meant for the most part I was starting with a clean slate and had to teach the basics to kick off the year.

I decided I would teach yearbook differently this year.

First semester would focus on teaching students techniques needed to produce a quality yearbook. Student assignments and projects would be pieces we could use in the yearbook: articles, sidebar coverage, captions, and more.

To keep the pieces of a spread together without laying them out on a spread, we used Google Team Drive. Articles, captions, and photos are organized in folders throughout the team drive.

As events occur, our new process is as follows:

  • Students choose 15 photos for that spread.
  • Those 15 photos are captioned by students in Google Docs.
  • Articles are written in Google Docs and placed in the article folder.
  • With each step, students have deadlines to meet and I conference with students during class time to work through the piece.

We spent first semester creating the content, but not the design.

With the start of second semester, the editors and the graphic design team have determined the reoccurring design elements throughout the yearbook after meeting with each other throughout first semester. My graphic design team and editors have met with our yearbook representative to discuss those design elements, and come to an agreement as to how a layout supports the theme.

Now, we’ve reached the point where students will place elements into the design templates the graphic design team has created.

Though there are kinks to the system, this is a system that has promoted more creative energy, collaboration, and drive, as well as individual student and peer feedback to improve work. Deadlines are met more easily and there is more of a team atmosphere due to students utilizing each other’s work to improve their own.

There’s more than one way to approach creating a yearbook, while this may or may not work for you and your yearbook staff, it’s something I believe has helped us immensely.