A guide to good flatplanning

To create a good flatplan you need to think about the highs and lows of your magazine. Short articles, photo stories and lists offer easy entry-points for readers while features offer weight and substance. It's only by thinking about the proposition as a whole that you can devise the kind of experience you want for your readers. Think of it this way: Ayers Rock in Australia is something very profound to look at. A giant rock in the middle of such a huge expanse of nothing, it's no wonder it has become such a huge attraction. Mount Everest is another natural wonder but photos of this amazing sight show peak after peak after peak trailing off into the distance and it's only when someone tells you which one is Everest that you can really identify it. Magazines with proper pace should make the important things sing out to the reader, imploring them to pick up and read further.

Some simple rules (but remember that rules were made to be broken)
Put the cover feature up front. I have never understood the logic of putting the cover feature at the back of the magazine (as some publications do). Readers have been enticed into the magazine by the lead feature so help them find it - don't bury it at the back. If you're ashamed of it, it shouldn't be the lead feature.

A front section full of news and small elements always helps to suck readers in. There are a zillion ideas to play with for these kinds of sections - from columns and cartoons to lists and photo stories. I find that running a full-bleed image or two in the front section helps to give it better pace and variety - it can become too samey if all the elements are small.

Weighty features are essential for the middle of the magazine. They add gravitas and a reason to buy. This is where readers get their moneys' worth.

I tend to go for a back section of smaller elements. Perhaps some kind of directory. For example, in a customer magazine for Holland & Barratt this is a great spot to include an overview of supplements and what they're good for. In other magazines I've run tips sections at the back. These are especially good if you can give readers tips that help them get something for nothing - the magazine suddenly then has more value to it.

Don't be afraid to play with the flatplanning. Heat magazine used to run a section called 'Everyone's talking about...' right before the Contents page. This was a great way to introduce a topic and make an event out of something. When I relaunched T3 magazine we included two opening double-page spread images showing newly-launched technology. And in Create magazine we gave over the inside front cover to a design house who would visualise the theme of the month (they offered their services for free as a way of promoting themselves through the magazine).


Some free flatplan templates in Indesign and Excel

Here are some InDesign files that can be used to create your own flatplans. Note that they are arranged to show 32-page, 24-page, 16-page and 8-page sections reflecting the way most magazines are actually printed. I've included flatplans for small magazines (less than 64 pages) and much larger titles (150 pages plus). Feel free to email me if you'd like others - I have plenty of options available.

132-pp flatplan (InDesign CS2.0)

132-pp flatplan (Excel)

48-page flatplan (InDesign CS2.0)

196-pp flatplan (InDesign CS2.0)