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Design a cover your school will love

We know the saying well: Don’t judge a book by its cover. But when it comes to the yearbook, we aspire to create a great looking cover that captures the essence of the year while piquing the interest of buyers. It’s important to consider these tips when choosing a design.

Elements presented on your cover should also appear on the interior pages of your yearbook.

Does your cover tell the visual story of your theme?

If you’ve chosen a theme, you should have a built-in direction for your cover design. If your theme is about adventure, use clipart and backgrounds to create a design that evokes the tone of your theme. The cover is the place to introduce all visual and style-related elements your readers can expect when they turn the pages of the book. Incorporate the same color palette, fonts and images. This helps to create a cohesive and professional-looking yearbook and streamlines the design process.

Is it relatable to your students?

Making sure the cover relates to students is important. If your theme phrase includes the word “time,” for example, be sure your visuals make sense to students. A sand-filled hourglass or a sundial may not evoke a relevant interpretation of time in the way a digital clock or another more abstract element would. Before you begin designing, consider recruiting a focus group of students and ask their opinions and ideas based on the yearbook theme. Providing them with some visual sample ideas or sketches can help get their creative juices flowing.

Does it favor a certain grade?

The best yearbook covers are always inclusive of the entire student body. While some schools choose to include a photo or names of the graduating class, it is best to reserve those special dedication elements for inside the book. Why? Placing a picture of the 5th grade graduates starts a tradition that, if ever broken, can cause backlash among students and parents alike. It creates the expectation that every graduating class will appear, and it forces you into design constraints. If your school has a tradition of including grade-specific details on the cover and you are looking to change that, discuss the pros and cons with your representative and administration.

Is everything spelled correctly?

While this tip may sound outrageous, misspelled words and school names on yearbook covers are more common than you might think. It is easy to overlook a missing or transposed letter when the words are very familiar to you. Double and triple-check yourself by asking for multiple sets of eyes to see your cover. Are you listing the school year correctly? Standard practice is to refer to this year’s yearbook with the year it delivers. Example: The 2017-2018 school year is simply referred to as the 2018 yearbook. For best results, spell check both the original cover design as well as the cover proof with the same level of discernment to be certain the correct version made its way to the publisher.

Does it fit your budget?

Cool cover treatments are a great way to add visual and tactile appeal to your book. From die-cut shapes in the cover to thermal inks, your imagination—and your budget—are the only limits to what you can accomplish. If you are set on a particular cover treatment, talk to your representative about ways to accomplish it. They can provide pricing as well as alternative options that get you close to the same visual effect without breaking the bank.

Need some design inspiration? Check out our Pinterest boards or Balfour’s simplyCREATE designs where you can choose a yearbook cover with matching backgrounds, elements and suggested colors.


Design like a diva: mix and match your layouts

One of the most fun things about yearbook is coming up with the look of the book. Nowhere is that more apparent than on the pages. So, as you grab the mouse, let’s think creatively about the layouts you’re going to use in your yearbooks.


If you’re short on time, utilize the templates in Balfour Tools or StudioWorks+. Fall is in full swing and if you’re still needing templates, don’t be afraid to take advantage of ones already created. Find templates in the Balfour Tools or StudioWorks+ library. Switch the font to your theme’s type choices and add any graphic looks you’re carrying throughout the book. Don’t be afraid to adjust the design to give your own creative touch or tweak a module that needs additional photos or alternative copy.


Look at Pinterest or magazine design if needing inspiration. Not wanting to use the templates? Scour Pinterest or your local Barnes & Noble for ideas. There are tons of great yearbook ideas online and in professional magazines. It might be the perfect layout or a great module package. Take the idea and let it inspire a brand new or modified design.


Have a dominant package on the spread. Make sure that every spread has a dominant photo and accompanying story to anchor the spread. This gives the spread a central focus and helps the reader naturally move through the page.


Mix and match templates in different sections. Traditionally, staffs created one layout for each section. While this does provide consistency, it also gives the reader the same design over and over again. The monotony can cause the viewer to miss important content, or worse, skip the spread entirely. Instead, why not mix and match the templates? Take a spread in Academics and also use it in Student Life. Or take a cool sports page and run it in the organization section. The more you mix and match the designs, the more the reader will see a fresh look as they go through the book. As long as you’re using the same typography, graphics and colors throughout the book, the look and feel of the book will remain consistent.


Make lots of modules and mix and match those on different spreads. On a similar note, mixing and matching modules and sidebars is another way to provide contrast in the design. Instead of running the same sidebar on every organizations spread, use it a few times and then include it another section as well. The staff could also create multiple sidebars and secondary coverage packages, and then pick and choose what pages the go on. Save all the module options in the library and staffers will have plenty of items to choose from as they design a spread.


Use multiple designs in the people section. As noted earlier, using the same design on consecutive pages can bore the reader. This goes for people pages too. Using the exact same layout and sidebar on every spread doesn’t encourage students to look closely at each page. Instead, mix and match modules and sidebars in the people section. Maybe one spread has a Q & A, while the next one has a small feature profile. Utilizing different sidebars in various sizes and placements on the page also helps when trying to adjust for different numbers of school portraits.


Vary the placement of dominant photos, stories and eyelines. After you’ve designed all of your templates, print them out and compare them. Are there horizontal, vertical and square dominant photos? Are they always in the same location? What about stories and eyelines? Verify that these essential parts of the spread are not always in the exact same place. It’s important to vary the content to keep the reader engaged in each spread.


Glenn High School turned their football page into a showstopper by using a strong photo as a background image bleeding off the spread.

Add showstopper or wow spreads to break up the traditional design. Another way to jazz up the design is to add showstopper or wow spreads. These are pages that don’t follow traditional yearbook design. They might have 20 cutouts and quotes covering the whole spread or a giant photo that bleeds off the edges. These types of pages are meant to break out of the design. They can be fun topics like fashion or food, or traditional coverage topics like football or theatre that have an unusual design. (Hint, if you love the large background photo look, photos on dark backgrounds work great for this design. Think night sporting events, plays, musical concerts and stage dance performances. Also, sports like golf and swimming work well took because of all the grass and water, respectively.)


Designing layouts is one of the most challenging and rewarding parts of yearbook. The inspiration the students come up with will be permanently recorded on those pages. It’s a cool opportunity to remember history with a creative touch. So, open that spread, grab that mouse and have fun!


NBYYD 2017: And the winners are…

Another successful National Buy Your Yearbook Day has come and gone, and we are excited to announce our 2017 winners! We were inspired and impressed by the extent to which your staffs are promoting the yearbook on your campus. Since we had so many excellent entries, we decided to not only give away 8 – $100 gift cards, but we are also giving away 8 pizza parties to our honorable mentions!

STAFF SPIRIT (Contest 1)
-Roosevelt Middle School, River Forest, IL
-Timber Creek Elementary, The Woodlands, TX

-HM: Greenway High School, Coleraine, MN
-HM: Klein Forest High School, Houston, TX

WHO’S YOUR PAL? (Contest 2)
-Big Spring High School, Big Spring, TX
-Northern Highlands Regional High School, Allendale, NJ

-HM: Bergen County Technical High School, Paramus, NJ
-HM: Thrall High School, Thrall, TX

-Center Hill High School, Olive Branch, MS
-Tri-Valley High School, Hegins, PA

-HM: Harrisonburg HS, Harrisonburg, VA
-HM: Cy Park High School, Cypress, TX

SPREAD THE WORD! (Contest 4)
-Saguaro High School, Scottsdale, AZ
-Bedford Junior High School, Bedford, TX

-HM: Bridgeland High School, Cypress, TX
-HM: Winnetonka High School, Kansas City, MO


Congratulations to all our winners!


5 states in 5 days: Celebrating yearbook from coast-to-coast for National Yearbook Week

When our marketing team realized 2017 marks the thirtieth anniversary of National Yearbook Week, we knew we had to do something big. Unlike other national days meant to celebrate foods or silly hats, National Yearbook Week has some real history behind it.

In 1987, President Ronald Reagan signed a declaration to officially designate the first full week of October as National Yearbook Week. Reagan acknowledged in his declaration, “School yearbooks not only chronicle educational achievement and school tradition but are a part of them.” We couldn’t agree more.

Yearbooks, even with the influx of digital technology and communication, are still relevant to students today.  There’s just something that ties you to a yearbook that cannot fully be captured in any other form.

We knew yearbooks were important to us, but we wanted to find out what students felt about them in other parts of the country, so we sent Amanda Reynolds, our Consumer Marketing Manager, on a week-long, cross-country mission to celebrate yearbook with staffs across the country. Coupling Amanda’s passion for yearbook (she was a high school and college editor, turned yearbook rep), and her passion for travel (she’s been known to travel to Europe in just a backpack), we put her on a different plane every day traveling from Texas to California, Ohio, Tennessee and Florida. Check out to recap of each day by watching the videos below.

October 2: California

October 3: Ohio

October 4: Tennessee

October 5: Florida

October 6: Texas


Watch a recap of National Yearbook Week here.


Five steps to improve your writing

It’s the least looked at element on the page. But it’s probably the most important. One of the primary functions of a yearbook is to tell the story of the year. To do that, we have to gather information and write compelling stories.

Step 1: Get the whole story

One reason students struggle writing stories is they don’t gather enough information. It’s important to start with the 5Ws and H (who, what, when, where and how) and then expand on them. Ask for additional details and encourage interviewees to tell you more. Sources don’t always elaborate and it’s the reporter’s responsibility to dig deeper. Often students gather the background and factual information but forget to ask for opinions. While the facts are essential to the backbone of a story, it’s the emotions and opinions that will be the heart of it. Make sure questions address both.

Start with 10 prepared questions, beginning with basic information and easy queries. Ask for additional detail along the way, gently prodding the source to explain more. Move to more complex questions as the interviewee becomes more comfortable. Don’t be afraid to ask impromptu questions based off an answer. These usually lead to the best anecdotes and quotes. Always thank the source at the end and leave the door open to follow up if additional questions come up. Ask for suggestions on other people to interview.

Strive to interview at least three sources for every story. This will give the story balance and ensure the writer has additional perspectives. And it’s much more likely the story will provide a more complete picture of the topic, event or person profiled.

RELATED: Check out this interview tip sheet.

Step 2: Grab their attention

After collecting all the information, it’s helpful to go over the notes. Find the most interesting fact the source said and cultivate that for the introduction. The lead is the first part of a story to entice the reader to continue reading.

An easy mistake is to write a summary sentence, like a thesis statement about what the story is about. But that won’t grab a reader’s attention. (Save that sentence for the nutgraph paragraph that goes after the lead or first quote.)

Instead, write a strong feature lead that hooks the reader. It could be a narrative or anecdotal lead that provides rich imagery and details setting the scene. It could be a contrast lead that provides striking differences. It could be a startling statement lead to shock the reader. A roundup lead provides a list of things to entice the reader to keep going.

Avoid starting with a question or a quote. Have you ever started a story with “Have you ever?” Let’s avoid this cliché too. These starts are overused and take little imagination or effort. Speaking of imagination, don’t ask the reader to “imagine” something. The writer’s job is to show, not tell. Do a great job setting a scene and the reader will have no problem conjuring up the image in their head. Also, avoid using first or second person (I, we, you) which brings the reporter into the story; stick with third person.

Step 3: Follow a formula

Strong stories follow a story formula to keep the reader engaged. Story formula, also called quote transition formula, presents the facts and quotes in an order to move the reader through the story. Essentially, every transition is followed up by a quote expanding on that transition. This formula of transition, quote, transition, quote, etc. continues until the entire story is told.

The transitions provide facts and paraphrase indirect quotes. This is where having a detailed interview helps. Reporters will need factual information to fill in the details of the story. The transitions also help the reader move smoothly from one part of the story to the next (Hence, why they’re called transitions).

The quotes are emotions, thoughts, opinions and reflections of the facts. The quotes should NOT be facts. Save that information for the transition paragraphs and use all the source’s best thoughts and opinions for the quotes. Strive to have multiple quotes from multiple sources in stories.

To help the story flow and to keep the reader’s attention, we recommend keeping quotes and facts in separate paragraphs and making sure there is a quote after every fact/transition paragraph.

Step 4: Leave your opinion out of it

It’s really important to keep personal opinions out of the story. This means avoiding cheerleader-like statements “they worked hard” or “tried their best.” Reporters need to remain objective to be a reliable and trustworthy source of information. The lead, nutgraph and all transitions should omit any opinions. Save all the opinions for the quotes. 

Step 5: Have a strong conclusion

One of the best ways to wrap up a story is with a strong, ending quote. Save a great quote from the interview that is a strong note to end on. Another option is a final sentence to tie the ending back to the lead, leaving the reader with a sense of closure.

Following these suggestions will help improve students’ feature writing skills. Another tool to help writers is a writing rubric. Consider having editors use it as they proofread stories and it’s also a helpful for grading. Happy writing!