This Little Rectangular Game-Changer

This Little Rectangular Game-Changer

Walk into Evan Williams’ classroom at Clay Middle School in Carmel, Indiana, and you might think you’ve walked into a professional journalism office. There’s not a desk to be seen. There’s a tad of chaos. And there are students clustered around computers, grouped together on the floor and pouring out into the hallway.

“There’s not enough room for a lab and desks,” he said, “so I just got rid of the desks.”

This is the attitude Williams takes toward everything in his broadcast/newspaper/yearbook space. If it works, it works. If it doesn’t, make it better.

With plenty of newspaper experience and a degree in journalism education from Ball State, he came to be a one-stop journalism educator. In a middle school.

“It took me a while to understand yearbook,” he said. “My first three yearbooks are nightmares. I put them up there and I look through them now. They’re a joke.”

We’ve all been there. But he found his groove with our industry-leading online software eDesign, and empowered his students to take charge of their work.

Then Square One™ changed how yearbooks take shape on May 1 last year.

“When you guys announced it,” he said, “I was already on board. And I was like, ‘We’re using the swiss grid,’ and my students were like ‘whaaat?!’ And I was like, ‘We’re being fancy.’”

You heard him. Middle school students taking on Square One™. And being fancy.

“Having the squares on the page – in eDesign the grid boxes with the internal space – that’s a game changer. Kids want to do two columns of text, and doing that with the old grid was not easy. Now I say, ‘go three boxes across and do four boxes down, there’s your two columns.’”

Williams had a moment when it all came together. Two of his students sat down to create a day-in-the-life spread. He walked them through Square One™, and they got it.

“They understood mods without understanding mods. They got each rectangle tells a story. They understood seven different modules are seven different stories, and they were able to jump into their first deadline.”

This simplified approach to teaching formatting gave Williams some peace of mind, but he doesn’t feel like he sold out teaching design.

“We were getting pages done before Thanksgiving, which was unheard of,” he said. “In the past, I’ve been a little leery about using templates because the students want our book to have a unique look. But I didn’t shy away from the interchangeable modules because they have the freedom to change them. Even if we do use the modules, we’re changing the fonts, adding text and some of the design changes to fit the theme.”

Herff Jones’ proprietary design approach just helps, because it’s how professional publication designers craft their spreads. Williams teaches faster, students find success quicker and the pressure of producing the book eases. Plus, you can always create modules and templates from scratch.

“The modules and grid have been a lifesaver,” he said. “For the kids who aren’t as visual, it gives them a starting point they would not have had without a ton of struggle.”

With a new sense of pride and with freshly empowered students, Williams made a promise to his staff members.

“I told the kids, this is going to be one of our best yearbooks ever. This one is going to set a new standard.”

Evan Williams

Evan Williams has advised student publications at Clay Middle School for 14 years and teaches Herff Jones and Ball State University journalism workshops. His students’ work has been featured in Herff Jones’ showcase books four times, and the 2016 volume was a Best in Show winner at the fall JEA/NSPA convention.


Light Bulb Moment

Adviser and staff change the way their yearbook takes shape.

His light bulb moment happened in church.

Willamette University’s Cone Chapel to be exact. That was the site for Yearbooks Northwest’s 2015 opening session, and where adviser Chris Wells had a revelation.

“Sitting at Willamette — it was the first camp we’d ever attended ­— we saw these blue boxes and pink things on the screen. It was revolutionary. We realized, ‘This is what we want to do,’” the Cottage Grove High School dean of students and yearbook adviser said. “We wanted to cover all these things, get all these kids in the book and still have the book be beautiful.”

Those blue boxes and pink things are a part of  Herff Jones’ Square One™ approach to space allocation and page production modeled after how professional publication designers work. Yearbooks Northwest is one of the Pacific Northwest’s top workshops, and it turns out, was a perfect testing ground, among others around the country, for the pilot.

“Until we switched to work with Herff Jones in 2014, our process was ‘Let’s make stuff look interesting. We like this. We like that.’ We had no rhyme or reason. We had no template for how to make things look cohesive,” the Oregon adviser said.

Seeing Square One™ for only minutes, Wells said he watched his staff members have light bulb moments.

“It was clear. It was design with purpose. It set us on our way.”

Wells and his Lion Tracks staff members produced their 2016 book as part of the Square One™ pilot group, and while they always had natural strengths in coverage, these before-and-after images show the staff’s progression to more refined scale, space use and all-important coverage or more students.

“As a teacher, it made my life easier,” he said. “We can snap spreads together. The approach lets me be more efficient with my time, and the kids are more attentive to their duties. For the designers, for instance, it made it so we didn’t have to think about it. Back in the day (meaning, oh, before May 1, 2017) we had to over think every decision, each spread started almost from scratch. Now, it has become part of our DNA. It’s just what we do.”



Wells and his staff already had a well-developed workflow, which was only enhanced by the logical, “real-world” adoption of Square One™ and its modern, grid-based approach to formatting spreads.

“We follow our own set of principles creating modules,” he said. “Save it. Drop it in. Rotate it. Flip it. Once you get something going it just becomes a game of shapes. At first, we were nervous about reusing something. Then, at camp, we saw how leading yearbook staffs and the top magazine designers artfully repurpose to create consistency. As long as the mods are on different pages, it still looks good.”

If you’re worried the approach is hard to learn or takes too much time, don’t be Wells said.

“This is the first year I have four designers. When it finally clicks, one can show the other and say ‘Hey, let’s work together.’ They are able to carry things through because they work together and follow the same principles. Three of the four had never used eDesign before, and three weeks into school they are collaborating and making these beautiful spreads. It’s that simple — if you follow your principles.”

And at Cottage Grove, those principles are clearly outlined.

“We are in our third week of school. We had a week of writing, a week of photo — all my kids have to be able to shoot, write captions, upload and tag images. Now we are into design. It was so quick. Instead of design grinding out over months, I have inexperienced designers churning out pages within a week of actual training.

“The separators are key,” he said referring to the pink strips of paper in Herff Jones’ industry exclusive hands-on packet, and to the pink pop-ins in eDesign and InDesign libraries so named after the graphic design premise of having “separation space” between elements. Separators separate.

“The kids see the spacing, and it’s so nice,” he said. “Then, they just drop modules in. It’s been incredibly quick. It’s always been my goal to get me out of driving the design process, and this is the first year the kids are confident enough to drive it. Finally, I have the inverted pyramid staff structure we hear about at Yearbooks Northwest where the kids are focused on creating that meaningful content, feeding that to leaders, editors and designers and then it comes to me to review before they submit. Square One™ has set all that in motion.”

Lion Tracks staff members design their own modules, sometimes using one from more than 500 supplied examples as their starting points.

“We have come to the conclusion it’s a book done faster, so we can focus on turning zeros on the coverage report to ones. It’s super fast to use the modules and to teach the kids how to create their own following the design principles we’ve learned. I see a lot of original stuff this year, now that they are more confident. We are varying from overly modular (or “digest”) spreads to intentional feature spreads leading into sections. But, our rules still hold true. The separation space between copy packages and dominants, for instance.

“They had no place to start before,” he said. “This gives us that. They see it right away. They reach decisions and regenerate existing ideas to fit the modular spaces. Again, it’s revolutionary. I can have a ‘legit’ staff where the kids can just go get ‘em. I can advise. One of the most foreign things was always setting up all the different components of a page. To have all that at your fingertips gives us time to focus on getting photos and stories. We don’t have to spend late nights trying to get what we want.”

Following their hearts to have an impact on their community, staffers have seen their yearbook can be an instrument for social change by telling more students’ stories and including more student voices ­— making students feel included, important and heard.

“The best thing I realized is Square One™ let us create more than a yearbook,” Wells said. “My staff is now showing kids at our school they matter. It’s bringing kids into feeling a part of the school.”

Chris WellsChris Wells is in his fifth year advising the Lion Tracks yearbook at Cottage Grove High School in Cottage Grove, OR, where he also teaches graphic design and serves as dean of students. He took over the school’s print media program in 2013, his first experience with yearbook since graduating as the yearbook editor in 1999. A graduate of the University of Oregon with a degree in philosophy, Chris’ pastime has been graphic design and digital illustration for the last 15 years.

Marketing Your Books

Marketing Your Books

It’s not enough to create a beautiful yearbook and hope it sells so you can pay your final bill. It takes strategic planning and implementation of the plan to experience a sell-out and true success.

There are a variety of successful strategies that can be used to sell yearbooks so you’ll want to consider all of them and choose the one(s) that best fit your school. Next, you’ll want to use as many different ways to get the information about sales into the hands of the people buying the books — the parents.

Don’t forget about social media which is playing a larger role than ever in helping to boost sales. While Facebook may not be the most popular site with the students at your school, it is still a very popular site with parents and if used correctly, can help drive more sales. Other sites like Instagram, Twitter and even Pinterest can be used by your staff to get the word out that books are on sale by giving sneak peeks at images that are actually being used in the book. Don’t worry if you’re not a power user of all of these social sites, yet. Use this social media guide to get started today or better yet, assign one of your savvy staffers to the post of social media manager.

For even more great videos to help you make the most of your marketing efforts, you’ll want to log in and watch these Yearbook Academy Marketing videos. If you’re not currently a Herff Jones customer, contact your local representative who would be happy to share these with you.

And, no matter what you do, always remember that students really only want to own a book if they know that they are in it so you’ll want to do everything in your power to have as many of your students featured in the book at least two to three times.

It Really IS Your Business

It Really IS Your Business

The real-life skills learned during the course of the year by creating and producing the yearbook and marketing it to the student body are some of the highlights of being a productive member on a yearbook staff.

With the right training, your business can exceed expectations, but —  just like in the real world — that takes planning and prioritizing, meeting deadlines and staying on budget; it’s exactly what a small business needs to do to survive and thrive.

If you adopt that business mentality from the very beginning and teach your staff members how to successfully do all of those things including meeting the inevitable challenges along the way, they will be that much further ahead of other kids when they set foot in the “real world” as adults.

Check out how Bill Tobler from Foothill HS, Henderson, NV trains his staff to run their yearbook business here.

Learn about setting SMART goals and selecting the right staff members to meet them here.

While your yearbook may never earn a million dollars, the skills your staff learns along the way will help them in so many more ways than they ever imagined so don’t sell them or your program short.

Let Them Know They are Appreciated From the Very Beginning of the Year

Let Them Know They are Appreciated From the Very Beginning of the Year

Let’s face it, no matter what you teach, your class time is valuable. You have lots of material to cover and a short period of time to get it all in and the last thing you need is someone asking if they can talk to Tyler for just a minute or if they can take pictures in your class. As yearbook advisers, you get it and the last thing you want to do is to cause unnecessary interruptions, but — in order to do your job and tell the stories that make this year unique — you will need to interrupt classes. So, if you want to ensure that the rest of the faculty and staff are more willing to help, you need to do everything you can to let them know from the start of the school year how much you and your staff appreciate their help and understanding.

Here are a few acts of appreciation that your teachers are sure to enjoy.

  • During their pre-planning week, have doughnuts, bagels, coffee and OJ for the teachers to enjoy. If that’s no longer an option, offer them on a teacher workday or deliver them early before school starts.
  • Have your staff write YOU on a smooth rock then place it in a cellophane baggie with crinkle paper and a nice bow like this.
  • Find out favorite beverages and snacks at the beginning of the year and surprise them during the year especially if you find that you need to interrupt them more often than others.
  • Give them the “write” stuff and let them know you care by giving them what they need and who doesn’t need pencils or pens in their classrooms?
  • Put some Reese’s peanut butter cups into a small baggie tied with a ribbon and a note that says “Have we told you “Reese”-ently how much we appreciate you?”

No matter how you decide to show your appreciation, it shouldn’t be a one-and-done deal. Check out what former adviser Leslie Robledo and her staff did year round to show their gratitude.

We’re sure you have some of your own fantastic ways to let the faculty and staff know that you appreciate their support and would love to hear about them in the comments below so please share.



Finding theme ideas was probably one of my favorite activities to do with yearbook staffs because there are viable theme ideas literally everywhere but you do need a trained “eye” to find the perfect one so let’s do a quick review before we start our hunt.

A theme is a verbal statement with visual cues that help to tell the story of your school for a particular year. It needs to be relevant and relatable to your students and community and should appear on the cover, endsheets (if you print on them), title page, opening section, dividers and closing section. Elements of the theme may appear throughout the book in the folios or as graphics on pages.

Types of themes you may want to consider are as follows:

  • Anniversary
  • School Initials
  • School Colors
  • School Mascot  
  • School Location
  • School Name
  • Event
  • Fun
  • Pride
  • Reaction
  • Change
  • Double-Edged
  • Contemplative
  • Conceptual

Once you’ve decided on the type of theme that would work best for you, you can turn your attention to finding the perfect visual phrases and graphic ideas to help convey it. One of my very favorite places to start is on Pinterest and specifically on the Herff Jones Yearbooks Dream Your Theme board and the Inspiring Yearbooks board. And, if there aren’t enough ideas there, you’ll definitely want to check out Ideas that Fly. The examples in Ideas That Fly are all great because they are tested, tried and true themes, but if you want to challenge yourselves a bit more, you might want to page through magazines online at zinio or at your local Barnes and Noble bookstore to find other verbal/visual ideas that stand out and can be adapted to your school easily.

And, just like you can find design ideas everywhere as evidenced in this post, theme ideas are there for the taking so long as you keep your school’s special character in mind when you choose.

Where is the most unique place that you have found a theme for your yearbook? Tell us in the comments below.

It Themed So Perfect

It Themed So Perfect

The purpose of a theme is to tell the complete story of the school year in a unique and compelling way. As a staff, you’ll have to consider how this year is different than last year even if, on the surface, it seems like nothing extraordinary has really changed. Not a small job by any means, but with the help of a theme, you and your staff will be one step closer to making it clear for your students and school community.

A well thought-out theme may be subtle to your readers only later giving them an “a-ha moment” where they put the pieces together for themselves. Once they “get it” they will clearly see that the verbal and visual pieces you chose were used purposefully and that there is a clear beginning, middle and end to the story being told so they have a complete picture of that particular school year.

Sometimes, the perfect theme will almost literally fall from the sky with little to no effort, but — more likely — it will take time and lots of brainstorming to land on the one that works best to help tell the story of your school, for this year.

Your brainstorming session might be with the entire staff or it might be in small groups who then present their top three ideas to the staff which are then brainstormed further until, as a staff, you identify the one that will work best this year.

Have you noticed that I’ve mentioned “this year” quite a few times already in this post? If you’ve been on your staff for any time at all, you probably know that mentioning “this year” in any of your copy is a big “no no,” but for the purposes of explaining theme, it’s an absolute necessity. One of your goals as an adviser and staff should be that every student owns a book for each year they are in school so, if you think about it,  who would want to order a book if it was the same thing every year with maybe — or maybe not — a different cover? I don’t see as many takers for this scenario.

Now, don’t panic if your book hasn’t had a theme before. There’s no better time than now to start a new tradition, and to help you step up your theme game, you may want to consider asking your Herff Jones representative about our curriculum lessons on this topic. Here’s a Quick Start Guide for the first five weeks of high school and one for middle school that introduces Theme Projects which are the perfect way to engage your staff in choosing the best theme.

Once your staff have done their brainstorming and voting and think that they’ve landed on the perfect theme, you’ll want to put it to the 5 R’s test.

Is it RECOGNIZABLE? REPEATABLE? RELEVANT? REFRESHING? REALISTIC? And, if it’s not all of these, it’s time to rethink your theme idea.

Stay tuned for the next post about different types of themes and where you can find them.

Surviving the First Week / Month

Surviving the First Week Month

For both new advisers or seasoned veterans, the first day of school probably looks a little like this: meet new students, assign seats, review the syllabus, discuss classroom rules, check materials required for the class, share your expectations AND do an ice-breaker to get to know everyone. Phew, I’m exhausted and the real work hasn’t even begun, yet. How will you ever survive the rest of the week, let alone a full year? Not to worry, we’ve got you covered.

With a little bit of planning and the handy list you’ll find here, you’ll be on the path to a successful year. There’s another list perfect for the first month of school and more lists exist for each month of the year. Plus, we’ve done separate lists for major yearbook events like ad campaigns, ladder planning and preparing for your distribution event and so much more. By using these, you can set the stage for a successful year with some concrete plans.

We’d love to hear any tips you have for surviving the first week of school so please share them below in the comments.

Ready, Set, Get Inspired

Ready Set Get Inspired

Whether you’re already back in the classroom teaching or still enjoying some additional vacation time, it’s probably true that yearbook thoughts aren’t too far from your mind, ever. As any seasoned adviser will tell you, ideas are everywhere and once your brain is trained to look for them, you can’t help but see themes, font pairings or design ideas literally EVERYWHERE.

So, as our blog about all things yearbook ramps back up again, we hope you will share with us some of the things that have inspired you by commenting on blog posts themselves or by sharing the blog with your yerdy friends (and staffs!) on social media so we can all get our creative juices flowing and begin imagining the yearbooks your students and schools will love forever.

Here are just a few places you and your students might want to consider looking for ideas:

  • Go camp out in the Barnes and Noble magazine section and look through as many different types of magazines as possible to get a feel for what the current design trends are, headline ideas and popular fonts that you might want to use in your book
  • If you don’t have access to a local, well-stocked book store, try Zinio which offers a pretty eclectic mix of magazines that can be browsed online. You don’t need a subscription to see excerpts from them if you go to Read Article and start there
  • Behance is like Pinterest for graphic designers
  • Billboards are a great place to get headline ideas
  • Restaurant menus might offer font possibilities
  • Visit your guidance office and look for college brochures and catalogs which may offer design ideas that could be adapted to your yearbook or you can view many of them online at and search college brochures
  • Check out websites for companies you love and do screen shots when you find colors, fonts, graphics or type design that strikes your fancy
  • The digital version of Ideas that Fly, our annual collection sampling parts of the most amazing books from across North America, showcases covers, designs, themes and more.
  • Both the Showcase and Resources sections on hold tons of examples and ideas
  • Herff Jones Yearbooks on Pinterest offers a variety of boards to peruse

After your staff has had an opportunity to gather ideas from a variety of sources, ask everyone to present their five favorites and explain why they chose them and how they can see them being used in your book. This is also a great way to create an idea file for future reference so be sure to ask them to leave the samples for you to display in your classroom or to place in a filing cabinet.

Our list above is by no means exhaustive, so please share where you and your staff find inspiration for your yearbooks in the comments below.

Organizing your Staff and Classroom

Organizing your Staff and Classroom

The start of the year is a perfect time to create systems to make life easier. Taking the time now to organize will pay off in months to come when everything has a place and efficiency comes second nature. Here are 10 ways you can control the process of yearbook instead of the craziness and chaos controlling you:


Put together a binder with dividers so the entire staff can easily find important information. Sections of the binder should include:

  • Contact information (phone numbers and addresses for your reps, the plant, staff members, etc.)
  • Deadlines (easy-to-read list of deadlines)
  • Print-outs of style guidelines for each section of the book
  • Calendar (all deadlines and yearbook-related events should be marked on the calendar in this section)
  • Budget updates
  • Activities (this section can include projects and assignments for rare moments of “down time”)
  • Plant correspondence


Color-code each deadline on your ladder so that the entire staff can keep track of dates on which pages are due. Color-coding also helps the students see when events must be covered in order to meet deadlines. HJ Planner and Planner Assistant make building your ladder and creating consistent page templates easier than ever.


Whether you use folders, envelopes or binders for each section/spread/kind of content, there should be some system used to file physical content. If notes are left on the table and need to be put away or scoreboard info is delivered by a coach, anyone on staff should be able to put it in the right place. At the end of each week, ask staffers to print out the current version of their work. The envelopes/folders/binders never leave the classroom. This enables you to check the progress of the book and to see if students are meeting deadlines. (This is also useful in grading—try assigning points for each item on the spread and assign a grade value based on the total number of points earned for each grading period.)


Since you’ll have thousands of photo images, your photo leaders and team need an easy systems for archiving and retrieving photos. In addition, the system you use should allow for somehow marking images once they have been used and for accurately crediting the photographers for their work.


The materials most yearbook staffs use today are very different than in the past. While mailing boxes, copy shipment forms and page envelopes are used in fewer schools each year, pens, highlighters, tape, photo assignment forms, page planning sheets and more should have established locations on shelves or in cabinets with easy access for all.


Make individual mail cubbies for everyone on the staff. This gives you, other staff members, and people on campus a place to “mail” information to specific staff members. The cubbies can be made from shoe boxes or even large envelopes tacked to the wall.


If you can give the editor a personal work space, he/she will be more productive. Remember the editor is ultimately responsible for putting the book together. Assign jobs for everyone on staff. Make a detailed chart of all the positions. The editors are the only people that report directly to you. Don’t be afraid to delegate.


You should maintain a printed copy of your yearbook. Whether you self-proof pages before you submit or receive proofs from the plant, you want to have a binder which includes the final version of each page submitted to the plant in numerical order.


Make staff badges or press passes with students’ names and photos. This badge may allow students into otherwise restricted areas or athletic events and will identify them as yearbook staff. T-shirts are another way to make your staff feel special. It’s fun to design the shirts to go with your cover or theme.


Assign a student to each of the following tasks:

  • Tracking, organizing and promoting book sales
  • Shooting photos of before-school and first-week events and activities
  • Keeping materials organized and in stock
  • Maintaining computers by rebuilding the desktop when needed; backing up yearbook files once a week; creating templates and organizing electronic proofs
  • Tracking ad sales, acting as liaison between parents and businesses, making sure ads (including links, fonts, graphics, etc.) are received in time
  • Keeping the room organized and clean
  • Acting as the staff social coordinator to celebrate staff members’ birthdays, deadline completion and to keep the staff motivated.