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.


Countdown Craftiness

Countdown Craftiness

‘Tis the season to take a step back from the computer.

That’s right. Put down the spreads. Take one step back. Now another. Now a deep breath.

You can keep editing until every word loses meaning, or you can take Alicia Luttrell’s advice.

The yearbook adviser and librarian from Maryville Junior High in Maryville, TN, knows we all get antsy before the big holiday break.

“There’s a time when we all have to buckle down and work on yearbooks,” she said, “but there’s a time to have fun and get creative.”

Last year, Luttrell put her creativity to work.

“I had an old tabletop tree and decided to give it a new home in the yearbook room. I also had four small Herff Jones ornaments to display and wanted to create more to take home.”

Luttrell’s staff was thrilled, she said, to see art supplies.

“My students were excited when they walked in and saw glue, tinsel, clear ornaments, yearbook pages and paint brushes on the table. I love to get them working on something different. To get them away from the everyday activities of looking at spreads. Things get a little messy, and that’s okay with me.”

They made mini paper chains and decoupage ornaments from old yearbook spreads as well as “swirly” and tinsel ornaments to add color and sparkle to the tree.

She suggests, “When ornaments are ready, tie a piece of jute or other string on the cap loop and include a cute tag with students’ names. This is a way to remember students who created these ornaments.”

Take on the Christmas ornaments or make an activity of your own. It might just spark the creativity you’ve been hoping to find in the void of the computer screen.

The Future Starts Here

The Future Starts Here

One professional designer has three JEA/NSPA conventions to thank for his career. So, take note fall convention attendees in Dallas. You never know which students will find their callings, their careers and their tribes through high school publications. The industry’s next designers, writers and creative directors are probably attending this convention.

On Nov. 8 just after lunch, Kyle Lewis hopped out of his chair and left his office. He returned a minute later carrying a tattered, white cardboard box.

“My mom’s packing up a bunch of my old stuff and gave me these,” he said as he pulled out three yearbooks and three black and white student-made booklets.

A new graphic designer in Herff Jones’ Indianapolis headquarters, his co-workers were of course drawn to the yearbooks, picking on Lewis’ portraits and remarking at how fashion, design and the world changed in 10 years. They took note of how he had served as design editor of his senior book, a post which launched his career.

The books garnered the initial attention, but the soft-cover booklets incited a frenzy of coincidences. They were publications, reports even, of Lewis’ staff’s trips to three consecutive JEA/NSPA conventions.

“To attend the conventions, we raised money for months,” he said. “But the only way the school board would approve the trip was if we made a review of the convention, showing what we had learned. Everyone was responsible for creating content. Some focused on the cities, some on the conventions and some on the competitions.”

As he told the story of the black and white booklets, Lewis’ co-workers realized, excitedly, he enters the Hyatt Regency exhibition hall today returning to the convention as a corporate employee working in the yearbook industry after having attended three consecutive conventions a decade ago as a student.

That dutiful little teenage designer would be shocked, he said, to know instead of working to recap convention goings-on for his principal, his work would be a part of a booth. (Those yellow-tipped banners and photo illustrations are his handiwork, by the way.)

None of this was part of his plan, he said.

“I took journalism my freshman year on accident. I misread the class listing and thought it was a journaling class.”

His co-workers giggled, too.

“At my high school, you took Journalism 101 freshman year, which is one semester of writing and one semester of design and photography. After, we worked on the publications, and I chose newspaper. But we didn’t get a chance to learn new techniques.”

He said JEA/NSPA conventions were worth the fundraising and the additional labor because, “we could learn from professionals and pick up other schools’ books and papers to get inspiration.”

After three years on newspaper staff, Lewis joined the yearbook staff to get more experience. He attended the 2006 convention as design editor of both publications.

“I like working on both,” he said. “With newspapers, you have a daily or weekly publication. With a yearbook or a magazine, you get something that lives beyond that week.”

With a degree from Ball State and a decade of working in the newspaper industry, he’s found his way home.

“I always thought I would work for a newspaper, but always had interest in working for a magazine. Working for Herff Jones is more like that.”

Will you be the next Kyle Lewis?

Open your eyes to possibilities, your mind to interests and make the best of both.

Who knows where you’ll be in 2027?

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.

Summer’s Not Over Just Yet

Summer's Not Over Just Yet

After 180 days of school, summer is an anticipated “holiday” that everyone looks forward to and — while it’s not part of the school year per se — the people and things they do are still worthy of coverage in your yearbook the following school year.

If you’re not a seasoned adviser, you may be asking yourself and/or your staff, “How in the world are we going to cover all of the interesting things that students, faculty and staff did over the summer?”

Probably the quickest and easiest way to get pictures from summer activities is to let your student body know that you’re interested in how they spent their summers. Ask them to use the Herff Jones eShare app which can be downloaded for free in the App Store and Google Play to submit photos of themselves on vacation or at work.

You might also want to ask your staff to review their friends’ social media accounts to see things that they did and, if they see something cool, ask them to contact him/her to request additional information and photos.

And, as with anything else, planning is really the key to success so although you might be behind this year, the best way to ensure that you have stellar summer coverage is to make sure your students know that you’ll be covering it before they leave for summer break so they can share pictures as the summer progresses instead of you and your staff playing catch up.

You may also want to plan times to meet with your staff over the summer so you can collectively decide who has time to visit people at their jobs or to go to a local event and take pictures.  

For more great ideas on getting summer covered, check out this previous blog post.




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.