On Designing Hacker Monthly

By Lim Cheng Soon, 22 September 2010

The questions I've got the most since I started Hacker Monthly are "How do you design the magazine?", "What tools do you use?" and "What books/tutorials do you recommend?". This post answers all of the questions (and possibly more).

As you might already know, I'm not a designer. My only design experience is drafting up the simplest looking website or user interface in Adobe Fireworks (I never really gotten my way around Photoshop). When I was starting up Hacker Monthly, I wanted to outsource the design since I have zero experience in print. This turns out pretty costly, so I decided to do it myself. Now, it's the part of the job that I love the most.

To start, learn to use Adobe InDesign. The first version of Hacker Monthly was designed using Pages. It looked okay, but it just doesn't have that magazine feel. So countless hours of tutorials and books later, I ended up using InDesign. It's the best tool you can use. To save you the trouble, the only tutorial you need to see is Nigel French's Designing a Magazine Layout Hands-on Workshop on Lynda.com. Nigel French is exceptionally good at guiding through the total newbie (umm...me) on both magazine design principles and using InDesign professionally. 

The other resource I recommend is the book titled "Editing by Design". I credit this book for many design decision I made on Hacker Monthly. Also, I bought a big pile of used magazines and carefully went through each and every design styles employed. Do this after reading "Editing by Design" and you will be amazed how much more you can learn by observing others' work.

Other than Adobe InDesign, the other important tool I use is my iMac 27". Using it to design a magazine is an absolute amazing experience. I still remember that I bought it 2 months before having the idea to do Hacker Monthly and I absolutely hated it first (I used it to code...imagine running textmate and terminal at fullscreen). Now, it became one of the indispensable tool for me.

Before I started designing the article, I've already constructed how the 'end picture' looks on my mind. I think imagination is a very important part to design. Next, I went on designing and arranging the layout of the article in InDesign to fit the 'end picture'. Then, I turn off the guides and grids and do a full screen view of the finished article. After that I printed the article out to see how it looks on paper. If I'm not happy with how it looks (or more importantly, feels), I'd do it again. I iterate this part again and again until I'm very happy with the finished product.