How to Bring Your Theme to Life on Your Yearbook Cover

them to live on yearbook cover

You’ve worked hard to come up with an amazing theme to tie your yearbook together. And if you launch the theme on the yearbook cover, you are inviting the students to join in on the fun before they even crack open the book. They will be engaged, immediately hooked, and prepared to devour the yearbook with the frenzied enthusiasm your work deserves.

But you still need to know how to make a splash with your yearbook cover. Even if you’re outsourcing the final product, you’ll want to do plenty of the groundwork yourself. Let’s examine the steps you can take to reflect your theme on the front cover—and vice versa.

1. Before You Start

It’s always tempting to jump right in and get a design moving. But it’s actually better to do a little prep work and get your ducks in a row before you go off on a tangent that might become a dead end.

The first thing you should do is gather your resources: Pull out your yearbook’s title and style guide for reference. You’ve also probably got a handful of cool covers saved on your hard drive or on a Pinterest board; pull them up on your computer.

You also need to make some decisions about the general look and feel of your cover. Deciding between a modern or traditional look will do wonders in paring down your options. From there, you can refine the direction you want to go. Some people interpret ‘modern’ as sleek and minimal, while others see eclectic and funky. Before you move forward, make sure the descriptors you have in mind work with your theme.

2. Get Brainstorming

Now, consider your theme and hunker down for some brainstorming.

Write down your yearbook’s title, and, around it, start jotting down everything that comes to mind when you think about that theme. For example, a time-related theme might bring to mind the ideas of clocks, motion, timelines, hourglasses, the big bang, and calendars.

Keep going until your brain is spent (or your group’s collective brain), then run a quick Google image search (of the theme and some of those surrounding terms) and see if anything sparks more ideas. Once your paper is full, look at all your options and circle your favorites.

3. Select Your Graphics

Graphics include all the visual components on the cover. This can include photography, illustration, or graphic design.

Take a look back at your favorite covers from your inspiration board. Are you drawn to photography or graphic design? Then look at your brainstorm ideas for visual inspiration and search online for a combination of the two.

As your searches become more refined, you will begin to find graphics to source or use as inspiration that match closely to your theme. Staying with our time example, try searching “illustrated timeline” or “clock photography” to see how tight the inspiration can become. You can add adjectives like ‘cool,’ ‘futuristic,’ or ‘artsy’ to home in on what you specifically like.

You now have an idea for cover graphics that hint at your theme, but might not bring your entire theme completely to life, or completely jive with the design of the rest of the book. It’s now time to bring your style tile and design elements into play. Can you create the illustration in your color palette? Can you alter the image to add some of your colors? Do the lines complement or contradict your fonts?

4. Play with Your Copy

At a minimum, most yearbooks have the title, school name, and the year on their cover. You are going to want to take these elements and create them using different font options that stay within your thematic style choices.

The first fonts you should try should be straight from your style tile. Any other font options tried should clearly tie back to your theme. Your theme has a personality. It’s modern, classic, vintage, fun, poetic, or whatever. Fonts have personalities as well. Keeping your theme in mind, apply some different fonts to your elements and narrow it down to a few favorites.

Once you have your font selections narrowed down, take some time to play with the other factors. Adjust the size, coloring, spacing, orientation, case, and emphasis of your title. Playing with the typography in this manner will give you thousands of variations for your cover. Keep playing around until you have five strong options that really speak to your theme.

5. Bringing Copy and Graphics Together

Now is the time to make a decision. Which component, graphics or copy, brings your theme to life the most?

Make this the focus of your cover and give the other component a supporting role. Try out different combinations and compositions until a lightbulb goes off. If you get stuck, reach back to your inspiration for composition ideas.

6. Get Feedback

Once you have a design you think encompasses your theme, run it by a few of your peers or your yearbook committee. Ask them to tell you what they would expect the theme of this yearbook to be. If they answer somewhere in the ballpark, your work is done.

7. Bring the Cover Inside

One of the easiest ways to tell if you’ve embraced your theme on the cover is if you are able to take some elements from the cover and seamlessly work them into the rest of the book.

We like to include the art or typography from the cover on section dividers, the table of contents, the index… any place that could use a little boost of inspiration. This makes your yearbook design even more cohesive.

By breaking your cover design into its smaller components, a lot of the design work for inner page background and accents are already done for you. (And if you need some inspiration on how to work through the design process, check out this post on our favorite yearbook covers from the 2015-2016 school year–it was a couple years ago, but it still has some unique ideas.)

This attention to detail in creating a fully saturated design will bring the theme to the reader right from the second that yearbook enters their eager hands. You’re giving your students permission to be excited about the theme before they even see it play out. And you can be excited, too.