Thursday, November 26, 2009

DST Feature: Turning Good Layouts Great: Design Tips from Cathy Z

Editor's Note: The following article was previously published in the September 2009 issue of DST Insider, a publication of  
We all have them—scrapbook layouts we created a few year ago and loved, but now, as our style and skills have evolved, may cry out for a “do-over.”

Cathy Zielske, former art director at Simple Scrapbooks, may have an answer for those layouts. She has created a new feature on her blog, called “CZ’s Design Do-Overs.”

Since April, Zielske has taken layouts, submitted by her readers, and shown readers some basic design principles they can apply to the pages for a new, sometimes graphic, look.

“[Most] scrapbook magazines out there don’t show page makeovers,” explained Zielske. “At Simple Scrapbooks, we never wanted to send the message that what you’ve created isn’t good enough. But here’s the deal: do you want to know how to make pages look better? If so, I’m going to show you how to do it.

“I figured that my blog readers would appreciate an honest look at true page makeovers in order to learn how to use design to make their own layouts look better overall.”

While Zielske is not suggesting readers go back and recreate completed layouts, she is simply using previously created pages as illustrations or tools for the feature.

“To tell the truth? I would tell people don’t bother designing old pages over. Truly,” Zielske said. “Just learn from my blog column how to make better choices in the here and now. This is really just a way to teach design and show how by making a few simple choices, you will create a much stronger impact with your overall design.”

For many of the “do-overs,” Zielske said the pages simply need a rearrangement of elements into a “visually pleasing arrangement.”

“I know that sounds pretty basic, but that’s really what goes into it,” she explained. “I get the digital photo files from the do-over candidate, and start there.”

With each “do-over,” Zielske follows some basic steps. She creates a design framework, finds her color scheme, identifies her papers and elements and then begins sketching in Adobe InDesign. She continues to work with the design until she achieves the desired look.

Zielske uses the photos and layout theme to set the mood for the design. With all layouts, she “strips the design down” as she cleans up the design.

“I look for layouts that are close but miss the mark, design wise,” Zielske said. “I’m not looking for stellar photos and great products. Just pages that could use a little TLD (tender loving design.)”

Looking for additional design help?
In addition to tips found on her blog, Zielske has two books that show scrapbookers how they can take a “simple, noncluttered and more relaxed approach to scrapbooking.”

The first book, Clean & Simple Scrapbooking, is more design related. The second, Clean & Simple Scrapbooking: The Sequel is more philosophy related.

Zielske created the books because it gave her an opportunity to feature a style she loved.

“I figured, ‘hey there might be others like me…people who don’t consider themselves the ‘crafty’ type, but love the idea of combining stories and pictures,”  Zielske said.“My design style is very linear and straightforward. I don’t want viewers of my pages to have to search for content, or hidden meanings. I want to tell a story directly and with strong design.

“For me, keeping it simple allows this to happen.”

Zielske said her second book stands out from other tutorials and books because it’s “a bit cheeky in spots.”

“My tone is very conversational, and with good reason: I think people need to chill out with their scrapbooking and have more fun when they’re doing it,” she said. “If they’re stressed out or feeling behind or any number of things that get in the way of having fun. I’m hoping by reading my book, they’ll have a few ‘a-ha’ moments on the way to more fun with this hobby.”

Regardless of layout style, digital or hybrid, Zielske hopes people will find someone they can relate to: someone who uses her computer to tell stories.

“I’ve been hybrid since the very first page I made, which used computer journaling, combined with photos. My technology helps me to be a better scrapbooker overall,” Zielske said.

Outside of design, Zielske wants scrapbookers to remember one basic thing—stories should be the foundation of every layout.

“Tell your stories, and [don’t] skimp on the details,” she said. “[Also] have fun with it. Life’s too short to get hung on the perfect scrapbook page.”

More about Cathy Z:
Zielske is a graphic artist and the former art director at Simple Scrapbooks magazine. She is currently a freelance graphic artist as well as an instructor for Big Picture Scrapbooking.

She jokes that she’s also spending time trying to “figure out how come I feel busier than when I had a full-time 40 hour a week job.”

“I love what I do for a living, even though I’m not doing as full time as I once was (being a designer),” Zielske said.

She describes herself as a “total tech geek” who loves HBO and Showtime (even though she doesn’t have either). She also loves dogs (even though she doesn’t
own one). Ultimately, she loves to tell stories, which is why she loves scrapbooking.

Zielske also authors a blog:, which she says contains “Bits and Pieces” of her life. In addition to the Design Do-Over feature, her blog often includes a variety of scrapbooking tips and techniques, as well as snippets from her life.

Zielske said she finds her scrapbooking inspiration from a variety of everyday sources, including music, technology, cool fronts during the summertime and good coffee.

“I’m more inspired by possible stories to tell than anything,” she said. “Products and trends don’t really do the trick. It’s usually something someone in my life says or does and I think: ‘I need to remember this.’”

Ultimately, she said, she creates scrapbook layouts simply to “remember and celebrate” her life.

As anyone who follows Cathy’s blog knows, music plays a very big part in her life. When asked to list the Top 10 most played songs on her iPod, she replied, “Down to the River to Pray” by Allison Krause and nine songs by Crowded House. “I have obsession issues with Neil Fiinn.”

Design Do-Overs
Want to find out more about the “do-over” feature: check it out on Cathy’s blog HERE.

Some design tips from Cathy Z
Favorite method/use:
Zielske recommends using one font for the title, and a second font for the journaling, which creates some contrast. She said she favors using a big title and a nice, readable point size for the journaling. She also encourages using ample leading (the space between the lines of text).

Least favorite use of fonts: Zielske said scrapbookers often suffer from “font sneeze.” “You know [its when you use] a bunch of different fonts so that it looks like someone spilled type all over your page.”

One thing to remember about fonts: “Type is an art form. Type designers have created these amazing letter forms for us to use, so don’t abuse them. Keep it simple and classic.”

Her favorite fonts: Zielske said her favorite journaling and title fonts include Adobe Garamond, Archer and Avenire. “I really do stick to classic type, regardless of the type of page I’m doing.”

Use of White Space:
Can white space be your friend? Yes! “The reason why white space is a friend to scrapbookers is that it allows room for your design to breathe. It creates a sense of calm and peace. It invites viewers into the experience of looking at your page, rather than demanding they look at it because it’s all full of mucky muck.”


Something to remember: “Everything in design has a purpose,” Zielske said. “Your layouts should have a purpose and look like stuff goes together. “The relationship between elements on a layout is the single most important design aspect, and the place where things usually go the most wrong. Elements need to
make sense in the scheme of the overall design.”

“To capture the essence of a story, the thing that’s cool is that you don’t have to have a gazillion pictures on a page or tons of words to do it,” she said. "You just have to be specific and get it down onto the page.”

What Zielske typically uses on all pages:
“You will usually see layouts designed with a single font. That’s something I do most of the time. As far as design techniques, you’ll see lots of photo groupings in squares, and equal amounts of space between my elements.

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