How do I learn editing and layout?
March 10, 2007 12:49 PM   Subscribe

I'm in college. I'd like to be trained to do editing and layout for a living. How do I proceed? Do you know anything about Simon Fraser's Editing program?

I've always been interested in art, but at the end of high school I opted to go to a 'real' university, rather than an art school. Now I'm in my third year of a BA in Philosophy. I love philosophy, but I don't want to be a professional academic.

While at school, I've been working on a school magazine, and have discovered I really like editing and layout/graphic design.

I'm going to finish my BA, but I've been thinking about subsequently going to school to learn editing and layout. Preferably both, if that's possible. Very preferably in Canada, since that's where I am and I'd like to stay here, but suggestions in America are also welcome.

1. Should I be going to school for this at all, or just looking for internships/entry level jobs?
2. What kind of program should I be looking for?
3. Are there any schools that I should especially avoid or especially try to get into?
posted by ITheCosmos to Education (10 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
What you're looking for a is a graphic design program with a focus on publication/magazine design.

Barring actually going to school for it, there are tons of great books out there on the topic. You might want to start with Typographic Design: Form and Communication, which will give you a good grounding in typography and some ideas of where to go next.
posted by dantekgeek at 1:01 PM on March 10, 2007

I went to, like you do, a "real" university for undergrad. Here are the two paths pretty much everyone at my undergrad college newspaper (of which I was editor) took when they graduated and realized they wanted to do editing/layout work:

1. Got internships/entry-level jobs in the field.

2. Went to get a master's degree in journalism.

Each will afford you pretty much the same opportunities to pick up layout/editing skills, and each will get you what you really need to thrive in the field, namely connections and experience. And both are negotiable—you can do each in its own time.

I opted to jump right into entry-level jobs and internships, and that's where I am now, almost a year out—it's going pretty well, and I'm learning a lot. In a year or five, I might go back to get my master's. But right now, I'm relishing the freedom and the learning opportunities working is giving me.

One downside, though, is that I'm not getting very many chances to do actual layout work anymore. That's frustrating, and it's one thing I'm going to focus on when I go back to get my master's—'cause layout/design is hard to break into without credentials and a portfolio beyond the few design clips I accrued as an undergrad, I've found. I know several people who worked on the paper with me in college who are currently doing graphics/layout work at major newspapers—and they landed jobs there mainly because of the layout/design experience they got while getting their journalism master's degrees at Mizzou.

You might not have much of a problem pulling together a good portfolio, though, if you're doing more design work. I focused more on the writing/editing side of things, so that's what I was able to find jobs doing.
posted by limeonaire at 1:09 PM on March 10, 2007

Mizzou aka University of Missouri-Columbia
posted by sulaine at 1:24 PM on March 10, 2007

ITheCosmos, are you based in Vancouver? I graduated with a BA from SFU. During my time, I took several courses in editing, graphic design, publishing and so on. I also took part in the co-op program and sometimes alternated school with other non-co-op work. When I graduated, I had three years of full-time experience.

I'm currently a marketing consultant, freelance writer and editor who also runs an information product business. I recently taught writing and editing for multimedia for a major university here in town. I was recently recommended to teach for the publishing program you just mentioned, but I had to turn it down due to other commitments.

I am telling you this to show that you don't have to have a particular course of study to break into the field. You can probably pick courses at your current university that will help you. And, by working and volunteering during university, you can build up credibility.

If you are based in Vancouver, I can recommend some specific strategies.
posted by acoutu at 2:12 PM on March 10, 2007

Volunteer at your student paper. If I were you (and I know I am not) I would not blow a bunch of money on a degree that may be obsolete by the time you get out of college. Print is dead. And even if it weren't graphic design isn't a particularly lucrative field, unless you work for the Man doing creative services or ad work.

It might be better to explore website design. You'll get paid more for your coding skills. Having a grounding in design is more of a value-add. And you can pick this up for free at your student paper.
posted by KokuRyu at 2:43 PM on March 10, 2007

A couple of years ago, I was in essentially the same place you are now. Some advice:

If you want to go into graphic design, GO TO A DESIGN SCHOOL. This is extremely important. I thought myself an okay designer until I took an art internship at a pretty swank magazine. They liked me quite a bit, but it was obvious to them I had no design education. Don't fall into the same trap; if you're at all serious about design, learn the fundamentals. The best place to do this is in a design program.

If you want to edit, then things open up quite a bit. The SFU Master's program is a decent choice, though it's not specifically geared towards editing; it's a comprehensive look at the publishing industry, and will teach you the basics about everything from editing to sales to management. You'll learn a lot of things not specifically related to editing that'll help you as an editor nonetheless, especially if you go into books (the program has a big magazine component but I've always felt it was more focused on books).

But SFU isn't your only option, and it's a pretty bad one if you want to pursue newspaper editing at all—it's simply not geared towards newspapers. For something more along those lines you should go to journalism school or get an internship at a paper. If you haven't done so already, join up with the student paper and see what it's like; it'll give you a head start, and I know plenty of people who've never set foot in J-school and have done quite well because of their student paper clips.

If you want to get a taste for what the SFU program offers, there's also a series of summer publishing workshops that they hold, taught by some of the same people that run the Masters program. It's a bit more intense because they cram it all into a week, but it also allows you to pick specific disciplines (there's a week-long editing workshop, for example). Finally, they cost quite a bit less than the full Masters program and run during the summer, so they're an ideal way to gauge whether the SFU program is for you. If you're in the Vancouver area, I highly recommend you try out a workshop, or at least talk to some of the permanent faculty.

Good luck to you! And if you figure out the whole editing/design thing, let me know; I'm still figuring it all out myself!
posted by chrominance at 3:23 PM on March 10, 2007

Response by poster: Oh, I'm in Montreal (going to McGill) if relevant.
posted by ITheCosmos at 4:40 PM on March 10, 2007

I'm not very familiar with McGill's programs. When you say you want to do editing and layout, what do you envision? It sounds like you are not so much interested in graphic design as in marketing communication, communication, writing and editing.
posted by acoutu at 8:45 PM on March 10, 2007

Response by poster: Oh christ, no, no, nothing like that. I know that McGill is a creative vacuum, that's why I'm looking elsewhere to get training in creative-type things.
posted by ITheCosmos at 9:27 AM on March 11, 2007

I'm a professional web and graphic designer with an undergraduate education in biology. I also worked as a magazine editor for a time after undergrad. I don't have a formal education in either, and I don't think you need one to be successful by any means. However, I do think that self-education, via reading, practice, some classes, and professional experience, is extremely important to your success.

Going to school would be a good way to get the skills you need quickly, but you'll likely come out $30K to $60K in debt, just to get a job that starts at $30K per year and doesn't climb very quickly.

Here's what I did: I wrote for the school paper in college, and had an internship at the alumni magazine, to build up my writing clips. I took one class in design, and then started doing design for free in order to build up my portfolio and get as proficient as possible in the relevant software (the Adobe suite, specifically). I intently observed other designers techniques. From time to time, I took a class to fill in technical skills (mostly online or short term classes through extensions at big universities). I've drawn heavily from the web to gain skills, follow trends, and develop my work.

All of that has gotten me quite far. It's one path that will allow you to explore the field before committing to a lot of debt to go to grad school.
posted by waxwing at 10:57 AM on March 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

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