July 10, 2013
Dog Ear Consultants
We’ve critiqued a few alumni mags over the past couple of months, and while mulling over a certain batch of table of contents pages, something suddenly dawned on us. The typical treatment of the TOC is a strange paradox: It’s almost always a last-minute ordeal in the production cycle, yet it’s the first thing our readers see inside the cover. In other words, the TOC helps establish a tone for a magazine; it sparks a visual dialog with readers before they’ve even read a single word. So why do we consistently slap it together with such haste?
The very nature of magazine production flow relegates the TOC to almost an afterthought. We have to wait on pagination, and, of course, the more important editorial and design issues to tackle are time-consuming and numerous. When we eventually get around to the TOC each issue, we choose a passable photo outtake, steal a couple subheads from the feature well, and drop them into the trusty old template we’ve used for years. The result usually isn’t altogether terrible or unattractive. But it’s often unremarkable, or worse, tired.
Why fuss over something as insignificant as the TOC? We can’t repeat it enough: With all the choices in today’s media landscape, it’s important—crucial, even—to use every opportunity to make your readers take pause, especially at the beginning of the book. If you’re not already doing it, it’s time start thinking about the table of contents as, well, content. Think of it as a featurette—give it as much design consideration as any other featurette (illustrations, anyone?), and dig deep to develop article teasers that entertain and inspire curiosity.
Some examples to get your gears turning: The TOC for Howler, a new soccer magazine, is a spectacular spread of color and energy that invites your eye to poke around for a minute or two (the entire magazine will wow you, by the way, even if you think soccer’s for sissies). Esquire switches up the treatment of its lively TOC every single issue—sometimes slightly, sometimes vastly—as does eachNew York Times Magazine special issue. Design industry magazines tend to have distinctive TOCs, too—a Google image search will reveal many of them.
And if you’re still uninspired, you can always grab a couple coworkers and kick a soccer ball around outside the office for a few minutes. The exercise should clear your head (and we’re fairly certain no one will call you sissies).