How to Design a Magazine Ad: Ogilvy Method, Layout Principles, Type Tips, & Planning Your Ad Layout

How to Design a Magazine Ad: Ogilvy Method, Layout Principles, Type Tips, & Planning Your Ad Layout
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Plan Your Ad Layout: Where Does the Reader Look?

When viewing a magazine ad, the reader’s eye sees the illustration first, no matter where it is on the page. Then they read down from the illustration on. As to where the ad’s main illustration should be, consider this: the “optical center” of the page is one-third of the way down and in the center. Keep these in mind when thinking of the layout of your magazine ad.

Ogilvy Method for Magazine Ads


Every designer should create an ad using the Ogilvy method at least once in their career, but to be honest, most ads should incorporate at least some of these principles no matter what. They were formulated by advertising icon David Ogilvy and are backed up by scientific research.

The Ogilvy method in a nutshell is based upon 5 items:

  • a very strong visual, either a photo or an illustration
  • a caption for the visual, if needed
  • a headline
  • well-written copy
  • a “signature” — logo and contact information for the product/company

Magazine Ad Layout Principles

This is a general percentage breakdown of the different elements of a magazine ad as your rule of thumb guideline:

  • Visual (the main photo or illustration) — 65%
  • Headline — 10%
  • Ad Copy — 20%
  • Logo — 5%

The percentages are how much space each major element should take up in the ad. The main visual should be very large, and in the top portion of the ad, in order to take advantage of where the reader instinctively looks first.

The headline doesn’t take up a lot of space on the page, yet it stands out because it’s succinct, contrasts with the page, and set in large type.

Copy describes the benefits of what you’re promoting or selling.

The logo should be placed in the bottom right area of the ad, because that’s where the eye is drawn to last.

Type Tips

kylehyams flickr

Use the design principles of balance and contrast when selecting typefaces and type sizes for your magazine ad. Contrast means your type will be readable on the page and vary in size. For instance, brown type on a black background is low-contrast and virtually unreadable. Use dark type on light backgrounds and vice versa. Avoid placing type on busy backgrounds.

Make the headline as big as possible for the layout and set the copy no smaller than 8 or 9 point. It may be trendy to set type super-tiny, but keep your audience in mind and remember that ad design is primarily about motivating people to seek out the product, not showcasing creativity. I highly recommend staying in the 10–16 point range for ad copy, depending on the length of the message.

Should you use a serif or sans serif font ? It doesn’t matter — legibility studies are inconclusive. Follow normal typeface selection rules and use what looks nice. The rule of thumb is to select two typefaces for an ad and use a sans serif for the headline and a serif for the ad copy.

Don’t use all capital letters, and use reverses (light type on a dark background) judiciously.

These tips for how to design a magazine ad come from years of research conducted by marketers and famous names like David Ogilvy. They’re time-tested and will help you to lay out an ad that’s not only attractive and eye-catching, but effective. Let us know how you’re putting these tips to use in the comments.


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