With Great Design Comes Immense Power

Through my semester-long internship with Watershed Review (@watershed.csuc), I was tasked with refining the aesthetic and creating ongoing features for the literary magazine’s Instagram account. When approached to do this, the bold letters that screamed NERVOUS in my head could not be more apparent, my experience with Instagram posts limited to viewing, not creating. After some much needed research I was able to build a foundation for what it takes to make a literary magazine’s Instagram work. Once I sat down to make a list of the essential things, I realized just how daunting a task this can be. Instagram is an important platform, the extent of design possibilities unknown. As well, using this tool to gather a loyal following can really make or break a literary magazine. Through my research, I’ve come to see that two categories are the most crucial: design and connectivity.



When thinking about design I knew just as much as my grandmother Mimi knows about Twitter, which is not a lot, but with some help, examples, and several books I was able to get a handle on a couple of important design considerations—color scheme and font.         


Whether that is a simple color scheme like black and white which Instant, A Literary Magazine (@instantlitmag) does so beautifully, or a cohesive color scheme with a subtle color accent, like Shenandoah Literary Magazine (@shenandoah_literary), both give the viewer a full picture when looking at the feed from a grid without the eye getting overwhelmed. Another aspect to visual happiness is a design that flows throughout each post, Pathos Literary Magazine (@pathoselitmag) shows this with ease through their spunky cartoons. 


Font, like color, is also very important when making a magazine’s Instagram work. Robin Williams, author of The Non-Designer’s Design Book states, “a reader should not have to try to figure out what is happening on the page—the focus, the organization of material, the purpose, the flow of information, all should be recognized instantly with a single glance.” Keeping one or a few similar fonts consistent across posts is a way a magazine, like Honey & Lime Literary Magazine (@honeyandlimelit), is able to have a busier background but still keep a post soothing to the eye.


As a viewer I saw fonts as the most basic form of design, something I hadn’t even thought about past MLA format, but now as a learner and creator I see it for what it is. Ellen Lupton, author of Thinking with Type states “typefaces are an essential resource employed by graphic designers, just as glass, stone, steel, and other materials are employed by architects.” This idea of font being the base for design is a great way of starting to understand the link between all elements that go into designing an Instagram post. Shenandoah Literary Magazine also does a great job at melding their fonts with the design, as well as sticking with just a few fonts throughout their entire feed.

The connection between the words, the image and the font needs to be strong—an idea I am still trying to bring to life in my own mind. Scott Thomas, the design director of the 2007-2008 Obama presidential campaign explains in Abstract: The Art of Design, “when you look at a letter form or you look at a word, does it actually communicate something deeper than the word itself?” Thomas continues to demonstrate the weight of font by asking “does it actually drive some other meaning to you, and subconsciously, I think all letter forms do. It comes down to what is the emotional quality that we are trying to say in this word”


At the end of the day we are talking about literary magazines, and so the text should be visually appealing, easy to read, and without errors. When stripped down, Instagram is there to enhance the core aesthetic of the magazine. The design and essence of the magazine should be shining through; all the ways listed above are simple steps to making that happen.



The obvious purpose of social media is to connect with followers. Instagram can be used as a platform for information sharing, event details, and calls for submission (to just name a few). More importantly, Instagram aids in creating a community for people who love the same thing to connect online and in person. At this time, when connecting face-to-face is ill advised, Instagram can be a great way to keep communities together remotely. While I may be a complete amateur when it comes to making Instagram posts, I can say with 100% certainty I am an expert viewer of Instagram. When thinking of my favorite Instagrams all of them include some form of interactivity. 



Since the shelter-in-place order in the US began, The Poetry Lab (@thepoetrylab) has been posting daily writing prompts, giving their hundreds of followers something to do with their copious time indoors. River Heron Review (@riverheronreview) has also done their part in aiding the people staying home with their post of “7 Prompts for the Week Ahead.”


Another way to keep viewers engaging with previous issues of your publication is a reoccurring feature Watershed Review (@watershed.csuc) calls #fromthearchives. Featuring quotes from current and past issues of the literary magazine is a great way to connect viewers from the Instagram page to the magazine itself, hopefully keeping them there for a little while too! This practice of posting quotes from a variety of issues of the magazine is something many magazines are doing including Cream City Review (@cream_city_review), Ecotone (@ecotonemagazine) and Epiphany Magazine (@epiphanylitjournal), among many others. When adapting a technique many use, it is crucial to make yours stand out and ensure the creativity of your Instagram page matches the aesthetic of the magazine. As we have already established, I am a complete beginner when it comes to creating Instagram posts, so Canva is one way magazines have been able to make unique posts easily. It is actually difficult to find a literary magazine’s Instagram page that doesn’t have at least one post made on Canva, so changing up the color, font, and design of a Canva template can be as essential as proofreading. 


Highlighting Writers

Shoutouts or Spotlights of past writers can be a great addition when trying to connect to a viewership. This can be done by recognizing past writers who have won awards, achieved something noteworthy like being published again or simply by posting their published piece in your article to show their talents. Not only can this give the viewer a varied reading experience, but also show interested writers the type of work the magazine is interested in publishing, express that the magazine is competitive and worth submitting to, and that the magazine values its past writers.


Paula Scher, quoted in Abstract:The Art of Design, explains that design “can create immense power” by stating that “before you even read [something] you have a sensibility and spirit.” For a literary magazine, an Instagram post can be the viewer’s first window into exploring the world the magazine creates on a page. The first impression is the most important and can be done through carefully placed flowers and lines, a choice between Arial or Futura and a whole lot of creativity.

Written by Lily Anderson