How to Design a School-Leavers Book

Marianne Stenger
15th March 2022

Are you in the process of designing a school-leavers memory book?  To give you an insight into what goes into the making of a photobook like this, we spoke with Caroline Haas.

She's been involved in creating yearbooks for Thomas's Kensington for a number of years now, and the books she and her team designed with Bob Books have since become the template for their future school-leaver books.

“I used the Bob designer software,” she says. “I do all our family photo books on it, and I love it because I can change and customise the layout as much as I want.”  

Here are her tips for getting started, staying organised and most of all, putting together a memorable yearbook that both kids and parents can enjoy for many years to come.

1. Start as early as possible

The more time you have to collect photos and plan your book, the better it will be. Haas says she likes to start at least a few months in advance, as collecting photos of each child and planning each section can be time-consuming. 

“Part of the complexity is getting the photos of the children from all the parents,” she says. “Parents will often send their smartphone shots, but you’ll find that the quality isn’t always good enough. You will probably have days where you feel frustrated and think it’s an impossible task, but starting early will help you avoid an unpleasant last-minute rush to finish everything on time.”

In order to collect all the photos you need, she emphasises the importance of making it as easy as possible for parents to share all their photos in one place. For instance, you can use a cloud-based file transfer service like WeTransfer or Dropbox.

2. Get some help

Because planning and designing a school-leavers book can be a big project to tackle alone, Haas says it’s a good idea to decide on a core team of people who can work on the book together. In order to prevent all the work from falling on one person’s shoulders, each member of the team can be assigned a different section or task.

“Of the six people who were working on the book, each person had a section that they were responsible for. So one was sports, one was music, one was drama, one was parent and teacher pictures, and so on,” says Haas. 

“We found that it was good to have one main person manage the book, and then we would get together for weekly meetings about a month before it needed be done so we had a chance to discuss the book as a whole.”

3. Plan the layout ahead of time

Before you even start collecting photos, it’s a good idea to have a general idea of what the book will end up looking like and what sections you’ll be including. For example, each child will probably have his or her own page featuring two or three photos and a little blurb about their hobbies, interests or favourite school subjects.

To get material for these pages, Haas says it’s nice to ask each a child a few questions or include photos that reflect their interests.

“For example, for someone who was a really good swimmer we included a photo of them swimming, or if somebody was very musical we would use a music photo. We also had all the children answer questions, such as ‘What are your best memories?’ or ‘Did you have a nickname?’ or ‘What do you want to be in the future?’  We would put this together with their photos and then have individual folders to keep everything organised.”

4. Mix it up a bit

Another thing that's important with a yearbook is to mix things up rather than including all the photos of one event in the same section of the book.

“We mocked up the layout of the book to see where we wanted to put what,” she says. “We chose to mix up the photos and have some drama on one page, some sports on another, and then some swimming on another. In this way, you don’t end up with pages and pages of just one event. Scattering these types of photos throughout the book keeps it interesting.”

5. Include strong headlines

Headlines not only help to keep things organised, but can also be a great way grab the viewer’s attention and inject some humour and originality into the book.  

“In some cases we included headlines that were funny,” says Haas. “For example one of our headlines was ‘The Escape Artists’ which referred to kids who hadn’t gone through the full 6-7 years. We still wanted to find a way to include them in the book.”

She adds that it’s important to maintain continuity when including any text in the form of headlines, blurbs or captions. “Always use the same font throughout the whole book. You can change the size when necessary, of course, but it’s best to agree to one font and then stick to it.”

6. Be selective with images

Trying to include every photo taken over the years is a near impossible task, and can also make the book a bit tedious to flip through.

“Our book ended up being more aesthetic and representative of the children’s school years, as opposed to being a 100% representation of everything that happened,” says Haas. “Putting in every photo that was ever taken can make the book too long or boring.”

This doesn’t necessarily mean you should delete the ones you don’t think you’ll use, as you might need additional photos to fill empty spaces later on.

“We initially had a major cull of the photos, as you end up with thousands. But rather than deleting them, we created another folder for all the originals. This way, when we were missing photos of one child, we could go back to the ones we had culled, just in case there was still something we could use.”

7. Give each child a chance to shine

Another important consideration is to give each child an equal amount of coverage in the book so no one feels left out. In addition to each child’s own page of photos and interests, they’ll probably appear in other sections throughout the book, such as the sports days or group photos.

To make sure each child was equally represented throughout the book, Haas says she created an Excel spreadsheet with all the children’s names as well as the book’s sections across. Each time a child’s photo was added somewhere in the book, she added a 1 next to that child’s name in the spreadsheet. In this way, it was easy to make sure that no one had been overlooked.

Looking for more advice on how to go about designing your first photo book? Check out this photographer’s advice for designing your first photo book or our Beginner's Guide to making a photobook with the Bob Designer Software.