Case Study: Hambly & Woolley highlights 'Precedent Setters' with simple editorial design

Case Study by Barb Woolley RGD, Partner at Hambly & Woolley

Precedent Magazine is geared to lawyers in their first 10 years of practice, featuring a lively assortment of professional news, lifestyle, tips, fashion trends and opinions on hot topics. Every year they publish a special issue celebrating six young lawyers who have made extraordinary contributions to law and beyond. The judges review a stack of impressive nominations to identify people whose hard work, innovation and determination make them worthy of the spotlight.





Precedent is a quarterly publication and Ontario’s only magazine for young lawyers. The magazine is sent to 15,000 lawyers in Ontario. A thousand copies are sent to law schools in the province, delivered straight through Precedent-branded magazine racks in high-traffic areas.




To avoid taking focus away from the individuals, Hambly & Woolley conceived a simple, beautiful black and white photographic approach, akin to Irving Penn. We used an ‘old-school’ contact sheet as a visual metaphor and added masking tape around individual frames to highlight each lawyer's ‘best’ shot, and a china marker for display copy. On the feature pages we played with irreverent crops of the frames and allowed the rebate of the film to show.


While the design motif was meant to be vernacular, our design was not overpowering. The goal of this approach was to allow the reader to simply enjoy the words and images.




The issue worked on the established magazine grid with pre-existing style sheets, but because it was a special issue, we were able to develop a unique treatment to roll into the feature as well. Working within the established editorial schedule meant we only had two months to put the whole issue to bed.


The photographer for this project was Daniel Ehrenworth, who regularly shoots the award-winning 'Secret Life' feature of the magazine. We were happy to give him a bigger feature story with this project, for which he shot at least 200 frames of each subject. In the end we came away with really gorgeous images.




Design Issues

Classical portraits were key to this design. The subjects needed to as natural as possible, but this is a lot harder to achieve than it looks. There were no props, furniture or sets to help them feel more comfortable, and shooting in a location away from their offices meant they were in an unfamiliar environment. To achieve the natural look we needed, we shot a lot of frames and engaged the subjects in conversation to help them forget they were being photographed. The choice to use a gray backdrop also created a neutral space, allowing the winners to be the focus.



The Precedent Setter Awards are a great form of recognition for the industry and are developing a strong reputation, with nominations for the awards growing exponentially. For the magazine, this feature prompted congratulatory ads from each individual winner's firm, which benefited publisher Melissa Kluger. For the winners themselves, they each received a copy of their portrait and enjoyed a great experience.


"Hambly and Woolley brought amazing artistic direction to our annual Precedent Setter Awards feature. Our goal at Precedent is to showcase the next generation of lawyers. We took young lawyers who were flying under the radar and made them them stars of the show. From start to finish they were treated like superstars and the finished product made them look fantastic (and no doubt advanced their careers)" - Melissa Kluger, Publisher


This project was also the recipient of the silver award for best issue at the recent Kenneth R. Wilson Awards in Toronto.


While we have moved on from Precedent, this is work we are really proud of. Editorial design is in our DNA and we continue to create custom publications for many clients.



Designer Takeaways

  1. Have a clear idea of the art direction and layout before going to the photography stage to feel more prepared and make it easier to tackle the time-consuming process of editorial design
  2. To make your layouts work, don't be afraid to ask your editor to write copy to support your ideas
  3. Design for the reader -- set type to ensure the meaning and intent are communicated and use your design to indicate where the reader should start


Client Takeaway

Successful editorial design demands great collaboration between the editor and the art director: an editor can have great visual ideas and an art director can write great copy. As designers, we want our layouts to enable better comprehension by creating visual storytelling -- it is important for the art and words to be connected, otherwise the storytelling falls apart.


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