In this industry, people absolutely do judge a magazine by its cover. And rightly so, says Avery Trufelman of 99 Percent Invisible.
“The cover of a magazine is the unified identity for a whole host of ideas, authors, and designers who have created the eclectic array of stories and articles and materials within each issue. And, some would argue, this identity extends to the reader as well. If you’re seen with an issue of Vogue, you don’t just own that copy—you become a Vogue reader.”
So what is the secret to becoming one of the greats in magazine cover design? Consistency and creativity.
“Magazine covers are a challenge to design, since they have to be both ever-changing and also consistently recognizable. For this reason, most publications stick to a standard set of practices,” Trufelman continues.
You also need to understand how the magazine is being sold. If, like the New Yorker or Time your title doesn’t rely mainly on newsstand sales, you can afford to be more graphic and less wordy.
“Magazines that don’t rely on newsstand sales look very different from magazines that do. Titles like The Atlantic, Time, and The New Yorker have the luxury of not needing to grab someone’s attention at the checkout line,” notes Trufelman.
Think back to the old Esquire covers designed by the remarkable George Lois for inspiration – a compelling photograph or illustration, with barely any words to clutter the design.
If your customer is mainly check-out driven (Us, People and other weekly celebrity mags), yellow headlines splashed across titillating photos are your friends, advises Trufelman.
Beyond images and headlines, there are myriad details that can make or break the success of your cover. The eye contact of the model, the masthead placement, the headlines and subheads, the color choices all have huge impacts on sales, according to Nikola of Magazine Designing. His article, “55 Best Tips for a Successful Magazine Cover” is a good read for any cover designer.
Creative, compelling covers are possible when you combine traditional best practices that are known to work with fresh ideas and insights. Let it flow.