Whenever I work on magazine redesigns, or newspaper redesigns (or sections) that might lend themselves to exploring a more magazine-like direction, I wallow in the joys and challenges of designing covers. Here are four areas where I tend to concentrate my work, that may provide lessons for editors and designers struggling to create magazine covers that pop:
IMPACT: One large image, possibly even focusing on a face, is almost always better than a crowd shot. One well-lit product shot is better than a whole grocery cart of items. In lieu of people or products, you can produce a “type attack” that emphasizes excellent headline writing. In terms of the dominant headlines, anyway, fewer words are better than more. (Decks, subheads and refers, at smaller sizes, can give you the explanation that you likely need.)
[A classic “type attack” – covers which do not rely on images, but rather, strongly stylized type. Note the contrast in size and color of the headline words; the centered placement of the words also creates energy on the page.]
DIMENSION: Yeah, it’s a two-dimensional surface, but there are tricks you can use to easily make a magazine cover seem more dimensional. I like to imagine: by manipulating image size and cropping, and other design tools, how can I make the canvas appear 150% larger than it actually is? Try these tips: 1) Often, overlapping part of the main cover image on top of the logo can help you do this. Careful not to obscure too much of the lettering; there is some school of thought that you try to avoid the left side of a logo, as that is where the eye starts processing the letterforms and recognizing the title. 2) Creating contrast between large and small letters can reinforce what magazine design legend Robert Newman calls “syncopated headlines.” Careful to make sure that the larger words are really key to what you are saying. 3) And of course, brighter/bolder colors – yellows, golds, whites, sometimes pinks or orange – will come to the surface and make more subdued colors, or smaller type elements, recede to the background.
[Note how the use of gold in the logo type, and white in the headlines, reinforces the nighttime environment in which this cover image was shot.]Â
CLARITY: Even if you have a large budget (or any budget) for custom photography, you still may end up with cover shots (or handout photos) that were taken without regard for the needs of cover layout – the space required for logo placement, as well as headline and refer arrangement. The challenge is this: how to ensure that your main image can be processed quickly, and that the main headlines can also grab the reader as quickly as possible, while also maintaining readability of any refers that are set on top of what may be a complicated background. This usually necessitates some extra time in the editing or cropping process to ensure that the photo and type elements (including logo) are a good “fit.”
Â [As the publisher wishes to reinforce the word “Monthly,” white was chosen as it has the most contrast on the page in this instance. It pops off the page. The secondary words in the logo are in a smoky color that reinforces the content of the cover image.]
CONTRAST: In terms of your typography in particular, you want to explore a rich mix of large and small type elements, as well as brighter and more sedate colors, as mentioned earlier. This allows the busier, “scanning” reader to zoom in on just a few key words, if they only have a few fleeting seconds at the newsstand for example, and also keeps the eye actively moving around the page. And while some magazines are well designed using only one type family, even they will exploit the contrasts of size and weight of the font, possibly even color, to create a sense of energy. Many magazine use two typefaces, in addition to the logo font, to help create a sense of contrast as well. Be careful not to overdo it – more than three type families on a cover usually makes for an overly chaotic approach.