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Introduction to Magazine Cover Pages

| January 31, 2014 | 3 Comments

Magazine Cover Design concept

Magazine cover page serves several purposes. It sells the brand, it has to be visually appealing and different from the other cover pages on the newsstand to attract the new readers. On the other hand each new cover must be different from the previous issue but still familiar and recognizable to regular readers. It has to present the publications character and its content. All of this make the cover page the most important page in any magazine.

Process of magazine cover design is a tough one. Designers spend lots of time and effort to create a cover page. Some magazines, even have one person dedicated only to cover design. Yes, cover designer is a designer that designs only cover pages. Of course only the biggest magazines in the world have cover designers, but you get the point. The process of cover design can last up to 5 days in weekly magazines, to few weeks in monthly magazines.

Several ideas should be tried and several different proposals of one idea tested. Of course, majority of magazines cannot spend that much time and effort on cover design, not because they don’t want to, they simply lack the manpower and time, but still, creation of each cover page takes time and it should be taken seriously. In this link you can see how many proposals of one cover designers in Newsweek can produce in one week.

The first design is rarely the best one. Try few options and when you are done, let it rest for a day. Something that looked good today may not seem good tomorrow. Cover page has to have lasting power, at least for the time while it is in the circulation.

It is important to highlight that the free magazines or the ones that are supplements to newspapers do not rely on newsstand sales and thus they have bigger freedom in their design approach.

The cover forces readers to take action and make decisions. The cover is your periodically test to see how well you know your audience. If you don’t have a good idea who your target audience is, what makes them tick,  that lack of idea will be visible on your cover.


Types of magazine cover pages

Although there are numerous different approaches to cover design we can divide cover page design in four major categories. Image based, illustration based, type based and as I like to call them concept based cover pages.


Image based magazine covers

This is the most common approach to magazine cover design and it usually consists of one or few persons on the cover, looking at the camera, preferably smiling. You can see this approach in almost all celebrity magazines, almost all fashion magazines and men’s magazines. In many cases the person featured on the cover sells that issue. This is why some celebrity sells more covers than the other.

Some magazines go for a different approach and that is to present cover person in an unusual way. Not looking at the camera, maybe shot sideways, not smiling and so on. It all depends on the nature of the publication. For example, some magazines can have a person on the cover with a grumpy look on its face.

With a travel magazine obvious choice can be some beautiful landscape photography, or in a food related magazine some delicious meal is obvious choice for the main cover image.
The main thing to point out here is that the nature of the photography has to correspond with the style of the publication. Of course you can see the examples that deviate from this norm, but this will rarely happen.

Magazine Cover Design photography
Magazine Cover Design photography
Magazine Cover Design photography
Magazine Cover Design photography


Illustration based magazine covers

From the beginnings of the magazine publishing till the mid 30’s of the 20th century drawn illustrations were the only way of creating the cover pages. Most notable magazine with illustrated cover today is The New Yorker. Their cover design did not change from its inception in 1925.
Today illustrations are used to present something funny or out of ordinary and there are not so many magazines that opt for illustrated covers. The majority of magazines that do use, illustrated covers are independently published magazines that do not rely on newsstand sales. Also, there is a number of magazines that opt for computer generated illustrations.

Magazine Cover Design illustration

Magazine Cover Design illustration

Magazine Cover Design illustration

Magazine Cover Design illustration


Type based magazine covers

This approach is also rare, but still you can see them more often than illustrated covers. Type based cover pages tend to be striking and even shocking. There is something powerful in the way how the type looks and presents words. There is a beauty in type and sometimes it can present the message much better than photography. Probably the most famous typography based cover is Esquire’s “Oh My God, We Hit a Little Girl!” by George Lois.

Although small in numbers type based covers are having a revival in the last few years with the rise in popularity of handwritten letter forms and modern calligraphy.

Magazine Cover Design typographic

Magazine Cover Design typographic

magazine Cover Design typographic

Magazine Cover Design typographic


Concept based magazine covers

This approach can be a mix of all three approaches listed above. Again, it is the best when it is used to present strong message, in a shocking or just the opposite, funny way.

The main trick to the concept based magazine covers is that they have to be instantly understandable to the audience and this is something that is not easy to achieve. The idea that you have may be funny to you and your editor, but will it be funny to the readers?! Will they understand it?

This type of cover is also rare, but usually seen in business magazines, news weekly magazines, independent magazines, magazines that are supplements to a newspapers and subscription only publications.
Below is the cover by Henry Wolf for Esquire and it is one of my favorites. Great idea that uses photography and type to present the message to the reader in a funny way.

Today some of the best magazines with this kind of cover design are a British magazine Stylist, Spanish Metropoli and Bloomberg Businessweek and New York Times Magazine from USA. From issue to issue their covers are funny, witty and visually beautiful.

henry wolf esquire cover

Magazine Cover Design concept

Magazine Cover Design concept

Magazine Cover Design concept


Magazine cover lines

Usually the most important part of any cover is interaction between the words and picture. If done right, it will send the message and it will instantly be spotted in the sea of covers on a newsstand. Some magazines go for few cover lines, some fill almost each empty space with cover lines. Again, it all depends on the character of the publication.
Writing cover lines is a role of copy editor or editor in chief. You may think this is an easy task, but to create appealing and attractive cover lines, it takes time and lots of effort.

Magazine Cover Design concept

A cover needs one line set in big type and it has to be the best cover line. It can be call for action, solution to problems, powerful statement or some word play, but be careful with word play. The reader has to understand what it means immediately. Some languages are good for word play like English, others are not. If your language is not suitable, don’t do it.

Some marketing research states that the average person spends 3-4 seconds on average glancing at the cover pages displayed on newsstands. This is why everything should be clear instantly, from the design related concept of the cover to the words in cover lines.

Subject of the cover design is pretty vast to be included in one post and in the next few weeks we will try to tell you all you need to know about cover pages. From the elements of cover page to detailed explanation of cover lines, also we will present you good and bad cover pages and try to explain why are they good or bad. So, stay tuned for more on magazine covers.


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Category: Design

Comments (3)

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  1. Fabulous article. I’ve learned a lot. Thanks!

  2. Caisha Abdirahman says:

    Learned a lot. Good Post. =)

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