Posts Tagged ‘Design’

What makes a cover tick? Its artistic merit? Stop-you-in-your-tracks cover blurbs? Incredible colors? Clever photography?

None of the above. What makes a cover tick is its readers’ desire to pick up the issue, open the magazine and plunk down cold, hard cash.

Sucks, huh? We editors and designers think we have it all figured out. We don’t. It reminds me of something Zach Frechette of Good Magazine said when he spoke to a group of us about magazine covers at the 2008 Folio Conference: “Don’t be fooled by the big guys. No one else knows what they’re doing either.”

I was inspired by this post by Folio today. It’s a great article in which the writer asked several editors what their least selling cover was and asked them to analyze the reason for the low sell-through. All of them said some version of the same thing: The readers didn’t connect with the cover. The image here of the Inc. cover is an example. No matter how cute the little girl with the guitar is, readers of this business magazine don’t really connect with her.

We did an experiment at work one time where we had four covers we liked. Our editor thought it would be a great idea to put the four covers on our website and let our readers vote for the winning cover. They did, and, boy, were we way off! The cover we all liked the least won. The colors were awful, the angle of the photo was weird, and it paled in comparison stylistically to the covers that all of us in the office preferred.

The difference was that the winning cover had a big ol’ bass on it. That’s right! That’s what our fisherman readers love most. The thrill of the pursuit, the mastery of the biggest fish in the water, the conquering of bass bigger than what your friends have caught. We know that’s what they like, but we didn’t know they valued that more highly than all the other factors, combined, that make up a cover .

So what makes a good cover? Frechette told us what his art and editorial teams at Good decided on as their rules for each issue:

1. Don’t sell out subscribers. Don’t go for the newsstand look so much that it alienates those readers who have committed to you.

2. Create art. Be proud of what you create. Make it wall-hangable.

3. There’s no secret success formula. Don’t listen to anyone who tells you there is. Everyone’s just guessing.

Frechette added that these are the elements the magazine minds look for when creating covers:

  • clever, provocative, fun
  • simple
  • edgy content
  • compelling cover lines
  • bold visuals

What do you look for on a magazine cover? Have you ever bought a magazine because you specifically liked the cover — or not bought one because you didn’t?

Want more related reading? Try out these articles:

Seven Design Principles of Magazine Covers

20 Magnificent Magazine Covers

The Most Controversial Magazine Covers of All Time

Great Magazine Cover Design

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Today was a rough day in the office. Not rough compared to high-pressure environments with screaming bosses and slamming doors, but rough in the sense that we were almost there — and then we just weren’t.

We were supposed to send all our files to the printer today. We were pretty close to sending most of them; that is, until we placed the pages on the wall. We have a process with the magazine I work on in which we place all the finished pages, including ads, in consecutive order up on the wall so we can pick up on any color clashes or facing-page problems. Today, once the pages were up, we could see that five features in a row had the same basic design. Title on the left, photo on the right, secondary photo at bottom left. Awful. Ugly. Unimaginative. We had to act.

This evening, I sat back to ponder what I learned and what others could take from it. Here’s what today taught me:

Think of the flow. Will your reader flip from page to page without realizing he or she has moved on to another story? Are your features different enough to make the reader pause and consider each story? Going from page to page, does it feel as if the magazine is building to a crescendo? Make sure each part of the magazine functions as it’s supposed to, guiding the reader to the next page and delivering a treat for each page turn.

Imagine you’re the reader. Publishing professionals sometimes forget that the readers are not pros at the printed page, but rather sponges of the subject. Strive to please your most discerning reader, but realize that the average reader won’t look at each page and criticize the colors, the photo composition or the editorial style. The reader wants to be drawn in with a captivating headline, strong graphic, compelling entry points and a story that appears easy to read — or easy to ditch if it doesn’t measure up. Focus on those elements first and foremost.

Fantasize about what would make the page perfect. Picture having all the resources in the world to put this issue together — huge budgets, ample staff and tons of time. And ask, what would make this page awesome? I try to visualize what’s the best our designer can do with the material he has. If he needs more photos, copy, illustrations or charts, I need to conceptualize those and find or create them. Sometimes I ask, “What would Men’s Health do?” (Or, insert other great men’s mag like ESPN The Magazine or Time.) Then I think, could I imagine one of those magazines running the photo or layout or headline we’ve got? If not, it’s back to the drawing board. They do better, and so can we.

Ultimately today, we ditched one story, found an illustration for another and created a new primary photo for another. It helped tremendously. We’re not done yet, but I guarantee this issue will look better because of these changes, and I think our readers will appreciate it.

What do you do when faced with crunch-time publishing problems?

–Tyler Reed

Editor, The Sidebar Review