Friday, February 1, 2008

The genius of NY Times Magazine cover design

Most mainstream periodicals have a cover style they adhere to fairly strictly, from The New Yorker’s trademark cartoons to the headshots of celebrities featured on Cosmo, GQ, Esquire, and Elle. The New Yorker’s style is unique and instantly recognizable, while cover shots on the latter are largely interchangeable. Furthermore, magazines like Cosmo and GQ rely primarily on a change in the color of the logotype to differentiate issues month to month. These covers follow a general pattern of full-page graphic, usually a photograph, with a few lines about the articles within. This is a safe design, used also by all three main news magazines (Time, Newsweek, U.S. News and World Report), as well as Sports Illustrated, National Geographic, and other widely circulated publications. The only major newsmagazine that breaks the mold is The Economist (based in the U.K.), which uses quirky cartoons and photo-illustrations to provoke thought or amusement in the reader. Economist covers range from the tacky to the profound, but they certainly all share the same sensibility.

It is the Sunday Magazine supplement in The New York Times that most fully explores the range of the front-page possibilities. While some covers are simple portraits (Giuliani, Romney, Obama, Huckabee, and Clinton have all been prominently featured in recent months), others are the result of time-consuming hand lettering and illustration. Above, four examples demonstrate the variety of techniques used by a layout designer to visually communicate the cover’s subject to the reader. From watercolor painting to collage, to nearly a full page of text, each is compelling in its own way. The type stays consistent throughout, with respect to both font and size. Thus the covers all share a distinctive feel, despite the difference in appearance.

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