Magazine Cover Design

Although you can’t judge a book by its cover, a magazine’s cover tells you a lot. Its whole purpose is to communicate both explicit and subliminal messages about the riches within. Extraordinary amounts of time and effort go into the development of these showpieces. In the first decades of this century, artists and illustrators were paid handsome sums, even by today’s standards, for cover drawings and paintings; now, some magazines have departments exclusively devoted to creating compelling covers.
Editors, art directors, and circulation managers have long battled over the words and images that might best work cover magic. Their strategies are diverse. The New Yorker eschews cover type that would herald its articles, while the Reader’s Digest’s cover billboards the contents. Radically different approaches, perhaps, but each project an identity and creates a familiar face for dedicated readers.
In the end, all covers invite: They invite readers to pick a magazine off a newsstand or grab it from the mail and explore what’s inside.
The look that a magazine cover takes sends a visual message; either for the personality of the magazine or for a particular issue. The tone can change depending upon the topic or nature of the issue. Its purpose is to get the reader to open up the magazine. Generally speaking, the cover appeals to the reader’s self-interest.
These elements generally make up a cover; make it a standard front:
1)Logo/Nameplate (the most obvious): the typographical representation of a name; a title that says what that magazine is; representative icon.
Example: My name in the Rolling Stone’s swashy typeface nameplate; if you saw it you would think Rolling Stone. (Time, Life, NG)
a) distinct large typography: Greatest typefaces ever used were created for namplates. TIMES was created for London Times; AVANT GARDE for Avant Garde magazine; created for recognition.
Example: RayGun when it first came out it changed typefaces with every issue. Purpose …to stand out and be different.
b) instant recognition: nameplate will be large; people identify with it; a gamut of type races.
Example: Newsmagazines generally see people on the covers that you know; Madonna, Clinton, etc. Most magazines Parent, etc.; will place models (symbolic parents) on the covers. In that instance, the viewer needs something else to identify with.

Sources: “The American Magazine” & Google cache.