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Go Ahead − Judge a Magazine by its Cover - 9/1/2009 -

Here are 10 rules to follow when creating a good cover and a few extra tips gathered from Association Media & Publishing's recent Lunch & Learn program.

By Erin Pressley

We've all heard the expression, "Don't judge a book by its cover. But is it really true? Some people might agree, but a group of association professionals at a recent Association Media & Publishing (formerly SNAP) Lunch & Learn would likely offer up a different take.

More than 50 designers, editors, and production types gathered on Friday, August 21, at the Society for Human Resource Management to discuss "What Makes a Great Cover? And if they didn't know already, they discovered that readers really do judge a book or in this case, a magazine by its cover.

Sponsored by the YGS Group, the session featured the real-life pairing of the American Academy of Actuaries director of publications and senior editor Linda Mallon and art director Bono Mitchell, president of BonoTom Studio. The two have worked together for many years creating dynamic covers for Contingencies, the magazine produced by the Academy.

After an introduction by Ted Lopez, senior art director of Eason Associates, Mallon began by emphasizing the most important rule of good covers: collaboration. Designers and editors each bring unique talents to a cover discussion, and a collaborative art meeting is the perfect place to let those talents shine.

Before the all-important art meeting, Mallon advises editors to prepare by thinking about their audience and what elements of the cover story would resonate most with them. The magazine's mission and what's going on in current events are additional aspects for editors to keep in mind when thinking about cover design.

At the meeting, editors should relay to designers the main points of the cover story and their initial vision of the cover. Then, Mallon suggests, "Get out of the way and let the designers do their magic. Free association of ideas is a must. Keep headlines apt but visual, witty, succinct, and subtle. And have fun!

Above all, she says, don't be set in your ways. Be flexible enough to change directions if an idea comes along that's more exciting.

Mallon also advises to "go with your gut. If a cover feels wrong, it just might be. To prove her point, she and Mitchell shared with the audience some cover concepts that didn't make the cut.

Mallon concluded her remarks with some general guidelines for cover design:

  • Keep it topical.
  • Keep it edgy (at least edgy for your audience).
  • Make it dramatic.

Then Mitchell took over the session and shared her thoughts on good covers from a designer's perspective. Here are Mitchell's 10 Rules for a Great Cover:

  1. A creative meeting is a must.
  2. Concept is central. Images must be immediately understood by the reader.
  3. Balance image and typography.
  4. Consider the budget and use your designer's talent to get the most out of ourbudget.
  5. The headline is as important as the image.
  6. Build relationships with illustrators. If you give them regular work, they will be happier to work within your budget.
  7. Only settle on the best. Don't short-sell your publication because of the subject or the budget.
  8. Trust and communicate.
  9. Speak up if you do not like a cover. If not, it will be in print forever.
  10. Enter award competitions. You'll feel proud to be a winner.

Mitchell ended by emphasizing her most important tip: Communicate! Many design hours have been wasted due to lack of communication between editorial and design, she says. Editors and designers are a team not opponents.

Attendees spent the last 30 minutes of the Lunch & Learn using what they learned from the speakers to brainstorm and create a high-impact cover idea. Check out the November/December issue of Association Publishing to see if someone you know came up with the greatest cover idea.

What makes a winning cover for you? Join the conversation on Association Media & Publishing online community.

Erin Pressley is vice president, editorial at NACS, the Association for Convenience & Petroleum Retailing, in Alexandria, Va. Association Media & Publishing thanks her for volunteering to cover the August 21st Lunch & Learn for our members who were unable to attend.


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