Issue: May/June 2009 (relaunching as quarterly in September)
Launched: 1897
Wendy Miller
Publishing Company: California Alumni Association
Design Director: Michiko Toki

Magazines are certainly no strangers to bare-all issues. This year alone, Jennifer Aniston, Sacha Baron Cohen and Bar Refaeli—to name only a few of many— have appeared au natural on the covers of GQ and Esquire (much to the chagrin of Hudson News).

But when the newsstand proposition is taken away and replaced with a readership of university members and alumni, the rules are altogether different.

“The trickiest part is that we cover such a huge demographic, from the class of 1928 through 2008,” says California design director Michiko Toki on creating its May/June cover. “We wanted to do something provocative, but couldn’t go over the edge since we represent a university.”

Published by the California Alumni Association, California is sent to around 95,000 members and alumni of the University of California, Berkeley. The magazine began this issue’s planning months in advance, says Toki, who credits managing editor Katherine McKinley with the initial inspiration. “She [Kate] joked that the cover would have to be wrapped up in brown paper, which set off the idea,” Toki says.

One of the naked issue’s first iterations, says Toki, included shag rugs and animal print, but it was decided that this was too subtle. Toki graduated to using partial body images to hint at nakedness.

The final version employed a stock image of a naked back with the bottom two thirds of the cover obstructed by a (photographed) brown paper wrapper, like the ones commonly used decades ago to hide risque magazine cover art. Toki physically tore the brown paper to expose readable, minimalist coverlines.

Toki added a postal-required white inkjet label onto the package design, using actual rubber stamps to give  the appearance of a shipment. “When we couldn’t get the stamps to bleed, we used Photoshop,” she says. “Sometimes the heightened reality is actually more real.”


“The cover is conceptually strong, at least for people over 30 who are aware that porn magazines once shipped in plain brown wrappers. From a newsstand perspective, it’s a winner—it would definitely catch my eye. If the paper had covered less it might be more interesting to look at while still conveying the idea. The word ‘confidential,’ however, says ‘government secrets,’ not ‘hot nudity.’ A word cut off on the top left is not identifiable, and the gold bar clashes with the brown paper. The color choices on the nameplate and blurbs vibrate, with the ‘le’ in ‘leading edge’ washed out over the photo. Nice job with the rubber stamp effect on the issue date and Web address. Great concept, but the delivery could have been more polished.”

Jamie Stark | Stark Designs, LLC

“About nine years ago, I created a similar cover on the subject of pastors and porn. The idea of risqué magazines in brown wrappers wasn’t a too-distant memory. Does the concept still work? I’d have to say that the AD pulled it off (no pun intended) rather well. The use of the paper label for the actual inkjet application, element placement, and a great deal of info packed into such a small area of cover makes for a successful design. And does the cover entice the reader to explore the contents of the magazine? I’ll let you answer that.”

Gary Gnidovic | Design Director | Christianity Today


Have a unique “cover” story? Contact FOLIO: Associate Editor Vanessa Voltolina.


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