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Robert Newman

Face Up Online: Newsweek

Robert Newman Consumer - 03/14/2014-08:31 AM

The cover of the relaunched Newsweek is one of the best debuts in recent memory (to the extent that a cover for a magazine founded in 1933 can be called a "debut"), with a stunning illustration, bold, simple design, and an elegant printed format that creates a distinctive, memorable look. There has been much hype about Newsweek's return to print, and a good deal of controversy about the Bitcoin cover story, but from both a creative and a brand perspective this cover stands as a highly-successful work, one that hopefully lays the groundwork for continued success for the publication.

This Newsweek cover is built on tradition. The logo is basically a mix of the late 1980s version drawn by Jim Parkinson (which was part of a redesign by Roger Black), and the iteration used on the magazine's last redesign in 2009, before it was sold to IAC. But the type has been tweaked (and improved), and the red background panel made more graphic and modern. The striking illustration by Ben Wiseman is cool and contemporary, but the understated simplicity of the cover headline is reminiscent of the covers of Newsweek (and Time) from the 1960s and early 70s.

The cover design is by the team of Priest + Grace, who are the creative force behind the exciting new Eight By Eight soccer (or football if you live outside the U.S.) magazine, and have previously given creative direction to O, the Oprah Magazine and numerous other publications. For Face Up we usually base our reviews on digital copies of the cover, but for this issue I actually went out and bought a copy. I will say that I searched literally dozens of magazine stands and stores (there still are a couple) in Manhattan before finally finding a big stash at Grand Central Terminal in a beautiful display. I'm glad I got a printed copy, because it comes on an elegant, thick matte cover stock with beautiful, crisp printing that is so rich it almost looks silkscreened.

This is a strong, smart look with lots of character that definitely sets the magazine apart from other weeklies (apparently they're identifying The Economist as their "role model" and chief competitor). Newsweek has been doing a series of weekly covers for their online edition that were very traditional and undistinguished. This is a sharp break from that. Over the years Newsweek tried to differentiate itself from Time by running more photos and less illustration on their covers. Let's hope that this debut illustration is the beginning of a new direction for the magazine's cover look, because it helps gives shape to a very forward-looking design aesthetic.

If there's any hesitation in giving total love to this cover, it's because I wish they had broken more from the traditional Newsweek name and logo and gone for something completely new and different (there was a period in the Jon Meacham-edited era when there was actually a prototype developed with a new format and a name along the lines of NW). It also might have been nice if there was some nod on the cover to the "return of print." Newsweek ended their print edition with the #LASTPRINTISSUE hashtag on the cover, and it would have been fun to see them play with the flip of that somewhere on this one. That seems like a missed opportunity.

I asked Arthur Hochstein, the former Time art director (he created close to 1000 covers for the magazine) what he thought about this Newsweek relaunch. Arthur has also done covers for Businessweek and even did a short stint with Newsweek a few years ago.

Hochstein says, "It's an auspicious debut: the flat, vector-graphic style evokes the posters and graphics of Mad Men. The effect is well done. It cleverly uses the Bitcoin symbol to make a mask; the darker black of the shadow against the slightly-lighter black of the background enhances the effect of the mask being pulled back, to reveal the ‘mystery man.'"

Newsweek's past covers are woefully hard to find online. When it was owned by the IAC they started a Newsweek Archivist Tumblr page that briefly collected a good series of covers dating back to the 1930s. The page isn't active, but it's still available for viewing online, and contains many choice cover treats.

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Robert Newman

Face Up Online: Mad

Robert Newman Design and Production - 02/28/2014-14:03 PM

Mad magazine's April 2014 cover parody of The Lego Movie is bright, fun, engaging, and perfectly executed, with a smart illustration. This cover not only fits right in with Mad's snarky, wacko cover legacy, but would also feel at home on the front of Entertainment Weekly or Time (without the Alfred E. Neuman character, of course!). It's a grown-up cover on a young person's magazine.

Like many folks my age, I grew up reading Mad, and of course my parents thought it was a corrupting influence and threw out as many copies as they could find. Somehow I kept buying issues and sneaking them into the house, hiding them under my bed. When I look at those issues from the 60s now, they seem very tame compared to the current edition, which is much more risqué in terms of sex and general raunchiness. That level of provocative offensiveness is exactly what appeals to a younger audience!

The basic Mad cover hasn't changed much since the late 60s. They still heavily rely on parodies of popular TV shows and movies combined with the antics of Alfred E. Neuman. The April issue, illustrated by Mark Frederickson and art direction by Sam Viviano, is something of a departure. Recent covers have been rawer, somewhat gross and more juvenile. Mad's February 2014 cover, also illustrated by Frederickson, featured a nasty image of Miley Cyrus and her now infamous twerk. Another cover from last year depicted, in a very rough, cartoony style,  Alfred E. Neuman peeing on an amusement park water slide (this is Mad, after all). Frederickson is a frequent cover illustrator for Mad, essentially taking the place occupied by Norman Mingo on the classic covers of the 1960s and 70s. He's a highly skilled artist who works in multiple styles and who has a great sense of humor.

I love the artwork on this cover, and I love the way it works as a stylistic whole, parodying both The Lego Movie poster and Lego packaging in general. Rather than just being a funny illustration slapped on to a Mad cover, this is a brilliant, holistically-designed package, complete with Lego logo and integrated typography. It's highly-sophisticated conceptual work. I wish more magazines took this kind of overall care, both with imagery and design.

But wait a minute! Is that a good thing for a magazine like Mad? I called on my resident expert, my daughter Lillian, to get her opinion. Lillian is 13 and a regular Mad reader (I confess to throwing out more than a couple of her copies when I thought they were inappropriate). She's also the daughter of two art directors (her mother, Chris Curry, is the illustration editor at The New Yorker), so she has a good graphic sensibility.

I showed Lillian the Mad cover and her first response was "It's so cute! It looks like the instruction booklet for the Lego sets." However, she then said that she liked last issue's Miley Cyrus cover, because "It's funnier and I get it right away."

If a parent likes a Mad cover, does that make it uncool? I'm curious to see how Mad's audience responds to this gentler, more parent-friendly approach, or whether they prefer the cruder (and admittedly funnier) covers.

If this critique has got you thinking about past covers, be sure to visit Doug Gilford's Mad Cover, which is the essential destination for fans of all ages. Gilford has an archive of every Mad cover from 1952, including illustrator credits and in some cases, back cover artwork (the archival covers included in this story are via Gilford's site). And you can see more of Mark Frederickson's illustration work, including a good number of Mad images.

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Robert Newman

Face Up Online: Dr. Oz The Good Life

Robert Newman Design and Production - 02/14/2014-12:09 PM

The latest entry in TV celebrity publishing debuted in early February with the launch of Dr. Oz The Good Life. Dr. Oz is a ubiquitous presence on women's and self-help magazine covers, and has generally been very successful in selling copies on the newsstand. The Good Life's publisher, Hearst, has done very well with previous TV-related magazine launches, including HGTV and Food Network magazines (not to mention Oprah Winfrey's O, The Oprah Magazine), and they assembled a talented edit and design team for this debut issue. However, the March/April cover is very disappointing and is one of the weakest covers of a major magazine launch in recent memory.

When I first saw this cover I actually thought it was a prototype instead of the debut issue. There's a generic look to the cover photograph, a flat, by-the-numbers quality to the headlines, and most importantly, an underdeveloped logo that does nothing to create and build a dynamic brand. The result is a cover that looks more like a low-budget, one-shot newsstand special rather than the exciting debut of a powerful new media entry. Other similar Hearst magazines like HGTV, The Food Network, and O have modern, engaging, energy-packed covers that leap off the newsstand and give a sense of the rich multi-faceted content inside. This cover lacks that sense of excitement.

There's nothing special about the image. It feels like countless other images of Dr. Oz that are used to promote any of his numerous projects. When I worked at O I attended a photo shoot with Dr. Oz and saw how incredibly warm and charismatic he is--both in person and in front of the camera. And while this is certainly one of his more handsome photographs (and I like that they left in a few wrinkles around his eyes!), I don't see much of that magnetic personality coming through. I think it's partly a matter of scale. It might have been nice to see Dr. Oz's face a little bigger so his smile and the twinkle in his eyes could have been more evident.

The cover lines also feel prototype-ish to me. They're generic in the sense that they could appear on any women's magazine. There's nothing that seems unique to Dr. Oz, or original and exciting. They read more like the dummy headlines that art directors throw on covers when they start designing, waiting for editors to develop perfectly-crafted blurbs that reach out and grab the readers. And most importantly, the cover typography overwhelms the logo.

The logo is baffling to me, and is definitely the biggest problem on the cover. I'm confused by the structure of the title. Is it Dr. Oz The Good Life, or The Good Life, with a Dr. Oz kicker? There's nothing distinctive about this logo, and it's lost among the jumble of other type and colors. It almost looks like just another headline on the page instead of the name and brand of the magazine. Compare this logo to HGTV and Food Network (which were based on pre-existing network logos), or to the custom logo design of O, The Oprah Magazine, all of which are unique and instantly recognizable. Interestingly, in the initial cover that was used to promote the magazine in its prototype stages, The Good Life logo was bigger, filling edge to edge, and designed in multiple colors to give it more flavor and character. I like that version much better.

According to recent press reports the launch issue design director and photo editor have left The Good Life, and a new art team is being brought in to reconfigure the magazine's look for the second issue. I'm guessing that Hearst recognized the less-than-stellar results of this first cover and that the next one is going to be much stronger and more memorable. Incidentally, there was a very nice Dr. Oz cover for Hearst's Good Housekeeping published last April. It featured a very warm, fun photograph (Dr. Oz loves those blue sweaters!) and a nifty set of headlines, smartly designed with lots of texture and excitement. I hope the next cover of The Good Life looks as good as that one.

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Robert Newman

Examining The Atlantic and The New Republic Redesigns

Robert Newman Design and Production - 03/12/2013-13:22 PM

 

Several years ago the American Society of Magazine Editors held a panel discussion that talked about the role of design and art direction in magazines. The general consensus was that it was important, but not essential. The evening ended with one of the participants rattling off a list of magazines that were considered great (and at the time, successful), but that basically looked bad.

It’s doubtful you could have that discussion today. Case in point: The Atlantic and The New Republic, two traditional, text-heavy magazines not historically known for strong visual identities, recently hired young creative director stars, with extensive consumer magazine experience, who have redesigned and visually energized both publications.

For past redesigns, both magazines hired outside design studios to revamp their looks, then handed them over to in-house art directors who were given limited scope in what they could accomplish visually. Not anymore. The Atlantic and New Republic redesigns were both done by their new creative directors, and the magazines’ visually-savvy editors have given them the directive to make the visuals and the design an integral part of the brand across multiple platforms.

Darhil Crooks is the new creative director at The Atlantic, hired in August after crafting a masterful redesign at Ebony. Crooks has extensive experience at consumer magazines like Esquire, and he’s brought that sensibility to his work at The Atlantic.

Meanwhile, The New Republic reached out to Dirk Barnett, the former creative director at Newsweek, who has a lengthy pedigree with Maxim, Blender, The New York Times’s Key and Play magazines, Premiere, and more. Working out of the New York office of the DC-based biweekly, Barnett helmed February’s complete visual transformation, changing everything from the logo to the paper stock.

Previous New Republic art directors Joseph Heroun and Christine Car produced some memorable covers and brought some strong illustration into the magazine over the past decade, but it always felt like they lacked the commitment from the editors to extend their talents to the magazine’s overall design and format.

From 2000-05, when The Atlantic was based in Boston, that magazine’s art director Mary Parsons (now at The American Prospect) helped build its reputation as a home for powerful, well-crafted illustration. A redesign by Michael Beirut and Pentagram in 2008 brought some much-needed modernizing and impact to the magazine’s design, but it never felt fully realized and executed after the initial excitement of the new look wore off.

Enter Crooks and Barnett, who with the support of smart, forward-looking editors (James Bennet at The Atlantic, new owner Chris Hughes and editor Franklin Foer at The New Republic) have brought new visual visions to their magazines that are crisp, energetic, holistic, and very 21st Century.

For The Atlantic redesign, Crooks tweaked the logo and inside typography, and added and revamped a number of columns and departments. There are new, visually-driven sections: By Design, a design solution column, and Chartist, “an infographic explanation of a seemingly complicated problem.”

The Atlantic’s new look is bright, engaging, modern, and very accessible. There are lots of graphic points of entry, elegant use of typography, rules, and white space, and smart illustrations. Most importantly, it’s all highly readable; there’s no doubt, even with the heightened design, that the text and imagery are given primacy.

Crooks says, “We wanted to do something that was energetic and had more visual impact, that was more reader-friendly, with added entry points and color. At the same time, I wanted to do something that was on brand. I didn’t want the design to be a distraction or too trendy.”

The new design of The Atlantic references consumer magazines like Rolling Stone and Esquire, and Crooks readily acknowledges the influence. “Both those magazines cover such a range of topics and visual approaches, and it all seems to work together. They are also examples of magazines that are able to take complicated, serious topics and make them visually entertaining.”

Crooks also reworked and reintroduced the The Atlantic’s Poseidon colophon, which was something he resurrected from earlier issues of the magazine. He describes it as “A new sexy god of the sea for the social media age.” (For those not familiar with the term, a colophon is an old-school term for a logo, or what used to be called a “printer’s mark,” that would appear on the title page or contents of a book or magazine.)

“What makes The Atlantic great is the writing and the ideas,” say Crooks. “I’ve tried to make the art as visually interesting as the text it illustrates, and the design to keep the readers in the story and turning the pages. It’s something most magazines do, but it’s a new approach for The Atlantic. My goal is to make each issue a unique experience.”

Crooks has just begun to apply the new look of The Atlantic to the magazine’s other platforms. He’s working on digital projects for the websites, and of course, the iPad app. The print redesign debuted with The Atlantic’s March 2013 issue, which is out now.

A Dual Challenge at TNR


Over at The New Republic, Dirk Barnett had a dual challenge. Not only did he need to completely overhaul the magazine’s look, but he had to do it with a format that accommodated a bi-weekly production schedule and a small staff. (The New Republic comes out 20 times a year—twice as often as The Atlantic.)

“The New Republic has never had a creative director in its entire 99-year history,” explains Barnett, “so it’s exciting to have this opportunity to bring a strong visual language to the brand. Frank Foer and Chris Hughes understand that smart design equals great business. Chris started Facebook, and that has one of the most iconic design voices in recent history. Our focus right now is building up a memorable brand experience.”

Most notable of the changes to the magazine is the heavier cover stock and inside paper (not to mention a liberal use of metallic ink). Gone is the dry, dutiful old feel of The New Republic, replaced with a look that is contemporary, engaging, and sometimes even fun.

The design is modern and digital-feeling, and the new logo is bold, built to work well across platforms large and small.

Barnett mixes this very contemporary design style with analog imagery, like the calligraphy for The Mall section opener, and many illustrations with a hand-drawn feel. He’s added white space, texture, and variety to the front of the book. There are nods to some of the things that Bloomberg Businessweek has done so well, most notably on a recent double-page chart devoted to Charles Schumer, with what seems like hundreds of little black and white headshots. The senior U.S. Senator from New York has never looked cooler, or more interesting.

Barnett explains the new design: “The New Republic has extremely rich, smart content, and our overall goal was to meet that with very smart design and art direction. We are just trying to have some fun, and do some great work when we can.”

The New Republic’s back section is highly formatted to deal with accelerated publishing deadlines (Barnett points out that this section closes before the rest of the magazine). The section begins with a splash page that features a beautiful full-page illustration of an ampersand, done with a handcrafted feel, in the way that The New York Times’s T magazine used to open its feature well each month with a variation of the distinctive black letter T. Many of the back-of-book pages are full text with no entry points; it’s a testimony to the strength and elegance of Barnett’s new design that even those pages look graceful and inviting.

The feature design is much more freeform and expansive, a place where graphic statements are being made. The almost all-white two-page spread opener of the cover story in the February 25 issue (the second of the redesign) features a giant two-word headline (“Original Sin”), a very short subhead and byline, and no image. Through pull quotes, sidebars, timelines, and photos, Barnett moves the reader through the features, even the very text-heavy ones, with expert precision.

There’s a new approach to the cover design, too. In the past The New Republic covers have been strongly illustration-based. But the first three issues of the new look featured a powerful, intimate portrait of Barack Obama by photographer Chris Buck, an all-white homage to The Beatles White Album LP (“The Republicans”), and a gorgeous, futuristic type treatment by typographic illustrator Sean Freeman.

Like Crooks at The Atlantic, Barnett has redesigned and reintroduced a colophon to The New Republic. The magazine’s classic sailing ship logo has been brought up to date and appears as an accent throughout the magazine. I sense a battle of the magazine colophons in the near future, or perhaps a new category in the publication design competitions.

The New Republic website redesign was done by Hard Candy Shell, with some input from Barnett (he calls their work “inspiring”). But moving forward, he’s got his hands on the entire brand: “The four of us in the art department really operate as an in-house design studio. We design the magazine, the tablet, maintain the look and design of the website, the signage and collateral for our events, etc.”

According to Barnett, the design of the iPad version of the magazine heavily influenced the print edition: “We kept asking, ‘How will this look on the tablet?’, and many of the design elements we cooked up were driven by the answer to that question.”

That’s something I found to be true when I was working at Reader’s Digest: the iPad app oftentimes informs the print edition, both in design and in the general way that the magazine is put together. The Atlantic and The New Republic have both made smart moves by hiring creative directors who not only have been able to completely overhaul their respective magazine’s visual identity, but who also understand the new nature of graphic branding, and who can extend those new visual identities across multiple platforms in an exciting way.

 

 

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Robert Newman

Are You a Cover Junkie?

Robert Newman Design and Production - 01/31/2013-10:49 AM

 

Days before last week’s debut of The New Republic’s redesign, its new cover was posted and circulating around the web. The buzz was on, and people were tweeting and commenting on it before the magazine itself was even available for viewing. Today, every editor and art director thinks about creating a magazine cover that can go viral, that will work at multiple sizes on a wide variety of displays and platforms and create hype. Along with this, websites like Coverjunkie, NASCAPAS, and others are now providing a visual forum for magazine covers from all over the world to be displayed and distributed.

The Coverjunkie site just celebrated its second anniversary. It was launched in late 2010, the brainchild of Dutch art director Jaap Biemans [pictured below], who has done cover designs for the weekly Intermediair and the glossy, Vanity Fair-like Hollands Diep, before moving over to art direct Volkskrant Magazine, the weekly magazine supplement of a large Dutch newspaper (it’s basically The New York Times Magazine of the Netherlands). Biemans recognized early on that for many publications, the days of covers getting “heat” on the newsstand were a thing of the past. To date he’s posted over 11,500 covers, and Coverjunkie has become a daily must-destination for magazine art directors around the world.

Biemans interned at a design firm in NYC in the late 90s, and that New York experience has informed his design and editorial sensibilities. And while Coverjunkie has a definite global reach, he has a big soft spot for very American style-magazine cover design, as well as for the funky, gonzo-style designs of altweekly newspapers like The Village Voice.

What sets Coverjunkie apart from other cover sites is both the quantity of posts, and the fact that it’s well-organized and highly searchable. Biemans collects covers by publication, theme (9/11, split-run, premier issues), and art director, and he also publishes complete credit information, a rarity. His tastes are very egalitarian; there’s a healthy mix of consumer, mass market, enthusiast, trade, city and regional, and altweekly covers, with selections from Italy, England, Germany, Russian, and of course, The Netherlands. He also has a strong social media presence on Tumblr, Twitter, and Facebook, which helps spread the Coverjunkie cover selects fast and far.

Coverjunkie is a one-person labor of love for Biemans, but it’s a project that is helping to redefine the essence of how magazines design and promote their covers. In a recent interview, Biemans gave the lowdown on how he puts the site together, and what makes a good Coverjunkie cover.

Why did you start Coverjunkie?

Biemans: I wanted to celebrate creativity in magazine design, to spread the love for ace cover design. And it was also a response to the “print is dead” statement, which I think is a lot of rubbish! I think a cover is more than just about selling itself, it’s also a reflection of our visual culture. On Coverjunkie you can see this reflection from all around the world, as well as from different decades.

How do you find the covers you post?

Biemans: I browse the good old newsstand and look online and on Twitter. Right now I get 10-15 covers a day by email, some good, some bad. The best thing about Coverjunkie is that some mags send me hard copies. I love that; it gives me a fab feeling. 



How do you select what goes on Coverjunkie?

Biemans: Posting everything would be impossible; I get too many covers sent to me. I post the most creative ones, the remarkable ones, the covers that stand out. The hardest part about Coverjunkie is editing the covers and then telling art directors that their covers are not creative enough, and that I can’t post them. I try to email everyone to explain. I hate disappointing people because I know they’re trying to create sweet stuff. But again, I have to be rigorous; when there are weak covers on the website it loses its strength. 



What makes a good magazine cover?

Biemans: It’s the creativity that counts. My motto on the site is “covers that smack you in the face or that you want to lick!” I think the ace cover contains news, a vibe, and creativity. Most of the covers have only two out of three of these ingredients. But when it carries three out of three you have an epic one. For many magazines, newsstand used to be the big indicator, but it's increasingly not that important, at least not in the U.S. I think a cover these days is more about making a statement instead of selling. It’s about creating a vibe that the reader likes (or maybe dislikes). A magazine cover is part of a brand, a very important part because it has a soul and it can give feeling and depth to a brand.

What magazines do you think consistently do the most interesting or memorable covers?



Biemans: I definitely prefer magazines that use a different approach with each cover, who use their cover design to make a statement or to spark and surprise their readers. I like The New Yorker when they put newsy items on their covers. And I think The New York Times Magazine and New York rock it hard. Bloomberg Businessweek, they’re crazy, and what I like about them is that creative director Richard Turley and his team take charge and are very brave. I love all the altweeklies from the U.S., like SF Weekly and San Antonio Current! They don’t have big budgets but they create extraordinary stuff. There’s Spanish Metropoli, Texas Monthly, Vice, IL from Italy, Wired from the U.S., UK and Italy, Suddeutsche Zeitung Magazin from Germany….

What advice do you have for editors, art directors and others to create great magazine covers?




Biemans: Three things: guts, guts, and guts. Mix that with talented designers with soul and a fab editor to create the best headlines. I’m a strong believer that creativity brings great pleasure to readers, whether it’s on an iPad, website, magazine or even cellphone. I don’t care as long as it’s well-designed and made with soul.
 

 

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Robert Newman

Behind Mother Jones’s Recent Dual Cover Strategy

Robert Newman Consumer - 10/12/2012-13:59 PM

 

For their November/December 2012 issue, the editors and creative director at Mother Jones decided to do a split run cover, with a completely different cover story and image for subscribers and newsstand buyers.

Subscribers get “No Way Out,” a long-form investigative piece on solitary confinement in California state prisons written by Shane Bauer, who himself was imprisoned in Iran for 26 months, six in solitary, when he was picked up on the Iraq border in 2009. The cover image is a realistic illustration by Tim O’Brien of a tormented man in a prison cell.

The newsstand cover story is “Sweet Little Lies,” a story by Gary Taubes and Cristin Kearns Couzens about the sugar industry’s 40-year long campaign to cover up evidence about the bad affects of the sweet stuff: obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and its addictive nature. For that cover, also an illustration by Tim O’Brien, there’s a pitcher of Kool-Aid with a grinning skull superimposed on it.  (Note that on the newsstand the issue is simply dated December 2012.) By Mother Jones standards this is considered a lighter, more accessible story!

“No Way Out is a great story, but we felt that it might not sell that well on newsstands, where the potential buyer is not as familiar with our magazine,” says Mother Jones creative director Tim J Luddy.

Early last year Mother Jones did another split cover for similar reasons. Editors Monika Bauerlein and Clara Jeffery wrote about their decision for the January/February 2011 issue to put a story about gang rape in Haiti on the subscriber cover, but deliver a newsstand cover story that highlighted the pot business: “As compelling as all that is in a story, it’s a tough sell on the newsstand. Even assuming that anyone tempted to buy this magazine probably isn’t expecting cheerful (our joke is that the Mother Jones tagline should be ‘It’s Worse Than You Think’), rape gangs are pretty heavy stuff to hit a new reader with on our first encounter.”

That both current covers were illustrated by Tim O’Brien was more by chance than design, says Luddy. “I did a separate set of conceptual sketches for the Sugar and Solitary covers. Once we decided on final ideas, it just happened that Tim was our top choice for each image.”

The actual cost for producing and printing two separate covers for Mother Jones is minimal, since they already print different covers with a UPC code and a subscriber address. And Mother Jones does its own in-house proofing. As Luddy says, “The only additional cost is the extra wear and tear to the creative director and editors,” along with the additional fee for the illustrator or photographer.

How does Mother Jones handle the covers on other platforms? On their website, or for any online editorial use, they rotate between the two. For their Zinio app or other digital versions that require a cover, they use the newsstand version. For development and fundraising, they use the subscriber cover, since according to Luddy, “That’s the kind of story our donors like to support.” For circulation (blow-in cards, etc.), however, they go back to the newsstand version.

Are split covers worth the effort and is there a payoff? There’s a long history of entertainment magazines like TV Guide and Entertainment Weekly doing multiple covers. But they usually promote the same story, albeit with different cover images (like doing a separate cover for each cast member of Lost). It’s much less common to take the Mother Jones approach, although idiosyncrasy for a smaller independent title can work to its advantage.

When I was creative director at Reader’s Digest we tried a similar split cover strategy for several issues, but found that it confused readers, and got us plenty of complaints. It also didn’t pay off at the newsstand; in fact one of the covers was the worst-selling of the year. And Luddy reports that last year’s Mother Jones split cover was also one of their worst-selling issues for 2011.

So why bother? Newsstand sales are only about 10 percent of Mother Jones’s total paid circulation, so featuring a “softer” story at retail is a strategy that’s aimed at luring in new readers rather than one that’s designed to materially boost single copy sales.

Nevertheless, I wondered whether the strategy had any downside for the brand overall. Liz Gettelman, Mother Jones’s public affairs director, put it this way:

“The game has changed when it comes to print magazine covers. In the print era you would rarely see a logo separate from a cover image. But now, the logo is a much more prominent feature, since that alone (without cover art) is usually a publication’s branding image on platforms like Twitter and Facebook, and on websites. The split covers signal to readers that we are versatile and robust enough to be able to highlight various types of coverage. So long as they all feel like Mother Jones stories, then we are actually staying true to our brand.”

 

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Robert Newman

A Look at the Design and Influences on Fairchild’s New M Cover

Robert Newman Design and Production - 09/26/2012-19:08 PM

 

The first issue of M magazine, the luxury men’s magazine last seen in 1992 and being revived by Fairchild Fashion Media, came out on Monday with a very distinctive and unusual cover. It’s not the cover subject, Bradley Cooper (People magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive of 2011), but the design, format, and photographic style that makes M very different from the usual newsstand fare.

According to M creative director Nancy Butkus, the cover design was influenced both by European men’s magazines like Port and Huck, as well as vintage issues of Fortune. “We had a stunning 1930s Fortune as our cover inspiration, and in some way we just updated what they were doing—they had borders on the cover and so do we, but ours are asymmetrical.”

Like Fortune, M’s cover was printed on a rich, thick, uncoated stock, with a felt finish, making it both a visual and tactile treat. I’m guessing, however, that M will not be mailed to its subscribers in heavy cardboard cases the way Fortune was until the early 1950s. The idea that upscale magazine consumers will respond positively to superior production values has been floating around for a while; it’s nice to see someone actually trying it out.

Although I would have loved to see M try to resurrect the very-80s expanded logo from the original magazine, they hired noted logo designer Jim Parkinson to draw a smart, modern, updated version. Parkinson has been creating and revising magazine and newspaper logos for years, but this is his best and most impressive work in some time (and that’s saying something!). It’s also very different for the Condé Nast/Fairchild magazines, most of which tend to have flat, relatively straight-forward type logos that aren’t nearly as “designed” as this one.

There’s a lot that’s “off” on this cover: the varied white bands on the right side and bottom, the quote running down the side, the use of the issue theme “Ambition” as the main headline. There’s a definite effort to make M feel stylish and a bit European, and for a luxury men’s magazine trying to distinguish itself from the crowd, that’s probably a smart move.

The photograph of Bradley Cooper, by Jason McDonald, is also very different from what appears on other American men’s magazines. It feels simple and authentic, almost non-stylish, and ridiculously friendly and intimate. Not to mention the power of those blue eyes, which are undoubtedly making members of both sexes weak in the knees.

Like everything else on the cover, it’s a smart way to establish a visual identity for a new magazine. The challenge for M will be in pursuing this idiosyncratic and slightly skewed cover approach every issue (it’s a quarterly), and not giving in to the demands for a more straight-forward, traditional design.

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Robert Newman

George Lois Featured in Fast Company App

Robert Newman Design and Production - 09/12/2012-10:45 AM

 

Fast Company’s annual design issue celebrates the 50th anniversary of the first cover that legendary art director George Lois created for Esquire magazine. This photograph, by noted photographer Platon, is available only in the iPad app version of Fast Company’s October 2012 issue, which is out today, September 12.

On the October 1962 cover of Esquire (which Lois is holding), he accurately predicted that boxer Sonny Liston would defeat Floyd Patterson in their upcoming heavyweight championship fight. That opinion at the time was decidedly in the minority, so much so that the publisher’s letter inside the magazine disavowed Lois’s prediction, saying “we’d prefer to believe that Liston can be stopped, and that Patterson is the one that can do it.” (Note: Liston knocked out Patterson in the fight’s first round). Says Lois, “The press wrote about the chutzpah of calling a fight on a magazine cover, and the issue was a sellout.”

Read more by George Lois on his first Esquire cover (and many others) here. The Fast Company October 2012 iPad app is available here. The October issue features Pinterest CEO Ben Silbermann on the cover. (Photograph: Art Streiber, creative director: Florian Bachleda.)

 

 

 

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