Cover design is a lot like rock-n-roll. No matter how creative or innovative you think you are being with your latest cover, chances are someone’s had the same idea or concept before. Sometimes it’s intentional. Radar hijacked Esquire ‘s famous 1968 Muhammad Ali cover;conceived by renowned art director George Lois;for its September/October issue, and even talked to Lois about it. ("Magazines don’t even try to do covers with actual ideas anymore," Lois told Radar.) Unintentional passes happen, too. For our Folio: 40 cover earlier this year, art director Paola DiMeglio imbedded the heads of 40 magazine innovators into a gold-tinged number treatment laid over a white backdrop;just the kind of stately look we felt our list deserved. The same month, Tennis magazine was in the throes of producing a near-identical cover for its May issue ("40 Greatest Moments of the Last 40 Years").
Other times, though, it’s not so clear, particularly when similar covers are done roughly at the same time. In the span of a few months, Fortune (July 11), Entrepreneur (September) and Kiplinger ‘s (October) each ran "Retire Rich" covers, and with Fortune ‘s displayed until October 3 as a special investor’s issue, all three were stepping over each other at your local newsstand late into the summer. "I didn’t know," says Kiplinger’s editor Fred W. Frailey, who calls Money and Smart Money his "real" competitors. "Had I noticed, I probably would have rethought it." Carrie Welch, Fortune’s VP of communications, says they "were not necessarily aware" of the others, noting "imitation is the sincerest form of flattery."