Acclaim or Blame, Magazine Cover Designs Show the Power of Print

Print Power

If I had the time, I think I would start a blog just to feature news about dramatic, controversial, catalytic, magazine cover designs. Just in the past recent weeks, the following covers have stirred up online interest:

  • The New York Post, well known for a penchant for crossing the line with cover headlines, angered many with a cover featuring a murdered Jewish real estate developer and the headline “Who Didn’t Want Him Dead”
  • The New Yorker captured both the pride and sorrow over the passing of Nelson Mandela with a moving and popular cover by artist Kadir Nelson.
  • Issues of body image and charges of “fat-shaming” were provoked when Elle magazine featured actress Melissa McCarthy on its Women in Hollywood issue in an oversized coat. A subsequent Mindy Kaling cover also got Elle more online heat as many considered the close-up photo of the actress to be an attempt to downplay her figure, where ‘skinnier’ stars received the full body treatment.
  • Just being on the first cover of the year seems to have been newsworthy as Seth Meyers graced the cover of Time this January, spawning a number of stories about his popularity and the future of late night viewing.

Major online news outlets often feature stories on current magazine or newspaper covers that either offend, surprise or inspire. Boston Magazine Cover Book covers certainly sell books, but magazine and newspaper covers can take extra advantage of the heat of the moment – energized by the immediacy of unfolding events in the news. Indeed, the editorial and design goal of these publications is that priceless viral buzz, and great designers are pushing the envelope of what the public will accept with dramatic and innovative images. While the power of such newsstand pulpits as the popular magazine or newspaper cover was obvious in the pre-digital era, the fact that a printed cover is news today points to a powerful quality of print. An online image can certainly stir emotions and controversy, but why is the printed image even more powerful? How has its authenticity and power crossed the digital divide to remain so effective today amid a sea of online images and news outlets?


Time Cover Mom EnoughOne aspect of print that helps to explain this is the physical, tactile nature of print. The image is not just flickering onto a computer or mobile screen, but exists as a hand-held, fixed object. Holding print feels more personal and immediate – otherwise, why would a printed card seem more personal than an e-vite? Why wouldn’t a college graduate just want their diploma sent over as a pdf? Print gives a physical existence to images and messages that digital media does not provide.

Print also turns up, often uninvited, in our daily lives. It is waiting for you at the grocery store checkout, it’s image and inherent message is talking to you from the airport newsstand, coffeehouse table, doctor’s office waiting room. That physical quality of print combined with concurrent digital, online exposure is the core of successful marketing today: integrated marketing that takes advantage of both newer AND older technology.

Obamas on New Yorker

Ink on paper, great photography or illustration and powerful design – these covers excite, enrage, encourage, offend, inspire and influence. And they certainly do sell. Check this link for a compilation of some of the most controversial covers of all time… or this compilation that shows how today’s controversies often fade very quickly to become “no big deal.”

For a superior article on the thought, design and evolution of magazine cover art and text, read this article at Salon.


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