Inside Magazine Design

This term I’ve been lucky enough to have talks from two men who are super clued up on magazine design and magazine covers… first was The Sunday Times editorial consultant and former Art Director at the New Scientist, the Radio Times and the Sunday Times Magazine, Tom Reynolds and secondly,  former editorial director of Haymarket Consumer Media, Mel Nichols.  So, incorporating advice they gave, I thought I’d give my thoughts on covers of some of the magazines I read.


Essentials: Mel Nicholas had a test for magazine cover lines to check if they are effective.  Cover up the secondary lines and only look at the main coverline (i.e. ‘Smart Money!’) – does it tell you what the article is about?  If it doesn’t then it is not a good coverline.  Too often, magazines save the essential information for the line underneath, missing massive opportunities to pull in readers.

What I love about this cover is the bullet point ticks, because Essentials is all about the bullet points and snippets of information – easily readable chunks of information.

About a year ago Essentials decided to feature only ‘reader’ cover stars instead of celebrities.  There is usually then a feature of them in the middle of the magazine which tends to be a real life story.  While I like the move towards more ‘normal’ women, I sometimes wonder if it’s to extreme in that direction (also I don’t like the insinuation that celebrities aren’t ‘real’ women)… I’d like to see a middle ground where the cover women aren’t actors or singers, but might still be someone interesting and inspiring – a business woman or someone who has set up a charity.

Saga: (obviously, my parents get this magazine, but some of the editorial is great!).  It fails Nichols’ coverline test – all the information is held in the secondary titles – but this might not matter so much since Saga is a subscription magazine so doesn’t need to scream from the newstands.

Image wise I’d say the magazine hits the nail on the head, being topical, age appropriate and fun.


Wired:  Wired’s launch issue cover still makes me excited.  The image completely taps into its audience, showing a buzzy city full of the tech start-ups and researchers who will read the magazine. And of course there are the flying cars.


Psychologies:  This cover passes Mel Nichols test completely – it doesn’t even bother with secondary coverlines, it just gets straight to the point.  Psychologies also embodies its content on the cover – this magazine is about Women and Words.  That’s what’s inside, and that’s what’s on the cover.


Red:  Red seems to have decided to take all the cover lines off the cover of its subscriber edition.  While a subscriber edition doesn’t need to scream from the newstands, I’ve been surprised at how the lack of coverlines puts me off picking up the magazine to read at all.  Ultimately it may put me off re-subscribing, so I’m not sure what the benefit of wiping the cover is.

I asked Mel Nichols about this and he said that it’s a fad that’s spread through glossy magazines.  It was started off by the fashion glossies which market themselves highly on their images anyway so coverlines aren’t as important.  Other magazines followed suit to follow the trend.  This may NOT be the reason for Red’s change but it would make sense.  If it is the case, I think they’re missing the fact that their magazine doesn’t hang on their cover interview… personally I don’t care about the celeb, it’s the features in Red that I love… so I want to know what they are!!

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