Tagged: Covers

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In the matter of covers, apparently black is the new black.

That PittMed cover story (Erica Lloyd, editor)  is part of a powerful two-story package about traumatic brain injury. The science/medical story, Chuck Staresinic’s “What Hit Her,” is an excellent overview of what TBI is, how it happens, what it does. Some exemplary science writing here.

Your brain does not sit inside your skull—its weight would impede blood flow just as sitting in a chair for too long does to other parts of your anatomy. Neither does the brain float like a duck, which would create the same problem up top as it pressed against the roof of the skull. The brain has neutral buoyancy, like a densely compact jellyfish suspended in the sea. The result of neutral buoyancy is that the human brain, which might weigh 1,400 grams when the coroner set it on the scale, effectively has a weight of 25 grams or so when it is properly suspended in its bath of cerebro-spinal fluid.

That’s about as good as an explanatory paragraph gets, with its clarity, concision, and sprightly language.

The second piece is “None of My Memories Are My Own” by Kristen Cosby, a poignant story about a young husband and father who survived a truck tire flying into his car and smashing his head. His memories did not survive. Cosby does a great job with delicate material.

The couple sits at their kitchen table, Derrick smiles, crooking the right corner of his mouth higher than the left. Anna [his wife] smiles back. “You used to smile that way before the accident, when you were saying something funny.”

“Really? I don’t remember that,” says Derrick. Then he listens as she tells the story of how he proposed to her. If she repeats it often enough, it will become his story, too.

While we’re on the subject of brains, here’s the latest cover from The Pennsylvania Gazette, John Prendergast, editor:

My reaction was about what you’d expect from a nerdboy who regularly feeds his inner 12-year-old: “Oh, cool . . . look at that!” I showed the cover to two of my female colleagues. Their responses were, more or less, “Please. I just had breakfast.”

Cover coverage

Yesterday’s post about photography prompted two editors who shall remain nameless—OK, Marny Lombard and Brian Doyle—to shill shamelessly for the covers of their magazines. We respect shameless shilling in these parts, and posting covers is the blog equivalent of a one-dish microwave meal. Two or three lines of text, a cut-and-paste, and my work is done for the day. I like it.

Lombard edits Gonzaga, from the school of the same name (also known as the John Stockton Academy of Higher Basketball), and they committed a redesign not so long ago. Here is their entry in today’s beauty contest scholarship pageant:

Doyle, who also shills for William Blake, Oregon pinot noir, Van Morrison, and Portland Pilots soccer, sent along two covers.

As we say here in Blogistania, click the images to view larger.

Guest post: designer Claude Skelton on covers

What is that elusive thing that makes a magazine cover both memorable and beautiful? For university magazines, covers can be especially difficult to pull off because the subject matter varies widely—from timely and profound to soft and nostalgic. These challenges make for a uniquely creative opportunity, yet many alumni magazines miss the chance to be unique and suffer from bland sameness. Magazine covers are usually a combination of three elements: headline, image, and nameplate. What makes it so hard to find that magic balance necessary for a great cover? Here are some ideas, with examples. [Click on the thumbnail images and watch them grow.]

The Headline

Provocative stories and great writing lead to great covers. Seems obvious (and I know I’m preaching to the choir) but how often does that happen?

Headline writing is an art in itself. Short is usually best, and clever wordplay is better—and a good headline can generate great visual ideas. The best covers promise a good read inside by using smart headlines paired with original visuals. Some great examples of short, clever headline writing show up on two covers for Bostonia from Boston University (of course it doesn’t hurt that the design of these covers, by Ronn Campisi, is also top notch).

The Nameplate

The nameplate is a given, and it’s often one of the weakest elements of university magazine covers. It carries the identity of the magazine as well as that of the school. The nameplate design—its position, size, color, and typographic treatment—can make the difference between ho-hum and exciting covers. A favorite example of the creative use of a nameplate is on UCLA’s covers. Each cover moves the nameplate to a new position according to the design of the cover image, carefully juxtaposing content blurbs, nameplate, and image. Too often the nameplate appears in the “newsstand” position—as large as possible across the top of the page—contributing to the familiar sameness of so many covers.

The Image

Whether using photography, illustration, or typography, how do you create maximum impact with a single image in a relatively small space? There’s no scientific formula or foolproof solution. You can blow your budget on a fabulous photo shot by a great photographer,but unless your designer has the eye for sizing and cropping the image for maximum effect and balancing it with the other visual elements (headline and nameplate), it can fall flat. When planning a cover, think about the most surprising, original way to illustrate the cover story—and, if possible, develop the headline first. Often a good headline can lead directly to the perfect visual approach.

Since people and profiles are often subjects for umag covers, think creatively about how to make a portrait distinctive and meaningful. There are photographers with a special gift for shooting portraits. Hire one. If the subject happens to have a wonderful, expressive face, take advantage of it (see Kenyon’s fall cover showing the face of a Cold War survivor shot in black & white by John Noltner). Shoot on location if the environment has an important supporting role in the story (The Pennsylvania Gazette’s May/June 2009 cover is a good example). I recently designed a cover for Fairfield University Magazine featuring a student production of Romeo and Juliet. Art directing long-distance, the photographer, Bob Handelman, and I came up with a dramatic close-up of the two leads, Romeo in profile, Juliet facing the camera.

A portrait doesn’t always have to be a photograph. For the past ten years, St. John’s College has hired illustrator David Johnson to render a different classic author on the cover of every issue of The College, in keeping with St. John’s unique Great Books curriculum.

Conceptual illustration can make a powerful cover but it can be one of the most difficult solutions to implement successfully. Start by identifying an illustrator with a style that makes sense with the subject. There are lots of illustrators who can render objects or people in various styles. There are fewer illustrators who can take an abstract concept and translate it visually. The best ones can take a story, even a rough draft or synopsis, and come up with sketched ideas with very little art direction. Then it’s a matter of fine-tuning and finalizing finished art. From Loyola LMU’s fall issue featured a conceptual illustration (by Heads of State) for its cover story on teacher performance scores, “Bitter Fruit.” Simple iconic images—a segment of a standardized test form superimposed on a worm-infested apple—told the story in a more graphically interesting, and less literal, way than a photo ever could.

Display typography can also be an effective form of illustration. Some outstanding examples: Bostonia on HIV in Kenya; Drew’s “How to Do Everything Better” issue; NJIT (out of the New Jersey Institute of Technology) on “synchrotron light” research.

Finally, these are some of my favorite recent UMag covers. They are hard to categorize, but all are wonderful in their own way:

Denison’s “When the War Comes Home,” features Magnum-quality black & white photojournalism by Erin Trieb. The cover shot perfectly sets the stage for an emotionally wrenching essay on returning soldiers.

Auburn’s “Teaching Them to Fish,” about a plan to save Haiti, shows a simple but powerful photo of a man holding a fish against an unbelievably blue sky.

• University of Cambridge (CAM) ran a portrait of a student looking straight at the camera, beautifully composed in front of a Florentine Renaissance painting. It just works.

Bucknell’s “The Lure of the Beast,” about Bucknellians who work with animals, illustrates the “call of the wild” with a striking and dramatic portrait of a baboon shot in black & white.

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The latest edition of Auburn Magazine has most everything I want from a university magazine. First, there’s a meaty and well-crafted cover story by Candice Dyer, “The Fish Farmer’s Story,” about Auburn alum Valentin Abe, who has done a great deal for Haitians by developing village tilapia farms. I admit that the story’s opening—the overused tale of someone who receives a call that announces a major accolade or prize and modestly assumes he’s being pranked by a friend—did not do much to entice me. I’ve heard some variation of that story too many times. But then I came to the phrase “years of laboring among daub-and-wattle shanties” and thought hmmm, “daub-and-wattle shanties” hints at a writer who knows what she’s doing. So I kept going and was glad I did. Dyer does, indeed, know what she’s doing. She’s an acute observer and dexterous writer, and possessed of the sort of curiosity that researches references to tilapia in the Old Testament and the derivation of “Haiti.” She had great material in Valentin Abe and knew how to make the most of it. After her piece, I came to Auburn student Andrew Sims’ story on the school’s asphalt science program and its test track, which includes samples of the sort of roadways found in nine states. Where else but a umag are you going to find an informative, witty piece on asphalt science that describes a truck driver as “an Aristotle of asphalt”? Finally, there’s Suzanne Johnson’s story on the Auburn school colors. I don’t get the fixation with school colors at so many universities—Duke Magazine put the history of Duke blue on its cover recently, I’ve seen alumni magazines that print every issue in school colors (ugh), and I know people at Johns Hopkins whose day is ruined if the new season’s lacrosse uniforms are the wrong hue—so when I saw this story I thought not again. But Suzanne Johnson is another one of those scribblers who knows what she’s doing, and she kept me entertained with the various ridiculous theories about how blue and orange became Auburn’s colors, the Old English ancestor of “orange” (it’s geoluhread for all you word nerds), and the complexities of orange thread manufacture. And the fact that Auburn used to have a football coach named Tommy Tuberville. (Betsy Robertson edits.)

Speaking of a fixation with school colors, at least four of the people pictured on various pages of  Cornell Report, from Cornell College in Iowa (Dee Ann Rexroat, editor), are wearing some variation of purple and black in their neckties or shirt-and-tie combos. Then there’s a 10-page feature spread that has purple and black all over. That’s understandable, though, since it’s a nice photo essay by student photorapher Aaron Hall about the varsity wrestling team, which apparently is a big deal at Cornell.

(Which reminds me, scroll back up and look at Auburn‘s cover. That Jeff Etheridge photograph of a tilapia against the sky? Uh-huh. Orange and blue. I laughed out loud when I realized that. Do fashion schools have school colors like ecru and aubergine? Just wondering.)