The most important thing to get right when producing a consumer magazine is also the hardest.
I’m talking about the cover.
Aside from pleasing subscribers, the cover artwork largely determines whether any particular edition will be a success or a flop on the newsstands. Some of our favourite editions were retail disasters, simply because of their covers (such as Jul/Aug 2004 and Jun/Jul 2005).
That’s why it’s the first aspect of the magazine we embark on.
It’s also why the first real post in this Magazine 2.0 Experiment will be all about the thought process that goes into the cover artwork.
And, of course, we’ll be calling on you, our readers, to help us create an awesome, eye-grabbing, memorable, articulate and visually intelligent concept (with proper attributions for the idea that we ultimately publish).
First… We need a cover topic.
This shouldn’t be a problem.
I think we all know what the cover topic will be about (ie. Magazine 2.0).
Second… We brainstorm visual schema.
A schema is a collection of generic properties of a concept or category. What the!?
Quite simply, schemas are words or, in this case, images that consist of lots of pre-recorded information stored in our memories.
When I tell you that my favourite fruits are pomelos, you might raise an eyebrow, understandably confused. When I go on to tell you that a pomelo is simply a supersized grapefruit, I don’t need to say anything else. You know what I mean. You can visualise it. “Grapefruit” is my verbal schema.
Schemas help people communicate efficiently. By relying on existing memories, a clever visual schema reduces the need for explanations. For example, when I show you a briefcase, you think of business. That’s one complex explanation solved.
The trick to a good cover concept is to come up with a clever twist on a common visual schema.
To get an idea of what I’m talking about, click here.
You’ll be introduced to every cover we have ever produced.
Third… Develop cover tags.
But, of course, the clever evolution is to then wrap these cover tags (ie. words) around other visual themes to reflect the context or meaning of the words.
Once again, check out past covers. You’ll see that some cover tags that simply jump off the page.
Fourth… Revisit ground rules.
Over time, we’ve developed our own ground rules. We’ve learnt from our failures and successes.
For example, human heads (the stock and trade of the business magazine industry) have never worked for us. If the person looks like a dweeb or wallflower, some readers won’t relate to that person (ie. we lose a sale). If our cover ‘star’ is a spunk or supermodel, other readers won’t relate (ie. we lose a sale). The same can be said about age and gender.
Check out Jun/Jul 2006. Johana Wotjalik’s story was trademark Anthill: interesting and inspiring. But her head shot, cleverly placed on her bottled water product, did not sell magazines (to our surprise).
Also, we’ve found that overly complex covers again seem to have a negative effect on retail sales.
Why? Because the average retail consumer spends less than a second glancing at each cover. Therefore, the cover must command attention immediately. Then, it must articulate what the story is about (always a problem with a magazine called ‘Anthill’).
To get this right we apply what we call ‘the postage stamp test’. Simply put, we shrink the cover concept to the size of a postage stamp on a computer monitor. If the image then doesn’t grab our attention and communicate the message, we’ve over-thunk it.
Check out Jun/Jul 2005. One of our favourite editions, featuring a very clever illustration highlighting the competing plays of the world leading search engines, a flop because it was too complex.
If Magazine 2.0 is our topic, the hot tip is to start thinking about visual representations of the concept that are simple and elegant, that capitalise on people’s existing understanding of ‘Web 2.0’ or on the meaning of the concept as it applies to magazines.
If that’s too difficult, perhaps consider cover tags that can be manipulated visually to further emphasise their meaning.
While it’s important to try not to over-complicate an idea, one golden rule prevails: There is no such thing as a bad idea in a brainstorm. Because bad ideas help the brain identify good ideas.
If you have what you think is a mediocre idea, post it anyway.
You may just ignite a killer concept from another Anthillian.
Lastly, we don’t propose to announce which cover idea (if any) that we ultimately intend to publish. Quite simply, that would give our competitors the chance to trump us and, besides, there’s nothing nicer than a pleasant surprise.
However, we will name those helpful souls who contributed the most through their comments below, including the author of any ‘killer concept’ that we decide to use.
So… If polema means grapefruit, any takers on a schema for ‘Magazine 2.0’?