Taking the extra step in making your association’s content stand out from the competition takes a dose of perspiration and dedication. A commitment to quality will help differentiate your association in two ways: By building trust with your readers and keeping them coming back for more.

This post will uncover how our team brought the Signature September/October 2016 issue’s cover story to life through design.

This is post #16 in a series of blog posts on magazine cover design strategy. Follow the link to visit the rest of our posts in the series.

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It may be more challenging to think “audience first” when creating content since trends are constantly evolving the marketplace, but you can prepare for these changes by keeping honest craftsmanship as the centerpiece of your content strategy.

In this issue’s cover story, Thomas Edison takes Signature readers back to basics —discovering what audiences need and catering to it. The editorial team at Signature and the designers at Bates Creative agreed that while there’s not a comprehensive, picture-perfect method all associations can use to connect with their audiences, the art of understanding your membership is the right start.

Which of our three cover designs illustrated this concept the best?

Concept 1: In the Lab

Sure, a picture can “speak a thousand words,” but sometimes the details we can’t see are just as important as the ones we can. The Bates designer behind this concocted concept pitched the idea to use ultraviolet photography to create dynamic imagery while highlighting the quality “elements” within a successful article. Finding a balanced approach to content creation and audience appeal may seem like a science to some, but both teams felt this idea didn’t support the degree of class the editorial team was going for with this issue.

Concept 2: Shredded

This concept proposed creating a cover design — nameplate, main coverline, and any accompanying imagery that exuded quality from top to bottom — and then shredding it. The streams of design confetti would then be reassembled to express how quality content is the most important driver an association can have regardless of formatting. The editorial team was drawn to this idea, but had concerns that this concept would be challenging to repurpose in the opening spread. This concept has been shelved for future use.

Concept 3: Back to Basics

As trends and developments continue to reinvent the modern-day concept strategy, we often forget how elegant and effective the basics can be. The Bates designer revisited the grassroots of art with a piece of paper and pencil for this cover concept to represent a substance-over-style approach.

“The article started out being about the latest trends on readership preferences for content delivery, but it quickly took a new direction as the interviews were completed,” says Carla Kalogeridis, Signature’s publisher and editorial director.

“It became a story about quality trumping quantity and delivery, which is an important message for association publishers struggling to be everything to everybody.” Carla Kalogeridis

The art of content creation was taken quite literally in this concept, and Thomas Edison was the perfect subject to exemplify it. The first draft of the feature article opened with a brief mention of Edison, but this simple nod was enough inspiration to recast Edison as a character in the story.

“We took a risk with this cover concept, but I think it will do its job — capture readers’ attention and get them to open up the magazine,” says Kalogeridis.

“I was a little worried that the Back to Basics coverline would seem dry and uninteresting, but the subhead to the coverline ups the intrigue and makes the reader stop and wonder what in the world Thomas Edison could have to do with modern-day content strategy.”

The last few Signature cover concepts were conceptual reiterations of the feature article.

While this issue deviates from previous designs with a more literal approach to the feature story, its artistic value illustrates how quality trumps everything else. Sure there were several hand cramps and graphite smudges involved in making this cover, but its demonstration of craft brings the “Back to Basics” theme full-circle.

Was this winning cover concept your first choice, too? Tweet your feedback to @batescreates and @assnmediapub