Signature covers aren’t easy. They are rarely literal (example: interview with John, put a cool picture of John on the cover), and they often involve multi-layer ideas that fight back when we try to simplify and focus them. This post will uncover how our team brought the Signature May/June 2014 issue’s cover story to life through design.

This issue’s cover story is about competing. In our era of digital, mobile, and social media, does an association have to do it  all to be competitive – or is a better strategy to focus on one or two things that you have the resources to do and be the best at those things in your space?

This is post #8 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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In other words, which is a stronger sell: To have a print magazine, a digital magazine, an e-newsletter, a blog, an app, an annual directory and so forth – or simply offer the most compelling, original, relevant magazine in your industry? Granted, ideally, you’d have the number-one magazine, and all the other stuff too. But what if you simply don’t have the manpower and budget for that?

Our Signature design and editorial teams met via conference call to discuss the main points of the story. What we discovered is that among the several association publishing professionals interviewed, no clear consensus emerges in the story regarding the integration vs. specialization dilemma.

As we talked about all the factors to consider in deploying content, what we finally realized is that an association’s product mix strategy really has to be a unique formula that combines the various components in the perfect solution for the association, its members, and the industry or profession it serves.

Hmmm…factors, formula, product, solution. Sounds like we’ve got a math theme going on here.

Just as in math, when various numbers are plugged in to different equations and result in different solutions, so in the publishing world do the various combinations of factors (budget, membership size, staff size, industry needs) result in different media solutions. The perfection of the solution is found in the formula, the teams agreed during the brainstorm.

At this point, our designers took some time to put the ideas into imagery. Several math-inspired concepts came to life, as the team brainstormed the perfect formula to be a strong competitor in the media world. In the spirit of math, we thought about classrooms, college, chalkboards, and whiteboards.

“We also liked the idea that Signature is yet another content deployment device, and we wanted to incorporate that into the final design concept,” says Ernie Achenbach, vice president of Bates Creative.

“We saw the potential for the cover art to take on a holistic approach by including the magazine logo into the execution of the design.”

A Number of Choices

Our team sent several ideas to Carla Kalogeridis, Signature editorial director, including:

Idea 1 – The Equation:

A chalkboard or dry erase board shows a complex mathematical equation that factors in social media names/icons, mobile devices, print, business verticals, etc. The Signature logo and cover lines would assume the same chalk/marker treatment, in different colors.

Idea 2 – Focus Efforts:

The feature article title is front-and-center, encircled by words or images of social media, mobile devices, print, web, business verticals, etc. The feature title will be crisp and the items surrounding will become out of focus and blurry as the distance increases.

Idea 3 – The Conflict Game:

This idea is a twist on the Risk board game, where the pawns are in countries representing different media products.

Idea 4 – Content Robot:

Drawing from movies and games where people are “drivers” in giant robots, this robot is comprised of the different types of content deployment. The illustrated body of the robot would show the different options (social media, mobile devices, print, web, business verticals).

Kalogeridis eliminated Idea 2 because she pointed out that the article did not conclude that a focused approach to competition was best. She also eliminated Idea 4, primarily because it was an original illustration that would need some time to develop. There was no wiggle room in the production schedule because this issue had to be pushed out before the Association Media & Publishing Annual Meeting.

Several cover line options for Idea 1 and Idea 3 were drafted by Kalogeridis and sent to our creative team. In just a couple of days our team was ready for Kalogeridis to take a look at the progress.

She was delighted – and dismayed (in a good way) – to see several strong designs come out of Ideas 1 and 3. Kalogeridis commented,

“As I flipped through the PDF of concepts, I thought, ‘Oh, boy. This is not going to be clear cut and easy.'”

Idea 1 was narrowed down to two design concepts – one with a chalkboard and one with a dry erase board. Idea 3 was cleverly executed with a map and a nod to the Risk board game.

“I loved the ‘Dominating Your Space’ execution with the Risk-style map and icons, but decided that it wasn’t the closest fit for the story. The math equation ideas were much more aligned to the article’s message,” said Kalogeridis.

To decide between the chalkboard and the dry erase board concepts, Kalogeridis and Achenbach hopped back on the phone.

“I liked both ideas, but I thought the dry erase board was really fresh,” said Achenbach, “I liked the color popping on a white background, and I especially liked the treatment of the Signature logo.”

Kalogeridis was torn between the two, but eventually made the case for the chalkboard cover. “I thought the black and white was more eye-catching,” she said. “And I thought it was just a cleaner, easier read.” A team agreement was reached on the chalkboard.

“I love the way the cover turned out, and the design team did a fabulous job with a fun but elegant execution of the concept in the corresponding cover story design inside the book,” said Kalogeridis.

“And the best part about this issue’s cover process is that we ended up with several additional ideas and concepts that I am saving for future issues.”

Adobe DPS Edition of this Issue Available

This issue of Signature is also available in a digital format as a tablet app, created with Adobe DPS. The Adobe DPS version of this issue features an interactive cover where users can swipe the cover with their finger to “erase” the formula and reveal the cover story’s headline, bringing the cover concept to the next level. Other features include interactive ads and links to resources for Association Media & Publishing members. Once a member has downloaded the Adobe DPS version of Signature, they can enjoy the content while offline or online. Visit the iTunes App Store & Newsstand to download the Adobe DPS SignatureApp today.

Cover ideas for this issue certainly abounded in great number. What do you think of this issue’s chalkboard cover and cover story design? Leave us your thoughts by commenting below.