This issue’s cover story investigates the idea that the heart of the association world’s value proposition could be hidden in their goldmine of private online communities.

This post will uncover how our team brought the Signature November/December 2015 issue’s cover story to life through design.

This is post #11 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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When online communities first became popular, everyone, including associations, jumped on the bandwagon of connecting with their fellow peers. With the heavy volume of people interested in these communities, associations struggled to lure their members to the association’s custom online communities instead of opting for social networks like LinkedIn, Google+, and Facebook.

Part of the challenge is that the online technologies are constantly evolving. What you knew about online communities yesterday is different today. So what cover concepts did Bates Creative come up with to represent Signature’s story on this topic?

CONCEPT 1: DIGITIZED

The first concept played up the anonymity of private communities from the perspective of the public eye. While the designer took a literal approach to his conceptualization of the message of private online communities, he added a layer of intrigue to the design by pixelating the face of a business professional. Camouflaging the identity traces back to the importance of private online spaces. Fellow professionals wouldn’t know their peers as successfully without the tie of their mutual associations.

CONCEPT 2: CENSORED

The second concept pulled inspiration directly from an early coverline idea: “Private Party.” While glamorous at first sight, the design centers on the obscuration of ideas by showing a peek at an image hidden behind the knocked-out coverline type. Images that are teased or hidden jolt the reader’s curiosity. This approach was less literal than the first concept, but spoke to the exclusiveness of the online communities featured in the cover story. The design team was drawn to this idea, but wanted richer material.

CONCEPT 3: HIDDEN TYPE

The third concept was by far the most abstract and symbolic idea, best described as the “hidden gem” Signature was looking for. The designer was drawn to the verbal imagery of the feature story’s “Hidden Gems of Online Private Communities” tagline. She explained the design as representing the “benefit of online communities that’s not always seen, but is definitely sought after, much like mining for gold.”

The designer wanted to emphasize the symbolism of the cover by custom illustrating the layout and art. The mountains in the design are flat layers but maintain a surface-level depth, much like the presence of public online communities. Hierarchy is given to the cover title by adding depth and gold trim to the type. The designer strategically did this to mirror the prominence of private online communities because they take members deeper into the member base of their organizations.

Association Media & Publishing Editorial Director Carla Kalogeridis provided her feedback on the design, saying,

“This cover does a great job conveying the idea that today’s private online communities have more to offer than many associations may be aware of, and that they are worth reinvestigating and rediscovering.”

Once the designer mocked up her idea, the Signature editorial team was so drawn to the concept that they re-wrote the coverline to support the abstract messaging of the design. “We frequently write about member engagement and building community in Signature, and it’s always a challenge to illustrate that with a fresh perspective,” Kalogeridis notes.

“This issue’s cover is not only extremely creative but is also designed to make people stop in their tracks and pick up the magazine.”

The winning concept took some digging until our team struck gold both aesthetically and symbolically. Do you see it? Much like the creative process of this cover, private online communities go through changes until the value of the community is revealed.

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