Our first two posts in this series were about designing a cover that standouts out from competitors and not letting your budget be a barrier in designing an awesome cover.

This is post #3 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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For this next installment we’ll be sharing our process of designing the cover for the May/June 2013 issue of Signature magazine. You’ll discover our thoughts about not getting discouraged if your initial cover concept doesn’t work and you need to move on to Plan B.

Visualizing Viral

The cover story for this issue was on viral content, a hot topic that many associations are eager to learn about. As a first-time cover subject in Signature, we started the cover design process by talking about what a good working definition of “viral content” looks like for publishers.

After some discussion, the team came to a consensus that what makes viral content so interesting is that it is an organic process. When a video, photo, or article goes viral, it doesn’t usually happen because the content creator manipulated it to do so. Rather, the most powerful viral content happens because of its visceral impact on a broad audience.

First-Round Ideas

This initial conversation was a stepping-stone to the next phase of the cover design process of brainstorming for potential cover concepts. The creative idea of representing a ripple effect was mentioned by AM&P member volunteer Brian Davis of the American Health Lawyer’s Association.

Bates Creative’s Creative Director, Erik Hansen, liked the idea of showing a ripple effect on the cover, but perhaps best illustrated through a “Butterfly Effect” concept to exemplify the natural process of content going viral. Another well-received idea given by Hansen was the concept that associations should be casting a larger net for their content, which could be designed by creating a textured look on the cover to reflect a large net and creating illustrations that showed varying demographics of a wide array of audiences who are “caught” by content.

Not the Net

After reviewing the cover story again, the team decided to move forward with the “casting a bigger net” concept. It seemed to be the most original idea, and Editorial Director Carla Kalogeridis commented that the “net” theme could play on the word “Internet,” the platform for viral content.

The designers completed an initial sketch of what the cover might look like and a rough comp was sent out to the team. However, after some conversation, the conclusion was that a net would be difficult to execute and communicate the article topic clearly.

In addition, with this issue being the one at AM&P’s Annual Meeting, the team wanted the cover to have an easily recognizable “wow” factor as attendees carried the issue around the conference. The net concept just wasn’t telling the right story.

The Butterfly Effect

After another conference call, The Butterfly Effect concept flew to the top of the list. A new mock-up of the cover was done to show how this concept could bring the story to life on the cover in an authentic and beautiful way. It suddenly made sense to the team. The Butterfly Effect is a well-known phrase (and the title of a hit movie), but the meaning behind it aligns closely with the cover story about viral content.

The theory is that when butterflies take flight, their wings create vibrations that affect the global environment. This seemingly subtle movement happens naturally and ripples across the world, much the same way that intriguing content and messaging is received and shared naturally when an audience finds it particularly relevant.

Hansen described the infographic feel of the first butterfly design, which allowed for potential callouts and/or data-driven stats about viral content. Bates Creative’s Art Director, Darryl Sebro, conducted research into the flight patterns of butterflies. The information he gained on how butterfly wings create patterns that affect the global atmosphere and environment was leveraged for the design. Hansen explained the texture in the background of the design as a visual interpretation of the motion and vibration of the butterfly’s wings, also a metaphor for content reaching further and further through the natural process of going viral.


Davis and Kalogeridis agreed that the new cover concept was beautiful and eye-catching, but both suggested that the statistical callouts on the initial design comp were an element that could be carried inside the feature. They thought that the perfect coverline would draw the reader in, and as Davis pointed out, why take the most interesting design elements and give them away on the cover?

Our design team then refined and executed the final design based on the feedback and added the editor’s coverlines to tie everything together.

Magazine Cover Design

Second-Round Winner

Some cover processes are easier than others. Don’t get discouraged if the initial concept doesn’t end up working out. Work with your publishing team through the challenges and be honest about your opinions. You don’t always get a winner in the first round, and the team needs to be willing to stick with the brainstorming and creative exchanges until the right concept emerges.

We think the final result was worth the extra round of ideas. Do you agree? How does your organization strategize to come up with cover concepts that win? Let us know by commenting below.