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    23 Effective Magazine Cover Ideas Your Readers Will LOVE!

    at Cover ideas

    At Flip180, we’re in love with unusual magazine cover designs that jar the reader out of complacency and into another mode: magazine mode. Bigger magazines like the New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly, Rolling Stone, Spin, Esquire, Vogue, GQ and many others down through the years have played around with the classic rules of the magazine cover. In doing so, they’ve discovered how to go beyond these supposed “rules” and create new ways of seeing the cover as an entry point for the imagination. We hope you have a eureka moment from the examples cited below from established, indie and one or two completely fictional mags we just wish existed. Needless to say, we’re covering only those exclusive few magazine cover ideas that made the final cut.

    The Quirky/Comedic Photographic Pose

    Quirkly magazine cover example (w/ George Clooney)

    Want to seem instantly sophisticated and communicate a sense of humor? Use this comedic photography magazine cover idea. Rolling Stone and GQ are only two among the sea of usual suspects relying heavily upon the late evolution of this approach. Is it effective? Apparently. A slapstick cover pose fits Clooney as well as any comedic actor or entertainer in recent decades. 

    This approach often involves goofy clothing stunts, outlandish outfits or other sight-gags and props. More conversation starter than raw innovation, devoted magazine aficionados will instantly recognize it as a likeable stand-by when publishers can’t easily think of something more original or daring. It doesn’t hurt that the camera likes Clooney seems from any angle. No doubt, this is part of the appeal of a magazine that subtitles itself with the slogan “MAN AT HIS BEST”. Translation: suave, style-prone, positive, with a sense of humor, and above all financially “successful”. 

    More importantly, this tactic certainly invokes a reaction, which is perhaps why so many magazine covers take this tried-and-true approach. In fact, a smaller magazine that simply wants to project sophistication and cheeky playfulness in one stroke could do far worse than to emulate the tactics of the polished mainstream magazines.

    Laser Cut Design

    Laser Cut Magazine Cover Design Idea (Novum Magazine)

    The laser-cut approach is largely focused on the idea of visual design, but it can also set a unique mood. This typography example combines the idea of typography with that of laser cut and other forms of paper medium formal design. 

    One of the benefits here is the emerging 3D perspective and the illusion of space. This effect is achieved by way of the use of natural shadow created by the lighting in the photo. The visual pun of font type matched with the concept is just one easy take on wordplay associations.

    Needless to say, this is a tack best fit to design magazines, design house company mags, writing magazines, arts journals, etc. You could also combine this approach with photo art as a background and get even more creative with creating a sense of meaning from the interplay of elements.

    2D + 3D Cover Design

    2D+3D Magazine Cover Design

    A mixed-dimensional visual approach can signal multi-dimensional thinking. This is even truer when put to a particular thematic use. 

    This approach can contrast different levels of thinking on a topic or highlight how some are thinking beyond the flat perspective of an official narrative.

    Used here for design, this take on multi-dimensional representations could easily work for tech, gaming, cultural mags and related feature topics. 

    The Mirror Image Effect

    Mirror Image Magazine Cover Idea Example (Ray Gun)

    This magazine cover design example puts the feature article out front. There is an analogy here that goes back to the world of vinyl record album packaging design, but it speaks to the same underlying brand dynamics at work. 

    A similar theme-centric example, though more original, is evident in the the original “White Album” (by the Beatles) was similarly an unsettling sight on the wall of the typical record store of its time, since there is neither band moniker nor album title on the cover but just a blank white background sure to invite questions and investigation. We put the album name in quotes here because actually the name of the album doesn’t appear on the original album. It technically had no album title. That’s the extent to which the theme of the album itself trumped the usual marketing prerogatives. Fans were in awe of the obvious defiance of industry marketing norms.

    In the cited example above, we see a stark contrast of black and white indicative of both the feature article framing and ostensibly that of the magazine brand itself. This shows a commitment to an editorial aesthetic and perspective in a more broad way. The magazine cover is perhaps intended to represent the editorial philosophy more than it would branding.

    Conflict in a feature article theme can be visualized on the cover to great effect. Setting up a supposed conflict( X versus Y) dichotomy for a feature article can inspire a mirror image visual approach on the cover design, or sometimes vice versa. Who says content has to lead form? 

    Ray Gun is an alt/indie/college rock sort of music scene magazine, aiming to shake up perspective — or at least keep up with those who are. This cover approach fits the general theme. In this example, one is forced to adopt 2 different perspectives in turn. In reality, this could go four ways, of course, rather than just two as here.

    The differing article lineup listings further the alternate universe aesthetic created. So which is the definitive way to read this cover? The design format here invokes the idea of a freedom in interpretation by invoking the very act of deciphering the magazine cover as a guide to the issue. In this case, the end result is strangely unassuring and invites the aura of doubt over the very availability of a “true” reading here. This is in keeping with the “alternative rock” theme.

    Let the Issue Title Dwarf the Masthead

    Title Issue as Center of Focus Magazine Idea Example

    This magazine cover idea puts the feature article out front. There is an analogy here that goes back to the world of vinyl record album packaging design, but it speaks to the same underlying brand dynamics at work. 

    A similar theme-centric example, though more original, is evident in the the original “White Album” (by the Beatles) was similarly an unsettling sight on the wall of the typical record store of its time, since there is neither band moniker nor album title on the cover but just a blank white background sure to invite questions and investigation. We put the album name in quotes here because actually the name of the album doesn’t appear on the original album. It technically had no album title. That’s the extent to which the theme of the album itself trumped the usual marketing prerogatives. Fans were in awe of the obvious defiance of industry marketing norms.

    In the cited example above, we see a stark contrast of black and white indicative of both the feature article framing and ostensibly that of the magazine brand itself. This shows a commitment to an editorial aesthetic and perspective in a more broad way. The magazine cover is perhaps intended to represent the editorial philosophy more than it would branding.

    Shake the Board with Compositional Tricks

    Garble the Magazine Cover Design Idea Example (BLEND Magazine)

    Confuse the eye and make the issue a mystery worth investigating. If your magazine purports to provide a fresh perspective, or your feature article is on that sort of theme, make it evident with a cover design that defies compositional logic. The example here leaves space open in the center of the composition while flanking it with the traditional compositional subject. Note also the barcode in a more centralized position and the issue information in an unusually decentralized, deemphasized position. 

    Confuse the eye and make the issue a mystery worth investigating. Click To Tweet

    For a culture magazine, this cover says that what’s inside is fresh and different rather than the expected. It signals an intention to represent a new perspective on culture. The goal seems to intrigue that atypical, special reader to pick up the issue from the magazine stand. We think it succeeds.

    Optical Illusions

    Paper Illusions Magazine Cover Idea Example (WP)

    Creating an optical illusion allows you to make a statement about the feature article topic. Here, the illusion is another example of a 3D gambit meant to suggest a false depth. The image of curled-up paper seems to spring off the cover page.

    This is one more cover tactic that gestures at a different or more revealing way of covering a topic. Having the spunk to employ this approach communicates well to an audience looking to your magazine for useful ideas and/or forward-leaning social perspectives.

    Here notions of historical US race tensions are symbolized to some extent by both the color choices and the peeling effect of the white to reveal the black backstory underneath. The implication of the title is obviously “Black Lives Remembered” in reference to the Black Lives Matter movement that began attracting U.S. media attention in several turbulent waves starting from 2013 to the present.

    A “Checklist” Feature Cover

    Businessweek Macron Checklist Cover Idea

    This magazine cover idea displays how Bloomberg tackles topics that Wall Street Journal subscribers are probably already ruminating upon. Their brand (not being the Wall Street Journal) propels them to tackle politics in ways more like a cross between Atlantic and the Economist. The magazine’s cover design really is the brand. 

    Macron is projected as the news world’s flavor of the month as this conversation-starting tactic unfolds on the cover. There are expectations. Will he meet them all? Can he? Why or why not? The formula here is fertile and could be applied to many article genres outside of money-impacting current events, but the method is available to every publisher ultimately. 

    The subject matter here (for another mag) could just have well been Jay-Z after the release of Magna Carta Holy Grail with plenty of controversies like that of how performance artist Marina Abramović (already amply controversial) demanded nonprofit contribution money from Jay-Z just for appearing in his album-supporting “Picasso Baby”, MoMA-based music video and iconically Abramovician staring contest. That and other evolving “1. Reach #1 on the Top 40. 2. Pay Marina? 3. Beat the stereotype rap. 4. Take Kanye West to the top..” Etc.

    As this example shows, sometimes, you don’t need to think outside the box to engage deeply. Just be conversational and topical. That will usually do the trick.

    Controversial News Image

    Controversial News Image Magazine Cover (Bloomberg Businessweek)

    Bloomberg tackles the kind of topics that people who also read the Wall Street Journal are probably already ruminating upon. Their brand (not being the Wall Street Journal) propels them to tackle politics in ways more like Foreign Affairs magazine or Time. The cover is how this brand plays out. 

    Macron is projected as the news-world’s flavor of the month as this conversation-starting tactic unfolds on the cover. There are expectations. Will he meet them all? Can he? Why or why not? The formula here is fertile and could be applied to many article genres outside of money-impacting current events, but the method is available to every publisher ultimately. 

    The subject matter here (for another mag) could just have well been Jay-Z after the release of Magna Carta Holy Grail with plenty of controversies like that of how performance artist Marina Abramović (already amply controversial) demanded nonprofit contribution money from Jay-Z just for appearing in his album-supporting “Picasso Baby”, MoMA-based music video and iconically Abramovician staring contest. That and other evolving “1. Reach #1 on the Top 40. 2. Pay Marina? 3. Beat the stereotype rap. 4. Take Kanye West to the top..” Etc.

    As this example shows, sometimes, you don’t need to think outside the box to engage deeply. Just be conversational and topical. That will usually do the trick.

    Barcode Statement Cover

    Barcode Magazine Example (Mad Magazine)

    While more profane than arty, Mad Magazine knows how to stimulate interest via its covers designs. Part social commentary, part off-color cartoon forum, Mad’s choice of a barcode here was arguably the first of its kind, which is why we chose it as the example image here. 

    Even while commenting on the ramifications of the computerized marketplace, Mad makes a characteristically contagious joke out of it. Placing two UPC symbols on the cover probably would have jammed every UPC barcode reader and computerized sales log in every newsstand in America — if only it had been smaller.

    This is far from the last example of a barcode used as a tantalizing magazine cover idea. Moreover, Mad Magazine was not the only magazine that purports to do both social commentary and another thing simultaneously (like Playboy, for example).

    The Too-Close Closeup

    The idea behind the visual here is clearly one of signaling a “closer look” in the feature. This can be perfect for a magazine focused on actors, music stars and other celebs. Note also the sideways feature listing at the viewer’s bottom-left. Do we detect a Bauhaus thing happening in the background here? Maybe. The compositional genius is evident. So is the psychological underpinning of the concept of celebrity itself. 

    Where does the makeup end and the person underneath it begin? This is an idea we will explore more later in this article, but for now, just soak in the vibe. It’s appealing and soothing somehow regardless of reader gender, while also emphasizing unique differences as both valuable and innately marketable.  

    This may well just be a truly great example of a magazine cover focused on the glossy side of media that is tinkering with your psychological controls on the one hand and calling a little attention to that dynamic on the other. The makeup so completely paints over the face of the woman in this photo and we can see its fine texture and painterly, clarity-emulating effect in dizzying detail, lodging us on the precipice of a grand realization about the notion of celebrity itself. 

    Vandalize a Photo

    The Photo+Drawing Magazine Cover Idea Example (Forbes - Uber Founder Feature Issue)

    What better way to feign irreverence for the cult of celebrity than vandalize one on the cover? Part of the appeal is that the publisher gets to gesture at the public perception of the figure on the cover (and in the feature article) while simultaneously furthering it by cashing in on it. 

    This approach can be used in many ways, but the immediate charm of a character dissection is an easy way to make it work for your magazine. And best of all, you can be visually controversial or at least hint at it in an amiable enough way.

    Of course, the color of the pen or crayon should contrast noticeably against the background.

    Steal a Famous Cultural Moment

    Culture-Themed Magazine Cover Example (Empire Magazine - Han Solo Carbon Freeze Cover Image)

    When in awe of a graphic idea, steal from the best! This particular one (taken from the carbon freezing of Han Solo in a scene taken from the Star Wars franchise) has often been stolen. That’s only because the image was such a startlingly memorable one for GenXers.

    There are many similar possibilities here. Some other common takes in this vein include the movie, The Godfather and that famous machine gun scene in Scarface. And why not? Use whatever is common currency in your niche to instantaneously speak to an entire common vernacular, whether it’s movies, music, celebrities, TV, animation, you name it.

    By using a famous image, you instantly link up to a cultural cachet. This can be leveraged  as a foot in the door of the mind of the physical or virtual newsstand peruser.

    Create a Heroic Comic Book Illustration

    Comic Book Illustration Magaizne Cover Technique Idea (Time Magazine)

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    With this technique, you can highlight the stoically stark figure your cover subject cuts against the backdrop of history. Comic books provide a kind of implied shadow to their subjects. They tend to cast figures in dramatic cardboard cutouts for the sake of character clarity — either as heroes or as villains, victims or victimizers, the innocent or the guilty.

    In this particular scenario, the hero or the anti-hero/villain is a common theme depending upon how the subject prefers to be portrayed. The anti-hero or villain is a common choice for those who want to show a sense of humor. 

    Political and other public discourse figures may often be cast in the heroic pose with the assumption that this is how their own support base see them. Often, so will the person picking up the issue on the newsstand. This approach is sometimes also done via photography and a bit of makeup and costume artistry, but the illustration is probably easier to pull off.

    The “Reveal” Effect Cover Idea

    Tear-Away Cover Photo Magazine Cover Image (WAD Magazine)

    Try a paper tear-away image effect complete with shadow to reveal deeper subject insight. It’s just one way to create an unusual “insider” perspective on a popular cultural figure or even a role within the topic’s industry. It’s not the only one. 

    You could also try the “burn-hole” effect, the “window” effect, or the “close-up eye reflection” effect. In fact, there are many ways to achieve a similar reveal of what’s really lurking in the subject’s personality — or hidden conveniently out of view for their audience.

    In this example, it feels like the true subject is passionate, focused and even determined, unlike the blind-sided, victim-like expression it’s hiding beneath.

    Aside from celebrity or industry figure feature covers, this technique could work for a travel magazine cover idea, since nothing reveals a new you like a trip to locales exotic and unknown.

    The Noir Effect

    Black and white (Noir Magazine) Cover Idea Example

    Black and white photography can easily lend itself to a black and white cover theme. This helps to justify and highlight the noir aesthetic into an issue theme or just a cover theme.

    Grey, silver and white make the perfect font colors. The barcode won’t spoil this look. And best of all, your subject can pretend to be a smoker if that’s somehow a plus for the pose.

    Unlike the publisher of this particular example, you may want to keep your cover options a bit more open. The noir aesthetic is a nice change of scenery once in a while, but your magazine may not want to live there permanently unless you’re going for a goth punk vibe or a narrow photography niche.

    Remake an Iconic Photo

    Space Woman - Odd Magazine Cover Examples (True Lies Magazine - Just a Mockup)

    Re-doing an iconic/famous photo from the past gamefies your issue. And nothing is more iconic (or exotic) than this playful example of a famous Weegee photo entitled “Space Woman”, selected from Weegee’s more artistic catalog.

    This particular magazine cover design embodies on a Man or Astro-man? meets Reader’s Digest vibe. Another winning dimension here is the black and white aspect and the idea of a historical moment, such as women taking a more prominent role in entertainment. The same effect would work if you took a Lucille Ball photo and remade it with a contemporary female comedy star or pop singer.

    Oh… and does this cover actually exist? Not to our knowledge, but it should. We just invented it. You’re welcome.

    The Artistic Genre Approach

    Collage Art Genre Photo Cover Idea (Time Magazine)

    Choosing an iconic artistic style or genre is another effective stock approach to making this issue unique. Here we see an example of a collage art style reminiscent of the 1920s Dada.

    This one can work well for a timeline vibe as it lends itself to imposing paper cutouts of penciled-in words, other images, colored shapes and drawings spliced into a tableau that tells an overall story. 

    This technique can be suitable for representing popular movements. And best of all, you don’t even need a camera crew to pull this one off!

    Also consider doing a pure impressionist, expressionist, or Warhol-esque pop art vibe that coincides meaningfully with a prominent trait of the subject matter of the cover.

    The Puzzle Magazine Cover Approach

    Puzzle Magazine Cover Idea

    Want to highlight a puzzling feature theme — or spice up a typical cover photo? This one may be the track for you if you love all things puzzling. All you need is an appropriate puzzle effect image filter that can make the pattern. Deleting spaces within the outlines is a possible added step here. 

     This approach would have been great for a TV soaps magazine. We love how the image fades out towards the bottom as if the figure’s story is unfinished. Feel free to go for a bigger puzzle outline pattern and emphasize some raised puzzle pieces with shadow.

    Represent the Feature Subject in Silhouette

    Sillouette Magazine Cover Example (Wired Magazine's Steve Jobs Feature Issue)

    A silhouette can set off a binary frame of mind with black and white or other binary pairs of colors. You can mix formats as has been done here, suggesting both dualities of the software/tech world and nuance of the carefully-inserted glasses. 

    The best visual metaphors are simple and symbolic without inviting too much attention. In this case, the implication of the glasses appears to add some contextual nuance to the binary world of black and white and that of ones and zeros. 

    Steve Jobs himself was a nuanced visionary who could bring perspective to the “livable” aspect of technology, not just making people more productive like the operating systems our devices run on, but making the use of technology more enjoyable. The figure he cut was distinct from that of Bill Gates, who was never quite the darling of the design world, the IT world and the consumers of his devices and Apple OS software.

    Use Selective Focus on the Cover Image

    Travel Magazine Cover Idea (Hemispheres Magazine)

    As a travel magazine cover idea, selective focus evokes the power of nostalgic memory, such as that of a European vacation or a trip to Disney World. The carriage in sharp focus is presumably that of the one recalling the trip, as the world around it blurs a bit in comparison. This technique can be used in a number of situations, such as sports events, holiday get-togethers,  a trip to another land, or a childhood memory, a story heard second-hand, or whatever you can imagine.

    The key ingredient here, in fact, is the imagination used in recalling. Whether it’s remembering something that is patchy, incomplete, surrounded in dreamlike positive emotions, or just out of reach in the present, the emphasis in on memory. This dimension makes it similarly useful for literary magazines such as poetry and short story magazines.

    Exotic Location Photography

    VAGABON MAGAZINE cover (Exotic Travel Magazine Cover Idea)

    The exotic photography travel magazine cover is an endlessly repeatable way for travel magazines to capitalize on their intriguing subject matter. It’s not just for travel magazines though. Lots of magazine genres can benefit, from human interest to outdoors magazines, fitness magazines, family magazines, lifestyle or gender-focused magazines and culturally-themed magazines can all utilize it for a fresh change of pace.

    A women’s magazine can be one of the best beneficiaries of this cover idea, since romantic or exotic getaways in gorgeous and intriguing surroundings are every woman’s fantasy. Whether you’re alone or with a loved one, who doesn’t want to be somewhere else right now? With this cover, you feed the imagination and yearnings of more readers than you’d probably think.

    Craft a Calculatedly Bizarre Aesthetic

    Bizarre Mental Image Cover Example - Toiletpaper Magazine

    Saving the most difficult for last, this is (probably) not your grandfather’s magazine. Not known for appealing to the common motifs, TOILETPAPER is clearly challenging a lot of expectations here, all of which it rightly assumes are held by the typical magazine rack passerby. Let’s examine these in some justified detail.

    Latent sexuality as a tool of magazine marketing is here turned inside out. In fact, upon closer inspection, this is perhaps the least sexualizing (or appetizing) image ever as it parodies all concepts of the appetizing or the sexual usually latent within the typical magazine cover. That slightly more obvious observation aside, the thwarting of expectations and associations certainly is not at an end there. We’re just getting started here.

    There are so many simple magazine cover rules of thumb being flouted here that it’s almost amazing for the sparing number of actual elements involved. The color scheme feels like the 70s. It’s clearly not in keeping with the full spectrum of pop and color easily available to the times. In fact, what usual tricks of the trade are really honored here? The color palette is for all that associative warmth more of a 70s horror movie vibe than anything innocently nostalgic. In fact, the subversive overtones quickly begin to pile up after a few minutes of careful scrutiny.

    The layout choice of a faux-shadowed red bar at the bottom seems to parody the more identifiable framing logic of one at the top supporting the idea of the masthead. And…where is the barcode, for that matter? For anything here to be appealing invites a kind of perversion of perspective not in keeping with a more typical approach — or any other approach. Are the hotdogs slightly cooked? Or are they simply turning brown from simply being left out too long? The unsettling overall impact of this last example is calculated in that it is vague and indistinct, yet pregnant with defiant, counter-cultural signification. It invites a dislodging from the unstated standard of a more typical — that is, more commercial — culture mag on the magazine stand. 

    The studied anti-commercial attempt at shock value is also the most brilliant marketing ploy of all time. Are you even cool or alternative enough to pick this thing up and open the cover? Do you thumb your nose at obvious commercialism? Are you too smart for the supposedly “subtle” marketing tricks of other art magazines? 

    And what’s the final interpretation here? Does it abruptly end with the possibilities we’ve briefly explored here? Or could they trail on as we stare at it? Is consumption itself being parodied at a final level? Or at every level? Does it really even end there with something socio-economic or aesthetic? Or are entire human modes of representation themselves somehow being deconstructed before our eyes in some (deeply disconcerting) way? 

    We certainly need not slap a label on this sort of visual art. In fact, to do so would probably trim away all that is most essential. Even the possible number of metaphorical interpretations keeps proliferating the longer one gazes at this seemingly bottomless pit of anti-intuitive visual significations. 

    …So, what do you think? We hope you liked this post. If so, be sure to subscribe and leave a comment down below! Leave a comment below!

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