Confessions of Student Cover Designers

“Forty seconds left,” Michael Freidson, Editor-in-Chief of Time Out New York, said to our group as he came around collecting sketches of everyone’s  ideas for  the cover of TONY. We quickly scribbled our names on our group’s sketch and handed it in.

When we were initially invited to visit the office of Time Out New York last week, we thought we were just going on one of the educational field trips the M.S. in Publishing program at NYU-SCPS offers to help students  learn more about the media industry. Little did we know that  Freidson and Design Director Adam Logan Fulrath would turn a part of the visit into a real cover design session—and that our idea would be selected to appear on this week’s (October 7-13th) issue of Time Out New York!

Students, including the “winning” four, Amanda Shettleton and Bethany Habinek (left side of table) and Maddy Lincoln and Teresa Ronquillo (right side of table) listen to Design Director Fulrath

Fulrath prepared us for our task by outlining some of his basic “rules” of cover design, explaining that people spend about 30 seconds on a magazine cover before moving on. So, if you want to turn that look into a “buy,”  it’s important that covers really connect with potential readers. It helps, noted Fulrath, to offer a personal benefit (“Make Money Now!” or “Get Fit Fast”) and also present a clear and specific message (“The Singles Issue “ or “75 Things To Do Before Summer Ends”).  An emotional connection with the reader is essential, too, added Fulrath, and so are lots of cover lines. Most important, perhaps, the cover image has to be clear and arresting. “I have a five-foot rule,” Fulrath said. “If you can’t ‘get it’ from that distance, it doesn’t work.”

Once we had a good sense of what Fulrath wanted, Freidson divided us into four groups and asked us to pitch our own design ideas for the  cover, which centers around New Yorkers being asked, “What is your deepest, darkest secret?”

Our group, which consisted of Maddy Lincoln, Amanda Shettleton, Bethany Habinek, and Teresa Ronquillo (all publishing graduate students at NYU-SCPS), immediately began thinking of images that implied secrecy and the issue’s main theme, “confessions.  The idea we settled on was one of an index finger over a pair of lips indicating the “shhhh” gesture. We felt that this was a bold image that immediately tells you there’s a secret in the room. We envisioned a pretty and slightly seductive face taking up the entirety of the cover, figuring this image could spark the audience’s interest in the person’s confession.  Our instinct was to  zoom in on the face to add a sense of intimacy that communicates strong emotion. The tattoo on the finger added an edginess we knew was in line with the magazine’s brand. We also used the five-foot cover rule, meaning we wanted the overall concept to be clear even if someone were looking at the image from five feet away.  The extra-large lips and finger accomplish this goal.

It was clear that the editor and design director liked the student suggestions, and that two really struck a chord with them. (They seemed pretty interested as well in an idea using crumpled post-it notes.) We didn’t know until this week, though, that our idea had been selected for the cover. They modified our whole-face design, playing up the nose and lips more, but it looks pretty cool.

We also learned that our director asked the TONY team why they picked our idea, and here is what they said:

“I liked this cover idea the best because it’s a striking graphic image that also has an inviting human element, said Fulrath.

Freidson was really enthusiastic: “We liked all the students’ ideas, but the finger-over-the-mouth resonated the most because the message ‘I’ve got a secret’ couldn’t be clearer. And the tattoo on the finger— à la Rihanna and Lindsay Lohan—added just enough edge to be cute but not interfere with the idea. Working with the students was terrific because they are our audience, and we listen to our audience—at least, the creative members. As future media execs-in-training, the students are by necessity curious and idea-driven, and they proved that with their incisive questions during the visit.”

The experience of brainstorming ideas and pitching them to industry professionals was exciting in itself, so we were truly thrilled to hear that they liked our concept so much they were going to actually use it!  On top of this, we are honored that we were able to hear so much from Friedson in his last weeks at Time Out New York, as he will be moving to London soon to begin a new media job.

We were so excited to see that our design was not only on the cover, but featured in the  “Reply all” page (4) of the issue.  (Be sure to see it below, under the byline.) While our cover thought process doesn’t reveal our deepest, darkest secrets, we do confess that we can’t wait to see the  Time Out issue on newsstands all around the city!

by Teresa Ronquillo

with contributions by Bethany Habinek,  Maddy Lincoln, and Amanda Shettleton

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