Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Rational Exuberance: Economist Magazine Covers

Q: How many art directors does it take to change a light bulb?
A: Does it have to be a light bulb?

The scenario is all too familiar at magazines everywhere. Art directors spending countless hours trying to convince editors that as much as they think they want a light bulb, they really don’t want one—too obvious, cliché, etc. Art director then presents light-bulb alternative, and now must convince editors that this is what they really want. Not wanting to appear unsophisticated, editors agree, but only with certain changes. And back and forth it goes, resulting in varying degrees of satisfaction for all concerned.

Well, The Economist is one magazine that seems to save itself much time by not going there, and seems to have a blast, besides. Last week design guru, Bob Newman posted a group of very bold, graphic Economist covers from 1964-68 on Newmanology. I couldn’t help but think of a folder I had of more recent covers from The Economist cover archive that are by turns silly, scathing, hilarious, literal, elitist, cliché, outspoken, and simply not to be believed. What they have in common, is that they all say, “This is a magazine run by editors, not fancy pants art directors. We want our covers to win a response, not admiration, or even awards. When we have an image in mind, we get art to match. To hell with design awards, taste, and subtlety. And to hell with the artsy farts all trying to impress one another with how well they can talk editors out using a light bulb.”

These covers, “are what they are,” and, very refreshingly, don’t pretend to be otherwise.

So while editors everywhere else demand redesigns, and art directors beg for more white space, the Economist readership continues upward. Cover image: large “up” arrow, or maybe a hot air balloon. Cover line: it's obvious, “Up, Up and Away!”

See The Economist cover archive here.

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