Cover critique: Answers magazine

Answers-largeCover critique is a new website feature from EPA. The cover of a magazine is submitted, and critiqued by two designers. We hope this will be a fun and informative feature for EPA’s designers. Our thanks to Dan Stelzer, art director for Answers magazine, for suggesting and coordinating the feature, and for being willing to serve as the first volunteer (or victim).

Cover Critique for Answers Magazine (January–March 2013)

Brief description of the cover:

There is a battle waging in our culture that should be in the interest of everyone. This battle is being waged over our children’s minds and ultimately their hearts. Atheist and humanist groups are becoming more aggressive in their attempt to persuade the next generation that belief in God is foolish as well as the belief in creation.

The most recent issue of Answers magazine includes three articles that discuss how we can protect and prepare our children for this battle. The cover places the child directly between the athiest’s viewpoint and the Christian’s viewpoint. Bombarded by the beliefs from both sides, the boy looks to the reader for help. The hand drawn type is intended to reinforce the personal nature of the battle.

All the background words are hand-drawn, scanned and then combined with the cover photo, which was shot by our in-house photographer. The hand-drawn text is used to converge on the boy and create almost a target with the boy at the center. Because of the amount of text used with the image, the headline uses a strong san serif font in a bold yellow to stand out.

Cover critiqued by Ryan McCullah:

Why this cover does well:

What I see here is a very direct visual translation of a very compelling and socially sensitive issue of a culture war taking place in the minds of children. The photo is impossible to ignore and most any parent especially of boys would feel this kid staring deep into their soul. The cover does this in a way that does not take sides either which moves me to read the story for the author's/magazine's point of view.

From a purely aesthetic point of view I love the hand-written type. It has heart and is always effective in driving more emotional resonance. In a perfectly kerned and symmetrical digital world, the hand-crafted reminds us we are human beings and that means we are imperfect and that is both beautiful and deeply reassuring.

What this cover may consider:

Dial up the hand written type to make it more central to the overall concept. This is an effective design element that is almost lost on first glance. There may be a way to overlay the type on the image of the boy in a way that clearly shows a battle being fought "over" the minds of our children. I had to look closely for the Evolution and Creation words on opposing sides and the concept seems dependent on this idea. The boy image is great but is asked to carry the concept entirely. Integrate the type more would be my main critique.

The feature headline "Battle For Kids' Minds…" I would move left to more deliberately tuck behind the chin and cheek. The type seems shy to go there and creates some distracting tangents especially the B in Battle. The color and size of the type is also demanding a lot of attention for a cover concept and design that will pull you in well enough on its own. I would consider type that integrates more into the design some how rather than sitting on top. White type may be a good choice here.

Cover critiqued by José Reyes:

The latest cover for Answers magazine has tackled a subject that has youth across the country caught in its crossfire—the battle over teaching evolution vs. creation. On this cover, the eyes of the young man tell the story. The longing to not be 'here.' The call for help. Simply wanting to 'be.' A great cover must attempt to capture a moment and elicit a response from the reader—either positive or negative. Answers does this by creating a literal target of ideas and placing the subject front and center in the bullseye. He's disheveled as if he's been pushed around and unsure of himself…which is the point. Decidedly, Answers has made a very unsexy cover—and to its benefit because the topic is contentious and messy. Ultimately, whether the cover is a hit or miss on the newsstand, the audience knows that the battle is on and the stakes are for the very minds and hearts of the nations' young people.

Ryan McCullah is an accomplished creative leader with over 15 years experience doing work for companies ranging from start ups to global brands such as Nike, Discovery Channel, AOL and Burger King. He work has received numerous awards including best of show from AIGA and recognition in multiple design books and magazines. “I love design because, like music, it quickly moves and inspires people through emotional connections. However unlike music, most people consider themselves immune to the effects of great design. This the great secret and power of design - You can inspire the masses in a way that is so deeply connected to their psyche they are unable to detect its influence.”

José Reyes is the founder and creative director of Metaleap Creative, an award-winning strategic print, publication and digital design firm in Atlanta, Georgia. His work has been recognized by numerous organizations including The Society of Publication Designers (SPD), ASME, Communicative Arts magazine, and Print Magazine. In 2011, Jose was nominated for a Magnolia Award which is given annually to an individual for their excellence in publication design by the Magazine Association of the Southeast.

Would you like to submit your cover for critique? Email the cover and the story behind it to Dan Stelzer of Answers magazine.