“real estate” practices I talked about previously.
The title is up at the top. In days of magazine racks, you have no guarantee that any aspect of the magazine cover is going to be visible other than the title, so it has to serve as advertisement and be placed on the large, visible part of the cover.
If someone can see more of the cover, there’s an entry point: a high-quality photo of a woman. As Garr Reynolds notes in Presentation Zen Design, we almost can’t not look at pictures of people. And again, the magazine almost always have the model’s face up top, even though it obscures part of the title, so you can probably see the eyes of the model in a magazine rack. They’re making good use of that valuable real estate.
The text on the cover is interesting. Every issue of Cosmo has a sex article. The teaser title of that sex piece is invariably in the upper left corner. That’s the first place people will start to read, and you want to grab their attention. And the old truism holds: sex sells.
There’s often a circle on the right side of the cover. Circles, while not as powerful as a face, are still effective focal points.
The typefaces used vary a lot, but for the most part, they are large, bold sans serif fonts, making them visible at a distance. They are substantial enough to say, “Hey, you! Yes, you! Across the hallway! Come over here and read me!”
I certainly don’t advocate every trick they use most magazine covers use. Most have way too many different typefaces, and covers are necessarily superficial compared to the copy inside.
Magazine covers are an art among themselves, and they share a lot of similarities with conference posters. They compete for attention in a crowded environment to even get people to give them a second glance. Big pictures and a few well-chosen words can work.