Here’s what a great cover looks like + how to invigorate your most valuable section

Lately we’ve been thinking about some simple ways to make your publications better, from magazine covers to great headlines. Take a look to see what we’ve come up with.

1. Reverse engineer a great cover to build your own.

Wired recently published a piece about its best 25 covers. (A few are below.)

wired magazine covers from wired's favorite 25 wired covers of all time

Love them or hate them, these covers got plenty of attention.

While it’s fascinating to see the range of irresistible magazine covers that designers have developed over the years, it’s even more helpful to read the behind-the-scenes notes on many of them.

No matter what you think of any individual cover (some are great and others are…head-scratchers), the background is helpful to understand how they think about what makes a good cover. Furthermore, it might even inspire you as you think about the covers of you next magazine or print project.

2. Add some raconteurs to your class notes.

For many alumni publications, the class notes are the first section (and sometimes the only one!) that alumni read.

But for a section that’s really designed to create a sense of community, class notes often are little more than rewritten press releases and wedding photos.

What if they felt a little more like dorm lounges — filled with interesting and funny stories — instead of just a platform for preening? A recent anecdote on Twitter got our team’s attention. It reminded us that the stories that resonate most often don’t focus on marriages, kids, or promotions.

We’re all real people with hilarious and unbelievable and beautiful stories in our lives. These stories might not be worthy of a feature spread, but we certainly used to share those stories with others in college. Perhaps we could use a bit more delight and whimsy in class notes, too. If you’ve got a class notes section in your publication, how could you build that in?

3. Grab a headline buddy.

Recently, we shared ideas on developing great headlines. Smith’s Elise Gibson added another tactic that’s worked for her and her team.

Here’s what she says:

“I so agree about [putting in the work to create better] headlines. And captions. And pull quotes. All are critical to pulling readers into a story. Flabby heds, captions and quotes can diminish a great story. Great ones elevate a mundane story.

“The only thing I want to add to your note is that brainstorming with a colleague is the number one way to a better hed. I realize not everyone has a skilled someone in their office to brainstorm with, but if possible, it’s so worth it.

“Our practice is to independently come up with a list of possible heds — the longer the list, the better. We write down even the lamest, most obvious heds, and even those that are a bit off. Then, a colleague and I meet, read our heds out loud and then pick one or, more typically, brainstorm more until we find a hed that we’re proud of. We do the same with decks. Even then, we sometimes change it when we see the story on the page. Our headline sessions take about an hour.”

4. Revisit your story structures.

We’ve been working with lots of folks trying to pin down big story packages, and one of the things that can make this process infinitely easier is the right story structures.

The right structure will make it easier to develop the package and and more meaningful for your reader. Here’s a post we wrote on how we think about this process. When you work with us directly, you’ll discover we’ve got a few more cool structures up our sleeves, too.