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A deep dive into the 8 most popular magazine covers

When editors and art directors come together to create a cover for their magazine issue, there is a lot of time and planning involved. In the previous article, we covered the basic elements of a successful magazine cover, which can be summarized as follows:

  • Choose a recognisable, and inspiring cover model.
  • Make sure the cover star is looking directly into the camera, bringing focus onto their eyes.
  • Pick a colour scheme that grabs the buyer’s attention.
  • Create a special edition issue.

For this article, we’ll examine some of the most commercially successful and popular magazine covers in recent years, diving deep into the reasons why they worked so well and highlighting where applicable the above elements.

1. Vogue Greece April 2019 featuring Bella Hadid

A simple, yet genius concept featuring supermodel Bella Hadid on the cover of the April 2019 issue of Vogue Greece. Taken by photographer Txema Yeste, Hadid’s side profile is sandwiched between the faces of two white marble busts from Ancient Greece. While the model isn’t directly looking towards the camera, her amber eyes are still a key point in the image, matching the gold masthead, which works as an effective contrast to the stark white and cream colour palette in the image.

2. Vogue Arabia September 2019 featuring Kim Kardashian

Vogue Arabia’s September 2019 issue featured reality star and business mogul, Kim Kardashian, in three different covers captured by photographer Txema Yeste, under the supervision of designer Manfred Thierry. Each cover had a distinct style, but the most popular cover image is the one featured above. Taken in the middle of the California desert, Kim is pictured in a simple black and white bodice, with a bright red light cast on her body, as she looks straight towards us. The use of the bold lighting creates a sharp contrast to the blue and white background. In our previous article, we mention the popularity of the colour red for magazine art. While the colour is mostly used in the typography, Yeste takes a unique approach to incorporate the colour onto the cover.

3. British Vogue September 2019, “Focus for Change.”

Guest edited by Meghan Markle, the cover for the magazine’s September issue moved away from the usual fashion shoot and instead highlighted a range of female activists and politicians. The cover features 15 black and white portraits all taken by photographer, Peter Lindbergh, of the women featured in the editorial, but with a blank space in the middle. This is another great example of a special edition, which also showcases the power of using black as a canvas to help enhance the coral lettering for the cover.

4. Vanity Fair Holiday 2019/2020 RuPaul by Annie Leibovitz

In the 2019/2020 Vanity Fair Holiday edition, legendary photographer Annie Leibovitz captured superstar drag queen, RuPaul, in a sparkling number that was highly festive. Special editions are usually the bestselling issue of the year – but this cover in particular sparked great interest within the media. In the drag world, RuPaul is one of the most recognisable performers thanks to his successful reality competition show, RuPaul’s Drag Race. From an artistic perspective, the cover captures a domineering pose, with RuPaul’s hand placed on the edge of the bust. The drag queen’s sheer jeweled corset also enhances the symmetrical stance of the cover star.

5. Vogue Paris May/June 2020 featuring Bella and Gigi Hadid

In a double cover edition, Bella and Gigi Hadid both strike a similar pose for Vogue Paris’ May/June 2020 covers. While the models are no strangers to the covers of high-end fashion magazines, these particular covers were a standout within their modelling portfolio. Taken by Emmanuelle Alt and Inez Van Lamsweerde, the Hadid sisters dazzle in their white and gold dresses and accessories. What makes these covers work so well is the use of symmetry, highlighted through the position of their hands and arms – bringing focus to their faces. Notice also the makeup: while different, both models use bright-coloured eyeshadows which draws attention to their eyes and adds a stark contrast to the overall colour scheme of their outfits and the backdrop.

6. British Vogue June 2020 Judi Dench by Nick Knight

85-year-old Judi Dench became the oldest cover star for British Vogue after posing for their June 2020 issue. Taken by Nick Knight, the cover offers a pink palette to represent the spring season. The pink colouring complements the overall feminine aesthetic but also acts as a subtle yet effective backdrop to Dench’s piercing blue eyes.

7. British Vogue, July 2020, featuring Frontline Workers

Breaking the standard rule about using A-list models, British Vogue’s July 2020 edition featured three covers with three frontline workers: a supermarket assistant, a London train driver and a midwife. This is a great example of using a special edition to highlight a key cultural event and the people working to keep communities running. Although the covers feature ordinary working people in their uniforms, the images still adhere to the formula we discussed earlier. While not all cover stars are looking directly into the camera, their eyes are still prominent. The everyday nature of the covers’ aesthetic is also a break from Vogue’s signature fashion-forward and creatively dynamic style.

8. Vogue Spain November 2020 featuring Indya Moore

In a historic precedent for Vogue Spain, TV star Indya Moore became the first transgender woman to grace the cover of the magazine’s November 2020 issue. The cover image is striking and stunning. While Moore is looking directly into the camera, the viewer’s attention is drawn to her face and head by the grey gloves which emphasize and encapsulate her face. The contrast between her face and the grey gloves creates a perfect focal point for the image.

Editors and their staff are tasked with the challenge of making their cover stand out from a sea of competing titles on the magazine rack. Although 2020 was a challenging year for selling physical copies, a select number of copies were still able to make an impact.

Do you have any suggestions, additions, is this post out of date, or have you found any mistakes? Then we look forward to reading your comments. You are welcome to share this post. We are very grateful for every recommendation.

The Art of Creating a Successful Magazine Cover

Within the magazine industry, the challenge of selling print issues has become increasingly difficult in recent years due to the rising dominance of the internet. Print issues have become a less popular commodity and source of information now that everything we need to know can be easily searched for on mobile devices and desktops. However, even in this digital age, several publications have been able to thrive and achieve healthy print sales. How do they manage this?

In this article we will focus on how magazines can optimise their cover and different strategies used to attract and retain both regular and new readers. The science behind creating an impactful magazine cover can be broken down into a few simple but effective elements.

The best colour scheme

Choosing the colour scheme is often the most creatively fulfilling aspect of a shoot. The colour scheme is the backbone of an editorial shoot, along with the fashion, props and setting. As any artist will tell you, different colours can create different moods, emotions and impact. Red is one of the most popular colours used for magazine covers as it has attention-grabbing qualities, along with bright yellows. However, due to the popularity of these colours, it can be hard to distinguish between the array of magazine covers on newsstands. Black covers are also a popular choice, as they have the ability to provide a blank, yet powerful canvas against which the featured colour is contrasted.

 The colour green has had a history within the magazine industry for being a ‘cursed colour.’ Prolific editors and art directors have claimed that using green for cover art produces low sales. Others have since dubbed this as an urban myth, although colour experts have suggested that green may not be effective in stores, as fluorescent bulbs can cast a yellow light on the green cover, which has the effect of washing out the green and giving the cover a bluish cast. Lynn Staley, assistant managing editor of Newsweek, put forth a more plausible theory: “Like brown, [green] can be tricky to control on press […] if the printer isn’t careful. It’s a technical consideration, but it may explain an industry-wide allergy to the color.”

The right cover star

When editors and art directors choose their cover star, they are primarily concerned about one thing: who will sell? Up until 20 years ago, models were chosen mainly based on their looks and unique features. Today, cover stars are most often recognisable movie stars, supermodels, social media influencers, and even political figures. 

The business of selling magazines is driven mainly towards recognisability. Cover models within the entertainment industry have been known to increase sales. However, many publications may not  have the budget to hire an A-lister for their cover and need to look beyond that type of model.

Choosing a model which target readers will find ‘inspiring’

Most magazine publications rely heavily on the loyalty of their subscriber base to maintain their sales. Subscribers aren’t usually impacted by the identity of the magazine cover star, but rather the content of the editorials. For the casual reader those who like to browse the shelves of newsstands there are certain cover design elements which could entice them to pick up a copy of a glossy.

In a 2016 study by Fashion Academic, Ben Barry, of consumer products sales strategies, Barry found that men were more likely to purchase products that featured a model who was portrayed as ‘wealthy’ (e.g. wearing designer clothes, expensive watches etc.) while women were more likely to buy products from a model who appeared to be ‘honest’ (a warm smile and ‘ordinary’ clothing). When considering physical attributes, women were more inspired by models who shared similar physical and ethnic features as they themselves. 

When planning a photo shoot, it’s important to bear this idea in mind. While these ideas shouldn’t necessarily take precedence over the creative process, they should at least be considered and drive the intent. Depending on the magazine’s target audience, it’s important to understand what and who will inspire them to pick up a copy.

A Cover Star with the right pose

Modelling is an art form in its own right, and a model striking the right pose on the cover can emphasize the overall message of the magazine. Unlike the editorial within the magazine, where models and the feature star can experiment with different poses, the cover should normally show a simple pose that exudes confidence and a sense of openness which creates an impact and invites a reader to explore further.

Mainstream consumer magazines usually opt to use a single person for their cover, usually a portrait photo, with the subject looking straight forward into the camera. As an image, this technique is used to catch eyes on the newsstand, as if the cover star were making eye contact with the potential buyer. With this in mind, it’s important to enhance the model’s eyes. They don’t have to be the main focal point of the image but they do need to be striking enough to catch a reader’s attention.

Sticking to a formula that works for the long-term – and breaking away for a short-term impact

As stated above, many consumer publications stick to a tried and tested formula for their covers in order to solidify and reinforce their brand. Usually this refers to the layout and typography used on the cover. Sticking to a set layout and design can create a sense of familiarity and recognition for consumers looking to pick up copies of their favourite magazines.

On the other hand, creating a signature cover layout from time to time can also pique interest and coverage, especially when a publication decides to break its rules for a special edition issue. Changing a formula cover design can create a dramatic effect and can be especially useful if a magazine is looking to bring awareness to a particular cause or celebrate a historic cultural moment. Magazines regarded as ‘special editions’ are likely to sell well.

Without a doubt, magazine covers are the “shop window” to the issue. Covers are the gateway for consumers, and a great magazine cover will attract potential customers and entice them to partake in the magazine’s contents. When done right, a great magazine cover will not only help to boost sales, but may inspire readers to take a break from their phones and enjoy flipping through the glossy pages. 

Do you have any suggestions, additions, is this post out of date, or have you found any mistakes? Then we look forward to reading your comments. You are welcome to share this post. We are very grateful for every recommendation.

The Power of Images in Advertising: How Our Brains Process People Images

“Our language culture is in a rapid transition to a visual culture”
(Franke, 1997, quoted in Gläßel, 2010, p. 17).

Given the quote’s age, we already live in visual culture. How do our brains process images of the ideal body, and what tools and biologically programmed patterns does advertising use to make their images more effective? We will discuss these questions in the following sections.

Credibility of images

In addition to the impressive effect of images, there is another dimension – credibility. From the start, photography has created an impression of being objective and authentic; in other words, of capturing the real world (Schied, 2003, quoted in Gläßel, 2010, p. 18). This objectivity is associated with credibility. Similarly, images, particularly striking photographs, are more credible than linguistic information (Weinbub, 2012, p. 47). However, the effect of images is not only due to the promise of being authentic but also to the human perception system (Gläßel, 2010, p. 18), which we will further discuss in the following section.

Perceptual processes

Visual perception is most important to humans because it communicates about 90% of all sensory information (Mayer, Däumer & Rühle, 1982, quoted in Gläßel, 2010, p. 20). Visual perception is defined as a process that begins with the absorption and automatic selection of visual stimuli from the outside world of an individual. It also involves further processing and stimuli storage (Gläßel, 2010, p. 20). Why pictures are particularly suitable for commercial use and how the perception process can justify this is shown in the following section.

Def. Stimuli
The word stimuli refers to physical or sensory input that can elicit a reaction or response from an organism or a system. Stimuli can be anything from light, sound, touch, or temperature changes to more complex inputs such as thoughts, emotions, or social cues. The response to a stimulus can be automatic or learned, and it can vary in intensity depending on the nature and strength of the stimulus. In psychology and neuroscience, stimuli are often used to study the behavior and brain activity of humans and other animals in response to different types of inputs.


Today’s society has an ever-increasing amount of information that is mediated through the media. This has already led to a kind of efficiency increase when it comes to recording visual stimuli: the information offered is more superficially and selectively absorbed. In this context, one also speaks of low-involvement situations. These are situations where recipients are not interested in advertising, they ignore it, or they only perceive it incidentally (Brosius & Fahr, 1998, RöU, 1995, quoted in Gläßel, 2010, p. 14).

This increases the competitive pressure and the pressure to use more and more intrusive forms for advertising purposes – those that stand out and that can be picked up and processed as quickly as possible (KroeberRiel, 1996, quoted in Weinbub, 2012, p. 35) or forced advertising which you can only escape by making payments. Due to the short contact time between advertising and the recipients of 1.7 seconds (Dorer & Marschik, 2002, quoted in Gläßel, 2010, p. 14), a form of communication of the content must be used that works quickly.

Pictures can be processed with little cognitive involvement (Weinbub, 2012, p. 45). The process of viewing images is comparable to the usual visual consumption of communication content in our daily lives (Hunziker, 1996, quoted in Gläßel, 2010, p. 7). It only takes a few moments to understand the theme of an image. An average time of 1.5 to 2.5 seconds is needed to capture a picture of medium complexity so that it can be recognized later (KroeberRiel, 1990, quoted in Gläßel, 2010, p. 19). That’s why it is not surprising that images are called “quick shots into the brain” (KroeberRiel, 1990, quoted in Gläßel, 2010, p. 19).

Hemisphere theory

The hemisphere theory describes how the two halves of the brain process different types of information. The left half processes text in a logical and analytical way, while the right half processes images and emotions unconsciously (KroeberRiel, 1996, cited from Weinbub, 2012, pp. 46-47). When people view an advertisement that contains both text and images, the images tend to hold their attention for longer, as they require less processing time than text (KroeberRiel, 1993, cited from Gläßel, 2010, p. 20). This means that people unconsciously perceive and process images, which can influence their response to advertisements, particularly those that contain images of attractive women.

Image processing and evoked emotions

The processing of images and emotions is related because they are both processed in the right half of the brain (KroeberRiel, 1990, cited by Weinbub, 2012, pp. 46-47). Advertising images often aim to evoke emotions in the viewer, especially through the use of faces, which are particularly effective at eliciting emotional responses (Doelker, 2002, quoted in Weinbub, 2012, p. 46).

Emotional trigger

Attractive images of women are particularly well-suited for emotional conditioning, and erotic or family-oriented images can also trigger emotional reactions (Weinbub, 2012, p. 41).


Schemes are the basis for the rapid perception of images. If an image is similar to a stored idea, it is quickly recognized and classified.

Scheme of eyes

The scheme of eyes is particularly important because it triggers emotions automatically and is one of the strongest biological schemes (Weinbub, 2012, p. 47). The eyes of the depicted model are the first focal point that attracts the attention of the viewer (Schweiger & Schrattenecker, 2005, quoted in Gläßel, 2010, p. 31).

Scheme of secondary sexual characteristics

Similarly, the scheme of secondary sexual characteristics, such as a slim waist, red cheeks and lips, breasts, and buttocks, is relevant and is triggered involuntarily and automatically through the biologically innate sexual motives of humans (see Brosius & Fahr, 1998; Schweiger & Schrattenecker, 2005, quoted in Gläßel, 2010, p.32).
Not only male recipients are not opposed to female sexiness on advertising images, but they also affect women. However, these prefer more subtle images (Gläßel, 2010, p. 32).

In advertising, it is a commonly used image scheme, while women are displayed much more often in this way. For example, Reichert & Carpenter (2004) assume that about half of all ads (Gläßel, 2010, p. 32) use this scheme, while Jäckel et al. (2009) already imply more than 70% of the cases in which female bodies are presented naked and uncovered (Jäckel et al., 2009, p. 38).

In addition to the emotional use of the scheme, such an advertising image should show how attractive, beautiful, and popular a woman can be if she carries/ uses/ owns the product (Moser, 1997, quoted in Gläßel, 2010, p. 32).

Image perception: People

People are the most important emotional key stimuli, as human communication is vital for survival (Weinbub, 2012, p. 50). When advertisements combine people and products, the “friend” scheme becomes active (Gläßel, 2010, p. 31), where the friend in the image is given more positive traits and abilities than others. The observer imitates the friend and builds a sense of group affiliation (KroeberRiel, 1998, quoted in Gläßel, 2010, p. 31). To be effective, the advertiser must take into account the social interactions and behavior between people, which is defined by social techniques (KroeberRiel, 1993, cited by Gläßel, 2010, p. 30).

Halo effect

Another effect from the attractiveness research is used subliminally in advertisements: The halo effect. This occurs as soon as above-average beautiful representations of women are seen (Klaus, 2005, quoted in Gläßel, 2010, p. 36).
The halo effect has the consequence that a depicted beautiful person is assessed in all respects more positively than comparatively unattractive people (EbnerGathmann & Wiedermann, 2002, quoted after Gläßel, 2010, p. 30; Davids 2007, cited after Weinbub, 2012, p. 23; Schemer, 2003, p. 525). They seem more sympathetic, intelligent, morally correct, and seem to be better acquainted with the advertised product (see Hanko, 2002, p. 145, quoted in Gläßel, 2010, p. 30). Their observers, with sufficient similarity, are more willing to imitate the behavior and to buy the product (BerglerPörzgen & Harich, 1992).

Since the model on the advertising image and the advertised product are side by side, the characteristics and emotions attributed to the model transfers to the product (Gläßel, 2010, p. 28) and is taken into consideration for the product evaluation. Even though both elements seem to have nothing to do with each other, the pattern of the spatial linkage gives rise to a transfer of objective or emotional qualities (Weinbub, 2012, pp. 49-50).

Advertising principle: Young age

A cult of youthfulness characterizes the aesthetic ideal of our time and culture (Weinbub, 2012, p. 14). People who are young, sporty, and attractive are portrayed and recruited, regardless of the media.
The aging human being, despite the demographic change, medially excluded. This confirms the advertising principle that advertising protagonists should, as a rule, be 15 years younger than the target audience mentioned since this corresponds to the approximate desired age (Kaupp, 1997, cited by Jäckel et al., 2009, p. 75).




  • Weinbub, A. (2012). Die Macht der Schönheit. Psychologische Auswirkungen von weiblicher Attraktivität in der Anzeigenwerbung auf jugendliche Rezipientinnen (Magisterarbeit). Universität Wien, Wien.

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