Covers of books, magazines and anything else that contains interior content are more than the sum of their parts.

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Like it or not, people are always rejecting tried-&-tested proverbs and going it alone. It’s a dangerous business, if you ask me. People head to the tailor, rather than apply a simple stitch in time (hence saving nine in the process), while wet fingers flicking on a lightswitch risks electrocution – better to deploy the many hands that make light work instead. And we’re not even going to go near the bird in the hand versus two in the bush – too risqué.
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Perhaps the biggest proverb dodge for designers is ignoring ‘never judge a book by its cover’ - and here you’d be right in dismissing this particular proverb. You should always judge a book by its cover. If we blindly followed the proverb, we’re at risk of picking up some shockingly bad books. 
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The cover – more so than ever – reflects what you’re going to be getting. It’s the starter before the main course, the foreplay before the climax. Covers need to tease, seduce, and woo you between the sheets.
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Yet covers aren’t just about commercial magazines or books. Every designer is a potential cover artist – whether from the humble community newsletter through to a TV ident or CG opening sequence. 
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The creative ‘bit that comes first’ in any form is a cover – and believe me, it’s judged, sentenced, and dismissed in seconds if you get it wrong.
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Magazine covers, naturally, are close to my heart. They take up a tremendous amount of my time – agonizing, rejecting, falling in love with an image, then jilting it again. It’s like a romance for designers – and one that tugs at the heartstrings.
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It’s a romance for the reader, as well, and like all good love affairs, cover designs are more than a collection of their parts. Readers tend to sleep around when it comes to magazines, always being drawn to the latest, flashiest example, and the cover plays a large part in this.
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That’s because covers, along with the magazines they swaddle, are more often less about the content, but more a visual reflection on the reader’s tastes. Carry a magazine around, and the cover reveals to others who you are. 
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That’s why people will read Empire, or The Economist, on the Tube but are less forthcoming with the likes of Razzle or Readers’ Wives. Magazine covers are like an extra layer of clothes for the reader – and you need to keep up with emerging fashions.
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What’s amazing is that cover design features some of the most exhaustive, complex, and detailed rules of any creative medium. Don’t use green. Always use odd numbers – and make them large, dammit. Make the (female) cover model gaze longingly at the reader, and five coverlines are all you’ll need.
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Covers are so important for many magazines, and some rules so utterly compelling, that many covers in the UK are almost mirror images of each other. Groaning with coverlines, littered with exclamation marks, and playing host to a raft of gimmes, such as FREE! LARGEST EVER ISSUE! and so on.
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It takes a brave designer to not just understand these rules – they are the sta
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ple of what we do – but also to screw them up and toss them in the bin, ditching the tried-&-tested and creating something new. It can win readers, and awards, but the only downside is you’ll need a new trick the following issue.
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