Chloe Williamson

Once upon a front cover: Story-telling by The New York Times Magazine

Chloe Williamson
Once upon a front cover: Story-telling by The New York Times Magazine

Story-telling is something that comes up quite a lot within the general creative industries, as it seems to apply to all creative mediums – whether it’s writing, video production, art – whatever your poison, you’re probably spinning a yarn either subconsciously or on purpose in order to hit a brief. ‘Creating’ something is, by definition, about imagination. It’s a way of communicating thoughts or ideas or concepts by giving them something physical or tangible so others can grasp them – therefore, in effect, telling a story.

It might not be a long story. It could just be expressing an emotion – or it could be all the way through to something like visually demonstrating a brand’s heritage. But either way, when something is created, it generally exists to tell others something; about itself, about the person who created it, or as a way of reporting on or recording things that happen around us.

For this post, I’ve picked out one of my favourite examples of people who manage to capture the hook of a whole story within one image – the creative team of The New York Times Magazine.

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The New York Times is one of those just proper American things, like yellow taxis. When it comes to telling stories it’s one of the heaviest hitters in the world – it’s been going since 1851 and is governed by serious journalistic guidelines – so less of the fictional stories, but more about accurately and reliably reporting on events. The New York Times Magazine supports the newspaper with more opinion-led pieces that again, report on events, but are given more space to expand on concepts and ideas with artwork and editorial design.

Summing up big stories in one feature image is a huge challenge, especially when the story’s main message might be difficult politically, for example. However, the NYT magazine is becoming just as iconic as it’s famous big brother thanks to the genuinely innovative and inspired imagery they manage to come up with every week.

Headed up by Design Director Gail Bichler, the creative team consistently produce arresting and striking front covers that grab attention and, most importantly, set the tone for the featured story that can be read inside. That old judging a book by its front cover thing is very relevant here – readers are simultaneously judging the quality of the NYT’s magazine, grasping its overall brand, and judging the interest of the story it’s highlighting.

As well as the great Donald Trump inspired cover above, one of my other favourites was an edition that focused on skyscrapers. The whole magazine changed format, with the content being printed longways. Bit hard to explain – thankfully this gif does it for me with a lot less waffle.



(Giz our Gail a follow as well, she tweets the covers and often the inside spreads every week which makes for a nice burst of inspiration to your twitter feed.)

High Life has a really simple idea but one that has loads of impact – and really quickly tells the story of the whole issue, as well as giving Matt Willey’s long, stretched out typeface change to shine to drive the idea of upwards growth home.

I’m also a big fan of how Gail discusses her process, and how she goes about coming up with cover ideas. In an interview with It’s Nice That she explained that her method is to ‘…read a story several times. I read through it once to get the sense of it and the tone of it and then I go back in and look at the language because somehow language is very inspiring to me’.



I love that the team stay true to the original story of the written piece itself by using it as the springboard for visual concepts – and Gail’s love of language comes across quite often with lots of typographically led covers that give words space and presence to really have an effect on a reader. They’re also eager with a nice bit of negative space so those more powerful statements are questions have a bit of breathing room, forcing a reader to ponder the message during the empty space surrounding it.

Overall, big fan.