Cover story: New York Times Magazine

This week, New York Times Magazine Design Director Arem Duplessis does a side-by-side comparison of the process for developing the Sept. 15 and Sept. 22 covers.

Sept. 15

Sept. 15

Tell me about your team’s process for developing a cover on a weekly basis. 

We generally get a brief to review and if we’re lucky a complete story. Once we’ve all read the brief I meet with the photo department to discuss concepts. We each come prepared with a few ideas and then flush them out. Once we reach a consensus on the strongest concepts we’ll meet with our editor, Hugo Lindgren and present the best ideas. In these final presentations it’s usually me, our Director of Photography Kathy Ryan and the photo editor assigned to the story. On a good week we’ll have about 7-8 days to produce a cover, but we don’t always have that luxury. I think our standing record is 24 hours from start to finish. I lost my hair on that one.

The Your Idea Here (Sept. 15) and Some Like It Hot (Sept. 22) covers are both interesting approaches to topics that we encounter frequently. Can you share a bit of background on the cover stories. What gave you the idea to take the covers in these directions?

Each year we do roughly 10-12 themed issues. Me and my team enjoy working on them because they allow us to break away from the branded magazine and create something brand new. We choose special typefaces, develop a certain design language and at times a consistent theme with the illustration and or photography. This year’s education issue was no exception. For the cover our working headline was “YOUR IDEA HERE”. The original thought was to place that line over an old picture of a classroom but the idea evolved. We eventually agreed that a dilapidated school would make for a better backdrop. One of our photo editors, Clinton Cargill, commissioned photographer Sean Hemmerle to take the shot. We then played around with different ways to approach the type before settling on a handwritten style drawn by the firm OCD. It works for many reasons, the most important being that it’s reminiscent of a teachers writing.

Sept. 22

Sept. 22

‘Some Like It Hot’ was a story about the study of wildfire and a group of scientists quest to eventually learn how to control it. We wanted to avoid going the predictable route of showing a burning forest. The featured vertical flame was shot by Richard Barnes and it originated from the fire-whirl generator at the Missoula Fire Science Laboratory in Montana.

It looks like you give yourselves some freedom in the typography treatments. Looking at recent covers, you’ve done  graffiti, hand-drawn type and neons to simply taking your fonts the width of the page. How do you determine what direction to take the typography for a given cover? 

Type covers are certainly a special treat here. I love doing them as much as possible. There’s no specific rule, we just go with what seems like a good fit with the story. Generally a type cover happens one of two ways. Either the subject matter is way too sensitive or obscure for an image. Or the type treatment simply looks better than the photo or illustration that we commissioned.

Where do you look for inspiration?

Any and everywhere, I live in NYC, inspiration is truly everywhere! From the Q train to the MoMA and everywhere in between.

Have a magazine cover you’d like to share with SND, or want to send a tip on a cover you’d like to see profiled? Contact Courtney Kan at kan.courtney@gmail.com.