Courtney Kan: Tell me about the cover story. How did you come up with this concept?
Dirk Barnett: Our cover story by writer Noam Scheiber is about the rise of Elizabeth Warren not only as a politician, but as a possible threat to Hillary Clinton’s (expected) 2016 presidential run. The concept was a rather quick one, actually. We started off with the idea of a big photo of Senator Elizabeth Warren on the cover with a big, bold line on top like “The Next President of the United States.” but we wanted to go deeper to convey Warren’s threat to Hillary Clinton in 2016. Someone suggested the line “Hillary’s Nightmare” and executive editor Greg Veis had the idea of riffing off the Being John Malkovich movie poster. We all pulled it up on Google images and pretty much unanimously felt if we could pull it off, it would be the right visual message.
CK: Were any other cover concepts in the running?
DB: The cover line “Hillary’s Nightmare” was actually born before the visuals, as is usually the case, so we were literally trying to visualize what she would see in her head while sleeping. Again, Veis kept alluding to almost a zombie like sea of Warren’s walking towards Clinton, hence her nightmare.
CK: How did you go about organizing the photo shoot? Did you run into any obstacles in the execution of the cover?
DB: When I was the Creative Director at Newsweek, we worked with the designer Jacqueline Mellow (through brilliant agency DressCode), who can pretty much build out any idea you might have in Photoshop. She did our Andrew Sullivan cover stories on “The Politics of Sex” and “Folllow Jesus.” After we had the Being John Malkovich movie poster in mind, I called her up. It really only took about 48 hours to build it out. The only obstacle we came up against was whether we wanted Elizabeth Warren smiling or straight-faced, and, in the end, straight-faced won out. All in all, this was a straight forward idea and execution, and they aren’t always so easy!
CK: Looking at your past few covers, I see a tendency towards bold visuals and restrained typography. Can you share a little about the visual philosophy behind covers at The New Republic? What is your team’s process for developing covers on a weekly basis?
DB: The kind of magazine covers we do need to be graphically big and bold and simple and conceptually nail the idea in an instant. I’m fortunate to work with an editor, Frank Foer, and an owner, Chris Hughes, who both believe in the same aesthetic. The cover is our place to pull you into the magazine, but it’s also our one chance to advertise who we are as a brand, what we are about. If we don’t take risks with our covers, we aren’t going to do that.
Our process for developing covers starts with myself and a small team of editors in a room. Since they are the ones that know these cover stories in and out, it’s crucial for me to sit and brainstorm with them on what we think needs to be on the cover. I’m lucky to work with some very smart editors who also can think visually about what might best communicate their stories.
CK: Have you received any feedback on the cover?
DB: The feedback has been really positive, which is nice.
CK: Where do you look for inspiration?
DB: My team designs the mag and tablet, and works on web design as well as event signage etc. to help shape the visual identity of the New Republic brand. I pay a lot of attention to brands like Nike, Adidas, Burberry. These are brands who also have a very specific story they are telling their customers, and doing amazing design work on multiple platforms to tell that story. We are doing the same thing, but obviously at a very different level, and for a very different audience. It’s inspiring to see what they come up with.
[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 email@example.com.]