Cover Story: Atlanta Magazine dishes on its fried chicken cover

Atlanta_januarySND regularly features a Q&A on how magazine covers were developed. This week, Atlanta Magazine Design Director Liz Noftle shares the process for their January cover.

Courtney Kan: Tell me about the cover story and surrounding content for the January issue. How did you come up with this concept? Were any other cover concepts in the running?

Liz Noftle: Our January cover story tells you everything you want to know about fried chicken in Atlanta. There’s a fried chicken manifesto, a top ten ranking, the best sides and drinks to pair with your meal, and much more. I knew I wanted this cover to feel light and fun because, well, it’s fried chicken! How serious can you really be about a food you eat with your hands? The typography is meant to be playful; the hand drawn cover lines bring a casual, fun effect I hoped to achieve. I also wanted to take a step away from the plated dish covers we usually do.

CK: I really like the approach you took to the food cover, it has the feel of the food magazines I love to read. How did editors react to this cover? Was there any push for the more typical “plate of food” as the cover image? 

LN: I’m lucky to work with a team of editors who like to step outside the norm as much as I do. Both my editor in chief, Steve Fennessy, and my food editor, Bill Addison, were in full support of the cover — it was more a matter of convincing our editorial director to let us take a bit of a risk on this one. (Atlanta magazine is part of a group of six city and regional magazines owned by Emmis, whose editorial director, Mary Melton — also editor in chief of Los Angeles magazine — consults and greenlights the covers for each title). Per Mary’s feedback, we shot two options, a plated dish and the fried chicken that ended up being the cover, and took them both almost all the way to final stage. We had to make a strong argument to break away from the conventional choice and go with the dynamic option, and I think in the end, everyone was happy we did.

CK: Who was involved in the cover production?

LN: The photography is by Josh Meister, food styling by Tami Hardeman, and I drew the typography. We shot the cover chicken, as well as most of the chicken for inside the package, in studio as opposed to on location, which photo director Caroline Kilgore coordinated, along with senior art director Kristin Kellogg and deputy food editor Evan Mah.

CK: Were there any obstacles while producing this cover? 

LN: It turns out that most of the best fried chicken in Atlanta is available only one night a week, so we had to ask some restaurants to fire up the fryolator just for us, and we divvied up the gathering of the chicken among the staff. We were a little nervous about the chicken looking delicious by the time we picked it up and got it to the studio, but Tami is a pro and made it all look great. Fried chicken holds up better than one might expect.

CK: Can you share a bit about your team’s process from month to month? How does your team approach cover brainstorming? How do you navigate standing features and find fresh ways to approach them?

LN: We have a pretty small art department, made up of myself, Caroline, and Kristin. For the January issue, we knew we were going to show chicken, it was just a matter of how. We brainstormed different surfaces and ways to shoot it, then I narrowed down before reviewing with our editor. Usually we’ll then present 3 or 4 concepts to our editorial director and go forward based on her feedback. Our upcoming February issue is about cool jobs, which was definitely a challenge to keep it feeling fresh and modern. It can be so helpful to meet outside of the office, so we took that meeting offsite and each came prepared with a few concepts. I think we ended up with a nice solution.

I’ve been with Atlanta magazine for only five months, and Kristin for only three months, so I think we’re able to bring a new perspective to the magazine. Having come from Boston magazine, I am familiar with some standing features like Best of and am able to do things here that I always wanted to do at Boston. For example, I’ve been thinking about using 3D printing for awhile, and was able to work with a 3D printer in Atlanta to make our cover and section typography for this year’s Best of Atlanta. I’m always trying to push myself to look critically at how we’ve done things in the past, and think about how we can achieve a different solution the next time around.

CK: Looking at recent covers, I see bold visuals and a bright color palette. What can you tell us about Atlanta Magazine’s design philosophy?

LN: Our covers are most often made up of lifestyle content that repeats from year to year, so we try to keep our covers feeling engaging and bold. Inside the magazine, we’re always trying to break out of our template, which hasn’t been redesigned for years, by pushing pacing and the quality of photography. As for the future of the magazine’s design philosophy, you’ll have to stay tuned! We’re looking forward to launching a redesign by the end of the year.

CK: Where do you look for inspiration?

LN: I’m always looking at magazines, both city and national, as well as blogs, websites, packaging, advertisements. Having just relocated from New England to the South, I’m having a lot of fun getting inspired by a completely new region of the country. I think the differences in architecture, signage, and history all have an impact on me creatively, whether I realize it or not. Inspiration can really come from anywhere.

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.