[Cover Story] How The Atlantic’s May modern parenting cover came together

0414_Cover [Print];13.inddDesign Director Darhil Crooks shares how the The Atlantic’s May cover came together.

Courtney Kan: Tell me about the cover story. What led you to choose this cover approach? Were there any other concepts or stories in the running?

Darhil Crooks: The May cover story is about modern parenting in America. The writer Hanna Rosin makes the case that “helicopter” parenting; knowing where your kid is at every second of every minute of every day; is actually bad for kids. She argues that kids should be allowed to test their limits and do dangerous things (within reason of course) and that in the end, it will make them more self-sufficient and confident.

Hanna took her son to a playground in Wales which is kind of like “Lord of the Flies” meets “Mad Max.” The kids are allowed to basically roam free and test their limits. Build things, swing on ropes, COOK. It’s amazing. There are no padded floors, but there is a lot of mud and imagination.

When I originally thought about the cover, I wanted to show a kid who was doing something dangerous but was clearly having fun. So I had planned a couple of shots. One of a close-up of a kid with busted glasses and dirt and scrapes on his face. But with a big grin. I also did a shot of a kid standing triumphantly on top of a structure made of scrap wood and rusted metal.

I was all set to shoot in New York the next day, when the editor said the dreaded words “I have an idea for the cover.” We talked about doing an alternate shot that showed “the overprotected kid.” The prop stylist went out and found the helmet, knee pads and pillows and it looked great. It was a toss up until the end, but we ran the pillow shot and the others ran on the interior.

CK: Who else was involved in the cover production?

DC: Peter Yang was the photographer. It’s actually the second cover he’s done for the Atlantic. He and his studio manager Trisha Barkman, do an amazing job of pulling shoots together. It usually starts with me sending the piece over for Peter to read, then we hop on the phone and I give him an idea of what I’m visualizing. We then talk it over and refine the idea, or come up with new ones altogether. We also do all of the casting over email and phone conversations. It’s always fun to work with Peter because he always brings ideas to the table. Usually better than my ideas. This particular shoot also couldn’t have been pulled off without amazing prop styling and clothes styling.

CK: Did you encounter any obstacles in the production of this cover?

DC: There weren’t any obstacles outside of the normal cover shoot process. We actually photographed another kid, but in the end the kid on the cover (Maxwell) had the stronger set of shots. But they were both amazing and we all had a good time.

CK: The Atlantic’s covers feature a great balance of color, typography and concept. What can you tell me about The Atlantic’s design philosophy?

DC: I wish I had a design philosophy. It would make things a lot easier. Every issue is completely different and every cover story has its own set of arguments that it’s trying to make. If I had to call it a philosophy, I guess it would be to keep things as simple, graphic, clear and clean as possible. The pieces are complicated enough, I try to keep the images as straight-forward as I can. I also try to inject a sense of humor wherever I can.

CK: Can you share how your team approaches the brainstorming process from month to month?

DC: The cover brainstorm usually happens with me, the Editor Scott Stossel, and the Editor-in-Chief James Bennet. I read a draft of the piece and then I basically have to pitch my vision of the cover to them. Sometimes it works and we will go with whatever I come up with. Sometimes I have no clue what to do, and then we will sit there and toss out a bunch of terrible ideas until we settle on a good one. Then it’s just up to me to pull it off.

CK: Where do you find inspiration?

DC: I find inspiration in magazines honestly. I’m a print-junkie. I’m always looking at what other people are doing. There are also a ton of great design blogs now that I check out daily. I also find a lot of inspiration in The Atlantic content. At the end of the day I’m trying to do my best to represent the amazing stories that we publish from issue to issue.

[SND regularly features a Q&A on how magazine covers were developed. 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.]