The Economist magazine milks its past covers

The Economist: Cover Story postcard collection

The Economist: Cover Story postcard collection

The Economist has been around for a long time, since 1843. For most of that time its cover looked like an academic journal, which in many ways it was. The strategy only changed in 1959 when the weekly magazine’s title was put in a red box with the name reversed out in white. This ‘red top’ approach is today associated with tabloid newspapers such as the Mirror and Sun, but back then it was the brainchild of  Reynolds Stone, one of leading designers of the era, who had been appointed a Royal Designer for Industry in 1956 for his work on lettering.

Out went a text-only approach with a list of contents in favour of a line   illustration of a leading figure in politics or business with selling cover lines. Stone’s title idea survives to this day, although the typography has been tweaked to suit changing printing techniques. The monochrome line drawings were replaced by colour illustrations and photographs in the 1960s.

But Economist covers are never simple. Like New Scientist, they have to work hard to sell the complex ideas the writers discuss inside.

Bill Emmett, the editor in 1991, explained the news magazine’s approach in an editorial introducing a redesign:

‘There are few things more boring than long articles by editors about how their redesigns are going to produce a sharper, more modern, publication, brightening readers’ lives and furthering world peace … Good design, like good writing, should blend into the background; it should be the servant of editors and readers alike, not their master.’

Who can argue with that, from a magazine that continues to sell like the web had never been invented? But so many have forgotten it. All magazines and newspaper – the likes of the Guardian in particular – should take note, no matter how many design awards they win.

The Economist cover T-shirt: the end of Margaret Thatcher

Economist cover T-shirt: the end of Thatcher

And the strength of the Economist as a global brand has led it to launch merchandising. Of particular notes is Cover Story, a set of 100 postcards telling the story of the magazine’s cover designs. There’s a page showing many of the covers and you can order Economist cover T-shirts, totes and mugs.

News magazines profiled


To see almost 500 magazine covers and pages, look out for my book, A History of British Magazine Design, from the Victoria & Albert Museum, the world’s leading museum of art and design

 

 


 

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