Contrary to popular belief, magazine covers are not created by pressing the "Design a Cover" button. Ideas are talked out, concepts are tested, rough versions of cover designs are produced, and there are always multiple opinions, rounds of edits, and all kinds of variables that need to be taken into account. Clients have to consider their advertisers, readers, editorial advisory boards, association members, and more. Whichever role we are playing in the design and production of the cover's look and feel, we have to cater to all of those - incorporating feedback, offering advice and guidance, staying within budget, and showing why or why not an idea or approach may work.
A good example is this recent issue of Texas Medicine magazine's cover. For a story about AI, it's positive and negative impacts on medicine - particularly the work of a doctor, their face-to-face patient time, and the huge amount of paperwork each doctor deals with - we decided to show the AI as a literal third person in the doctor's office.
The first couple of versions were very rough - we were still deciding whether or not we would shoot this cover in studio, and then add the digital representation of the AI later in post-production. We mocked up some ideas using stock art and illustration.
Once we reviewed that rough proof, it was obvious that it needed to be simplified, and made more impactful. We wanted to show the AI as a looming presence - not positive, not negative, more like an unknown commodity, slowly integrating and making its presence felt. This led to a different approach, where we used an image of a doctor in the foreground, with a slightly cheesy, creepy, 1990's, William Gibson-ish paperback cover look (we didn't get there straight away - for the sake of brevity, we've omitted the numerous versions of all covers we also made to get to this. Thank your lucky stars we didn't also include all the sketches emailed back and forth).
This version was much more well received, however editorial had one additional request - could we use the existing doctor, and place a different, real-life doctor's head on the body? It had to be perfect - this doctor is very recognizable in the TMA community (in the proof below, we've blurred the doctor's face). We spent a long time matching skin tones, building a neck and hair, and making all kinds of detailed adjustments to make sure the real-life doctor's face, and the original doctor's body matched. Ultimately however, we strongly advised against using this version of the cover, and TMA's editorial staff agreed. It did not meet our own expectations, and we were happy that editorial felt the same way.
We returned to the previous version, and after a few rounds of edits and reviews, had our final cover. All of this took place over the course of four or five days. Because we were designing this cover well within deadline, we had plenty of time to go back and forth with editorial, getting valuable feedback, making changes and edits, and refining the cover until everyone was satisfied with the result. Most importantly, we collectively nailed the concept we set out to illustrate - effectively, and within budget.