The Economist is printed as a standard magazine size, at 8 3/8” by 10 7/8”. The grid format varies slightly from story to story, but the design relies heavily on a column system, often going between two, three or four columns. Text, photographs, and other design elements are strictly aligned within columns. This being said, the magazine has modular design that presents the pages with a typically newspaper like feel.
The front cover of The Economist usually has a bright and bold cover, often making a statement about a current event. The covers are clever, sometimes a little cheeky, and always aimed to create a stir about worldwide ongoings. The purpose of any magazine cover is to grab a reader’s attention, which The Economist does, though not necessarily always in a positive way. There are always five headlines in the top righthand corner which give a peek into the main stories of that week and lets the audience know what to expect when they start reading. These headlines do not interfere with the overall design of the cover and align with the magazine’s title.
This cover from December 21-January 3 is a play off of the traditional MGM logo, replacing the lion with a panda. The magazine did a special feature story on China’s film industry. This creative design is almost outlandish, but is reserved for the magazine’s cover and is not as prevalent throughout the inside design of The Economist.
The magazine has different sections, the largest ones containing the latest news, which are separated geographically. Each section is noted in the top outer corner of each page making it easy to flip from one section to the next. Feature stories may continue directly onto the following page, but never jump to the back of book. Simple arrows indicate that the stories continues on and a small red square indicates the end of a story. Photographs and other images tend to be small, rarely taking up more than 1/3 of a column. Feature stories may have a larger image, which will take up 1/3 of the entire page and is aligned with the columns. There is a simple hierarchy where the hed appears in a large, bold typeface, and the dek follow below in the same format but in a smaller size. Heds, deks and images are all aligned within columns.
The cover has a cheeky, yet intelligent tone. I hesitate to categorize it as fun or playful because the cover design usually addresses a serious newsworthy event. There is humor there though, as the magazine does not take a pessimistic approach to the news, though happy news is uncommon. The cover is always unapologetic. Some may find the design offensive, but The Economist aims to make a buzz and to make readers think.
This cover from September 1994, showing two camels mating, made some readers laugh, while others found it to be disgusting and inappropriate for a magazine cover.