The cover of TIME magazine is most recognizable by the red border around the edge as well as its nameplate in all caps across the top. Even when the nameplate is partially covered, like in this Feb. 22/29 double issue, the reader knows immediately that it’s TIME because of the letters and red border. This is how the magazine maintains consistency throughout its issues.
In general, the cover features a photo and cover lines relating to just that one story. Because there are so few cover lines, I think the image usually is what drives people to pick up the magazine. For example, in this Dec. 28/Jan. 4 double issue of TIME featuring Adele, the cover lines don’t provide much more enticing information than the portrait of Adele. Also on this cover, TIME breaks a design rule that dictates people in images should be facing the text, to lead the reader’s eye there, but on this cover it’s more important for Adele to be facing forward since the title of the issue is “The Year Ahead.” And as I mentioned before, the cover lines that she’s facing away from aren’t all that important and don’t add much information anyway.
Since TIME is a news magazine, having little information on the cover works for its audience because people up to date on current events will generally be able to gauge what’s in the issue without even reading the cover lines.
TIME is notable for its person of the year and most influential people issues, which often use a detailed headshot or personality portrait on the cover. For these issues, the cover can also be a bit more cluttered, since there may be cover lines about the other people included in the issue besides the person on the cover.
The grid generally sticks to one or two columns, with the text more often on the left side of the cover. On some occasions, the text is centered or even goes above the nameplate and this is done to put emphasis on the image (like the Adele cover).
TIME’s covers are often serious in tone, when the topic is serious like Alzheimer’s or the Flint water crisis. Sometimes, the cover lines and cover image work together to relay the cover star’s personality. For example, in this Hillary cover from February 15, the photo makes her look relatable, softer, and it’s not as intense as some covers with the cover star staring directly into the camera. The cover lines, “I know what it’s like to be knocked down,” convey a message of empathy. In addition, this Donald Trump image and text from August evoke his stubborn and obnoxious personality.
All of these images came from TIME’s Covers Board on Pinterest.