I took a look at three recent issues of Wired: November 2015, December 2015, and January 2016. These covers feature Serena Williams, the Millennium Falcon (from Star Wars: The Force Awakens), and Leonardo DiCaprio, respectively.
The November 2015 issue is a little different than others because instead of just featuring a celebrity in its cover, Wired decided to have Serena Williams as a guest editor. This is a long-lasting trend that I’ve noticed a lot of magazines do, and it’s really interesting to see how each has their own take on it.
The cover itself features a close-up shot of Serena’s face, which has been edited to be in black and white. The Wired logo, which is usually in a different color with each cover, is in gray so as to blend in with Serena’s face. The cover lines, however, are all in bright pink, which I would think are to make them stand out against the black and gray tones. These cover lines are located around her face, so as not to cover her serious expression, and it works well given the seriousness of the cover story: “Let’s Change the Future: Race, Gender, and Equality in the Digital Age.” Inside, the piece also features a portfolio of “10 trailblazers who are showing their way forward,” with an introduction written by Serena herself.
Wired doesn’t do any two issues in a row the same. The December 2015 cover is unconventional in the sense that it includes a fold-out cover. I personally love whenever Wired does this because it’s incredibly refreshing.
Off the top of my head, another time I remember them including a fold-out cover is two years ago when they did an article on how John Lasseter and Ed Catmull are bringing the life back to Disney Animation Studios. In that cover, the two filmmakers were featured along with numerous prominent Disney characters over the years, including the original Mickey Mouse, and Baymax from Big Hero 6, which had just come out at the time. For this issue, the fold-out cover features nothing but a movie still from Star Wars: The Force Awakens, more specifically: the iconic Millennium Falcon.
I thought this cover worked well for a few reasons. First of all, having a fold-out cover for a Star Wars A1 story shows that the magazine acknowledges how big of a deal the new movie is. The Wired editors also know that the Millennium Falcon itself is such a huge Star Wars icon that the picture on its own pretty much speaks for itself. (Less is more.) And lastly, they kept the whole cover free of any cover lines because, again, Star Wars and the opening weekend was such a huge deal that you didn’t need to explain why it was on the cover of the magazine. A reader will look at this and say, “Oh yeah, that’s totally Star Wars.” Because even if you don’t know what the Millennium Falcon is, you’ll know immediately that this is a Star Wars cover.
The one weakness with this cover, in my opinion, is that while it is obvious the main story will be related to Star Wars, it doesn’t tell you exactly what the story is about. Like I said, Star Wars was one of the biggest movies, if not the biggest movie at the time of this being published. You could go so many different ways with this, so the readers won’t actually know what the story is until they open the magazine.
That said, it turns out the main story is an interview between J.J. Abrams, director/writer of Star Wars, and Scott Dadich, Wired’s editor in chief. I thought it was interesting that Scott is the one who did the interview — by having the magazine editor as part of the story, it tells readers that this is a big deal and won’t be entrusted to just any writer for the magazine.
Wired’s first issue of 2016 features Leonardo DiCaprio, who has received a lot of attention for his role as Hugh Grant in The Revenant, leading people to hope that this is the year the actor finally gets his first Oscar. Like Serena in the November issue, Leo has a serious expression on his face. However, the way that they designed the cover sends a different tone than in Serena’s issue. While the November issue focused on issues of race and gender, the January issue merely wishes to profile Leo and his work on The Revenant.
In this cover, the use of large and bright cover lines sends a less serious tone than Serena’s issue. First and foremost, the Wired logo and the cover lines are in bright orange. The logo runs across his hair on the top, and the words “The Ultimate 2016 Survival Guide” are splattered across the cover on the bottom. It’s not inconspicuous or subtle at all. This cover also has more cover lines and uses language that ends in exclamation marks, which contrasts with the simplicity of listing names that Wired did in the Serena issue.
To top it off, everything is tilted. It’s as if someone designed the page and decided to rotate everything by a few degrees — not enough that it’s a struggle to read, but enough that you would notice the change. I can’t tell why they decided to do this because at first glance, it does seem random. Obviously that probably isn’t the case, since all design has to have a rationale, but I’m just really curious to know what the reasoning is behind this.
Visuals play a very important part in Wired’s covers and A1s. As I pointed out, each cover features a main photo of a person or concept that is essential to the story, but the inside pages themselves are full of visual elements. In the Serena Williams issue, they feature trailblazers and include pictures to go along with their mini profiles. In the J.J. Abrams interview, there are two facing pages dedicated to the helmets and weapons used in the Star Wars movies. In the Leonardo DiCaprio issue, there are illustrations to break up the text, and stills from The Revenant to give the story (and the design) more layers.
The gridwork is also consistent, with each story more or less sticking to three columns across the board. In some cases, the first page will contain one wide column and a large stylized pull quote (as the J.J. Abrams piece does), but the rest of the story will have three columns on a page. There are also pull quotes and images to break up the text and add more entry points for the reader.
On another note, I also really appreciate this tiny element that Wired incorporates in each of its covers. Wherever the editors/designers decide to put the text that tells you what issue it is — i.e., November 2015, December 2015, etc. — there is also a phrase that is meant to go along with the person or idea that is featured. So for example, in the Serena Williams issue, they placed the phrase “Follow through, which is commonly said in tennis. In the Leonardo DiCaprio issue, they included the words “Never let go,” which, as we all know, is a reference to Titanic.
But Wired, being who they are, doesn’t limit themselves to just phrases. I also remember a while back, probably a year and a half ago, they did a cover story about smart phones and the mobile age. So what phrase, you may ask, did they include? The answer is: They didn’t include a phrase. They used emojis. I thought it was extremely genius, and beautifully showed how clever Wired can be.