Most of the time when I’m designing for our publications I don’t have a literal connection to the people and places profiled in the articles. Do I find them fascinating, interesting, inspiring? Absolutely. I love being a part of the storytelling process. But I’ve often thought that it would be nice to occasionally have more of a connection.

Our current issue of American Spirit, the magazine Hammock publishes for the Daughters of the American Revolution, features an article on using cemetery icons as a genealogy research tool. Tasked with designing the layout, I decided to couple a work-related scouting trip with a personal genealogy interest. One Sunday afternoon, I accompanied my photographer husband as he loaded up his camera gear and our reluctant 7-year-old son and drove south to Franklin, Tenn. Our destination was the old Franklin City Cemetery and Rest Haven, a slightly newer cemetery adjacent to it. The city of Franklin was founded in 1799 and is named after Benjamin Franklin. It’s also my birthplace.

As the final resting place of four Revolutionary War patriots, the Franklin City Cemetery has an obvious tie-in for our DAR readers. Plus, I had a hunch we would find the icons needed for the article—and I wasn’t disappointed. Angels, wheat, willow trees, doves and other icons were all represented, and they helped illustrate our story of how these markers can give us clues to the lives of our ancestors.

As far as the personal genealogy connection, my great-great-great grandfather, Joseph Coleman, is buried in Rest Haven Cemetery. He was an early inhabitant of the area. In our two-hour scout through the cemetery, I finally found his headstone. I had hoped we might be able to use his marker in the layout, but it’s plain and hard to read, so it visually wasn’t a good fit for the article.

Nevertheless, our walk through the cemetery made me curious to learn more about this ancestor on my Dad’s side. My Mom is the real genealogist of the family, and she was able to share some of his story with me. I love imagining that Joseph Coleman might have crossed paths with those four Revolutionary War patriots buried in the City Cemetery.

Image research is something I do every for every issue of American Spirit, but this assignment was much more hands-on and personal. It made me feel connected.

We’re talking about what makes a great cover today at Hammock. We follow some guidelines when we design a cover, but there’s a lot of feel to it, as well. I thought I’d share a few of my thoughts here.

I like to use bold fonts to deliver a sense of confidence and authority. A narrow font could appear wimpy. I also like to play with the size of the main headline on the cover. I usually like to see it really small and then blow it up really big to see what direction to go.

Juxtaposing the image and the banner
If you have a person on the cover, it’s important to play with the size and crop. Sometimes you have to figure out how much of the banner you can cover up and still be able to read it. With national titles, that’s not so important. Time or Sports Illustrated could cover most of the banner and still have an effective, instantly recognizable cover, but with our custom magazines and our clients, seeing the banner clearly is more important.

The role of the banner
A lot of our banners stay the same color from issue to issue. If they do change, finding the right color for that is very important. Sometimes, I like for the banner to blend in more with the image so that the focus is on the person. I don’t want the color of the banner to overpower the image in any way.

You also need to be careful choosing colors for other text blocks on the cover. You don’t want it to look like a Crayola box. I usually keep the colors choices to about two or three colors, with white or black being the main choice.

Finding the right person and shot
When a person is on the cover, their expression has to be engaging. You just know when you see a cover expression. Something about the eyes making a connection or the tilt of the head or the body posture.