We might be playing fast and loose with the chronology of these covers, but I wanted to return to one of my favorite covers of last year, the Travel Issue from October (vol. 19).

As with every cover, we began with the same principal: avoid cliche. That meant no maps; no compasses; no planes, trains or automobiles. Yes, we considered all of these motifs in the brainstorming period, but none of them expressed the tone and scope of the 2009 Travel Issue. We had visited and wrote about four very different places–Mongolia, Israel, Nepal and San Francisco–and each story was unique in tone.

But what the stories did have in common was that they were all rooted in personal experience and a desire to evoke a sense of place without putting it in a box. As I wrote in October’s editorial, each story approached travel as a question, rather than an answer. The cover, then, should do the same.

And sure enough, Jennifer came through. She had unearthed the following quote from Mark Twain: “Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the Earth all one’s life.” It captured exactly what I wanted the feature section as a whole to express, the idea that travel is a lifelong project, one that is never fully achieved.

The execution of the final cover, I think, is superb. The subtle blur of color lends the sense of movement and the ephemeral moment, as if the message is presenting an opportunity that the reader can either acknowledge or ignore. Though the setting is dank and a bit grubby, it recalls a train station corridor or a subway entrance, and all the possibility that these oft-overlooked spaces present to those compelled to explore.

I count myself among the ranks of those people, and that’s perhaps why this is one of my favorite covers we’ve done yet.

Contributed by Tom DiChristopher

Welcome to the first installment of Cover to Cover. Our art and photography teams are often praised for our innovative cover designs, so we thought we’d take the opportunity the new blog provides to give you a peek behind their process. Since the new issue has just come out, we’ll start there. In the future, we’ll be writing the liner notes to covers past and present.

For the January 2010 issue, contributing editor Thomas Maresca came up with the idea to conduct our own urban archaeology. The art department needed to find a concept that fit the period tone without falling back on the clichéd tactic of making the cover look old and worn. The solution: work with form rather than gimmick. The result:

Urban Archaeology

Art director Jennifer Watson borrowed the aesthetic of information manuals and mid-20th century guidebooks and intellectual journals. The grid and linear divisions create a clinical, composed look and feel, which enforces the analytical nature of the features section. By avoiding the cliché, Jennifer allows our readers to decipher the reference to journals of old, a timeless aesthetic tucked away in our collective unconscious.

The cover images themselves have been treated to make them looked aged, when in fact, they’re contemporary photos shot by photography editor Fred Wissink. This provides a subtle juxtaposition for our audience to detect and engage with—perhaps more so after reading the feature.

This cover marks Jennifer’s last for AsiaLIFE, as she’s moving on from Vietnam. Here’s to two great years.

Contributed by Tom DiChristopher