Covering science: The history of Nature’s front page

It’s been 150 years since the first
edition of Nature was published in 1869. In that time the science contained
inside the journal has changed a lot but so has the front cover. I’m Kelly Krause
Creative Director of Nature and I’ve come to the Nature archives to discover
some front covers from Nature’s long history, and to see how the design of the
magazine has changed over the years. Wow Right well we have all the Nature right
from the first issue on the 4th of November 1869 right up to the
present-day. So I’m interested in looking at the covers over time and how they’ve
changed from being mostly advertisements on the cover to being very rich with
imagery. Part of my job at Nature is to design the cover each week. But when the
journal first started the front cover was completely different to anything we’d
do today. In fact for nearly 100 years the front page was just used for
advertising. You’ve got this which is more like announcements about
events more and then you get the instruments that come on the front. This is one of my
favorite covers from this era an advertisement for buying rock and fossil
collections, and there’s one here for a sunshine recorder. It really shows how
for a long time science was in many ways a hobby or a gentleman’s pursuit. Looking
through the archived volumes we eventually found some covers with actual
science on them, but not until the 1960s, and even then it was still only text at
that point. It wasn’t until a few years later that we started seeing figures and
black-and-white photography. It’s so interesting that in this cover in 1967
the only hint content is this, the text here that says “Structure of Jupiter” and
then by 1974 we finally moved to actually visualizing the content as the
main event on the cover. Finally as we flicked through the books we started
seeing not just black and white but full-color images filling the pages and
I particularly appreciated the very of their time gradients that became
popular. So this is in the mid-80s when gradients are really just kind of
starting. You know, gradients, cutouts, these covers were still being physically put
together with tape. Before desktop publishing all of these designs had to
be made on paper. Photos were cut out and pasted down and gradients were made by
airbrushing with paint. After being taped together the final
cover was essentially photographed and the photograph sent to print. By the 90s Nature had embraced desktop publishing doing most of the work on computers
using software like Photoshop. There’s a lot more stuff you can do with an image
once it’s digital although some tweaks are a little more obvious in hindsight. And this is a classic from the beginning of the desktop publishing era and this
one is one of my particular favorites because it shows a bit of Photoshop
malfeasance. This is in 1997 and this is Dolly the sheep and this cover is
amazing because it really speaks volumes about the era in which it was made.
If you look closely Dolly you’ll see that this foot here looks a bit
strange, and the reason is is because that’s actually not Dolly’s foot at all
this was cut out in Photoshop and if you look at the original picture you’ll see
that it’s Dolly’s mother standing behind it became fashionable to do these sort
of cutouts that were more intricate than can be done in paste-up so in this she
has a foot that’s not her own which is fantastic. When I joined Nature I was
given the opportunity to refine the cover design for the modern digital era.
This meant aligning our print and web design but also as Nature’s first
creative director making sure that all covers were evaluated for their artistic
merit, as well as the scientific value of the research they showed. I started at Nature in 2011 so I’m just looking at some things from that era and I’ve
landed on actually one of my favorite covers from the very beginning when I
started, which is looking at insect wings. I remember the authors of the paper
submitted about 20 different insects and this particular one caught my eye
because it was so unusual. I think it is a beautiful photograph but it also says
a lot about the era you know it’s still a Photoshop cutout but it’s meant to
look much more natural like it’s in a studio, it’s meant to give you the sense
that you’re just looking at the object without any decoration really. What they don’t yet have here in the archives of course is our latest cover for Nature’s
one hundred and fiftieth anniversary we’ve collaborated with a team of
network scientists to produce a graphic representation of almost every paper
Nature has published since 1900 and I think it’s pretty amazing having visited
the archives and seen the bound volumes of these papers to then see them
represented like this on the cover. And this cover isn’t just a static image, we
have also made a video to show the links between some of the most important
papers in Nature’s history, and an interactive experience so anyone can
look through the model and navigate their own way between different points.
So this is much more than just a print cover. I think it’s a great way to
mark our anniversary. But perhaps in a hundred and fifty years
some future Creative Director of Nature will be here in the archives looking
over our interactive cover and commenting on how it’s very retro and
representative of its time.

Comments 9

  • In this dark times, you are a light helping Guide society with science. I wish another 150 years at least. Congratulations.

  • why not scan into pdf?

  • I belive in science not in scientism, and today theres is a lot scientism going on, a lot of theories that hant been 100% verified, soo…

  • I am particularly fond of Dolly's fake foot

  • Today when I go to the Nature website, in addition to actual science, I increasingly see the unmistakable creeping rot of the odious DIE religion ("diversity, inclusion, equity") and its attendant dogmatic obsessions with gender, race, and sexual orientation goodthink. The commentary surrounding which is needless to say about as scientific as a horoscope. Not much confidence Nature will make it another 50 years let alone 150 if they allow the delusions of the humanities to continue to vitiate their good name in this way.

  • Would do humanity a great service if all 150 years of Nature were digitised and made freely available on the internet.

  • I really appreciate the beautiful covers for the 2 years I was subscribed

  • 150 years from now, Nature magazine will be an interactive single sheet of Graphene screen that can project 3Dimages.

  • Of course they didn't have many pictures until recently, printing pictures used to be expensive

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