The Cover Story: Shafted

The creative process behind the design of the cover for the September issue

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“Shafted,” said the Oregon Business editor. “That’s the cover line.”

I’d read an early draft of Jon Shadel’s article about elevators for the September issue cover story. I’d had my own mishap in our office building’s aged lift. I’d been lightly bounced between floors four and six. Nothing makes you think more intensely about the workings of an elevator than a bounce or two. Nothing makes you feel more vulnerable.

My first wish for the cover image was a long shot up the elevator shaft. It’s what office workers never see, though we travel them daily. It would be the opportunity to depict the more complete reality, offer the bigger picture.

Not surprisingly, no building owners or property managers returned my calls about letting us photograph their elevator shafts. I turned to the trusty Shutterstock site, and gathered a handful of elevator shaft photos. These were the first drafts of the September issue’s cover.


Although the photos of elevator shafts would make a powerful image, I felt we should have people in the shot. After all, this was a business story, so ultimately it was about people. As it turned out, the group of Shutterstock images that showed elevator maintenance workers also appear on the website of one of the companies in the story. That wouldn’t work.

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The more I thought about elevators, the more abstract they became. They’re these unknowable boxes hanging in space.


This line of thinking definitely yielded the more “out-there” drafts. When I presented the options to the editorial team, I made a suggestion of who our passengers could be.

scream ideaOf course, not all elevators are as scary as the ones in our building, so The Scream by Edvard Munch was maybe a little heavy-handed, not quite accurate for an entire industry.

Happily, the Oregon Business editorial team liked that white cover. As for filling the abstract rectangle, we all agreed that a photo of passengers was preferable to drawings or paintings. And why not choose members of our own office to be in the image since our own elevator troubles inspired the story in the first place? A team of brave co-workers served as models.

We held the photo shoot in our office, with photographer Jason E. Kaplan setting up a white background in the Oregon Business pod.

jason backdrop

And while I didn’t make any requests from the staff regarding their apparel, I was delighted by the palette of primary colors in the resulting photo. When the image is reduced and placed in all that white space, it’s eye-catching. Ultimately, I want nothing more than to compel people to reach for the magazine and read that story.

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