Covering Covers

Lutz Roeder, Gebrauchsgraphik, June 1965

I've designed several magazines over the years. The cover is usually the land mine. Every hope, desire, and fear seems to coalesce around the cover. I lost one longtime great friend who was the photographer on a cover when the client rejected her beautiful and flawless image for a bad stock photo. It's the part of the project when everyone in the room has an opinion on what a good cover is. In all honesty, there are covers I worked on that are fugly fugly. These were designed by committee and I didn't have the fortitude to say, "You're wrong! You're bad people." But that rarely works either.

As you can expect some of my favorite covers do not have one giant face staring out, but take advantage of the magazine as a personal artifact that doubles as a poster. And if we're honest, we'll all admit we have purchased a magazine only for the cover. Which, I imagine, is liking someone simply because they have a nice face. And...?

Health Magazine, cover studies

Sean Adams

Sean Adams is the Chair of the undergraduate and graduate Graphic Design Program at ArtCenter, founder of Burning Settlers Cabin studio, and on-screen author for LinkedIn Learning/ He is the only two term AIGA national president in AIGA’s 100 year history. In 2014, Adams was awarded the AIGA Medal, the highest honor in the profession. He is an AIGA Fellow, and Aspen Design Fellow. He has been recognized by every major competition and publication including; How, Print, Step, Communication Arts, Graphis, AIGA, The Type Directors Club, The British Art Director’s Club, and the Art Director’s Club. Adams has been exhibited often, including a solo exhibition at The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Adams is an author of multiple magazine columns, and several best-selling books. He has been cited as one of the forty most important people shaping design internationally, and one of the top ten influential designers in the United States. Previously, Adams was a founding partner at AdamsMorioka, whose clients included The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Disney, Mohawk Fine Papers, The Metropolitan Opera, Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History, Richard Meier & Partners, Sundance, and the University of Southern California.

Treasures from the Great Northern Place

When Graphis did a story on us soon after we started the firm, we said, “We’re interested in making a good cake, not just nice icing.” Since we were both 29 years old and too cocky we thought this was incredibly clever. A few years later at a conference, a designer came up to me and said, “Yeah, I saw that article in Graphis. Everyone at my firm hates you. And you stole that quote from Burton Kramer.” Back then, I was still under the impression that I should remain polite and try to understand what was really driving this criticism. Now I would I simply say “Go to hell you mother@#$%ing mother@#$%er @#$%face.


In reality, Burton Kramer had said this in 1972. But, in my defense, I didn’t know this. I love Kramer’s work. Today, we get mired in post-modern analysis of irony, pastiche, and contradiction. Kramer’s solutions are so crystal clear and cutting. They are rational, perfect, simple, and elegant. But they are never cold, or without a sense of the human touch. The Canadian Broadcasting Company logo is complex and precise, but is optimistic and about infinite possibilities. Kramer’s identity programs are sublime. They are a testament to a time when designers had the time and skill to fine tune every tiny detail, as opposed to some of the slapdash icons created from a batch of Illustrator shapes. When I look through Kramer’s new book, I find the most difficult issues is to not inadvertently steal more of his wisdom.

When Gray is Good


One of my favorite possessions is a Graphis magazine, No. 69 from 1956. We’ve opened it so often that it’s falling apart. I tried taping it back together since this is something you do when you get old. But now the cover has fallen off of it. There is a rather dull feature on calendars, but an incredible profile on Milner Gray. Gray (1899-1997) was a British designer who founded the Society of Industrial Artists and the Design Research Unit (not to be confused with Ellen Lupton’s Design Writing Research). His work is primarily in the realm of packaging design, although he did identity and environmental design for the 1951 Festival of Britain. Gray takes heraldry and traditional forms and treats them with a modernist bent. Simple shapes are combined with flourishes and Victorian typography. There is a contradictory sense of minimalism and ornamentation.

Unfortunately, Gray is one of those remarkable designers who have been sadly neglected in print or online. Someday, I’d like to write a book about all of these unsung heroes who changed the profession quietly.