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/Lynda.com 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.

When Illustration Takes a Holiday

The first image we recognize as human beings is a face. Babies can recognize parents and mimic expressions within days of birth. We operate as social animals by identifying other people we know. The human face is the first place we look. It gets our attention. This is why every magazine cover is an almost life size image of a face looking at the viewer. It works to get our attention, but not particularly exciting or unexpected.

In the 1950s and early 1960s, Frank Zachary was the art director at Holiday magazine. He hired relatively unknown illustrators for the covers. Most of these star illustrators later. The illustrative covers never fail. They are light, often funny, beautiful, and smart. Holiday’s photographic covers, however, have been relegated to history’s sloppy seconds. Perhaps it is due to the surplus of photographic covers now. The illustrations seem completely fresh and new. But, why do I keep going back to the photos on the covers?

First, they are not the standard big head staring at the viewer. Second, the scale, point of view, and overall composition are often unexpected and odd. Third, the subject matter is never the obvious. An issue on Park Avenue has an abstract image of car lights. No attempt is made to show Park Avenue clearly. The issue covering the Caribbean’s photo is shot from a bird’s eye view, minimizing the bathing suit clad woman in the hammock. I especially love the September 1952 issue on Colorado. At first glance, it’s a standard portrait of a young woman and her horse. But, look closely. The young woman is not focus on the center of the page. The horse is. This is a beauty shot of a lovely horse.

many of these covers are from gono.com

Showtime

I admit I’m fairly out of touch with the lifestyles of young and sophisticated urbanite males today. I know where they are. I see them at skate stores at Sunset Junction and tiny restaurants in Brooklyn. I know that a beard is required, or a “scruffy” look. Jaunty hats of all types are good. And vintage ironic t-shirts are useful. I’ve tried the beard thing, but I look like Burl Ives, and when I don’t shave I hear my grandmother’s voice in my head, “a man who doesn’t shave every day is like a woman leaving the house in hair curlers.”

In the early 1960s, the same crowd took tips on life from sophisticated and intellectual magazines such as Esquire, Playboy, and Show. No, Playboy was not always just images of naked young ladies. Each of these magazines targeted that young man on the town with articles about hi-fi stereos, how to smoke a pipe, and current political thought. Show was a short-lived, but remarkable magazine devoted to the entertainment arts. Henry Wolf was the art director and responsible for unexpected and smart covers. Today, Show would be Us magazine. What a wonderful time it must have been when a magazine about entertainment could have a cover with a re-purposed Ukiyo-e print on the cover, not Kim Kardashian.

The Sunset Years

I was flying to New York a recently, and one of the designers at AdamsMorioka gave me a DVD she thought I’d enjoy. I can’t recall the name, but it was a 1960s movie about a women’s motorcycle gang. It was funny in the way really terrible films, like Showgirls, are. Everything was fine until the rape scene in the women’s prison. It took me a couple of minutes to recognize that everyone around me on the plane was looking at my computer in horror. I had accidentally been watching soft-core porn in the American Airlines Business Class cabin. Bad form. I turned it off, and wondered if it was illegal to watch porn on an airplane.

Reading material is potentially as dangerous. The person next to me is always pretending to stretch so they can see what I’m reading. I should bring Devil Worship: Simple Satanic Rituals, but they are usually history books like Accommodating Revolutions: Virginia's Northern Neck in an Era of Transformations, 1760-1810. Other passengers have groovy magazines like Dwell, or Wallpaper. I don’t understand these. There are lots of people living barefoot in houses with plywood cabinets. I bring Sunset magazine.

I love Sunset. If you live in the American west and enjoy gardening, you get Sunset. I love the how to projects, and the affordable, and sensible good taste. But, I especially love the logo. For a time, Sunset took a slight detour, but under Mia Daminato they’ve returned to the classic script. Too often recently, organizations abandon a beautiful mark in favor of something with chrome and highlights. Sunset’s decision to return to the 1937 logo is smart and brave. I also like that the covers have used beautiful photos of Lake Tahoe, or a picnic. Nobody is offended when I pull Sunset magazine out of my bag on an airplane. That’s better than leaving an issue of Juggs on a plane (true story via my sister-in-law, an American Airlines flight attendant).

Dream Big

July 1964, Walter Allner

For some quirk of data collection, I am listed in a book about Saul Bass and Walter Allner. This book does not exist. If you’re one of the people who insist I have a copy and won’t give it up, please believe me. If it were to exist, I could retire happy. To even be mentioned with Saul Bass and Walter Allner is a huge honor. In this case, it’s just bad data entry at Amazon. Walter Allner designed some of Fortune magazine’s most incredible covers. Allner, trained at the Bauhaus, was one of the pioneers in the field who brought modernism in typography to American design. His Fortune covers are examples of a minimal and graphic approach. He told his students, “Raise the aesthetic standard — the public is more perceptive than you think.” These covers and his body of work presume that the audience is intelligent and visually literate. There are no big headshots of Britney Spears. In addition, for those of you who are saying, “Yeah, so what, I could do that stuff.” This was before Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator. The windows of the Time & Life Building on the 500 Fortune cover are actually turned on. For real.

May 1959, Walter Allner

May 1958, Walter Allner

July 1953, Walter Allner

March 1955, Walter Allner

January 1959, Walter Allner