Cover Stories: Thoughtfulness in design (25 August 2017)
by Shane de Lange (@shanenilfunct) In honor of diversity, expression and freedom, this week’s Cover Stories seeks to erode political tyranny, voracity and dictatorship, specifically the brand that was exhibited by North American president, Donald Trump, recently. Attempting to embrace those creative efforts that revolt against any form of ignorance, oppression and totalitarianism, we include two iconic publications which showcase design perspectives and approaches in protest against any embargo placed upon free thought and critical thinking.
- Destiny (Heritage Issue) — print
- Eye Magazine — print
- Mark Magazine — online/print
- Sniffin’ Glue — iconic
- Staffrider — iconic
- The New Yorker, Time, The Economist — print
Destiny (South Africa), Heritage Issue, August/September 2017
As a high-end magazine catering to a predominantly female market, Destiny couldn’t have chosen a better ‘cover girl’ for its latest issue, setting a new standard for pluralism in the publishing industry. Deeply rooted within Ndebele culture, South African artist Esther Mahlangu is a picture of gracefulness. Sadly, not as well-known locally as she is abroad, Mahlangu is perhaps most-popular for her ‘art car’ commissioned by BMW, which formed part of a limited series alongside other huge names such as Andy Warhol, David Hockney and Frank Stella. She wears her traditional attire with dignity, showing that this gogo lives and breathes her heritage. Highlighting this cultural icon on the cover is a radical way to celebrate the end of Women’s Month in SA; themed the Heritage Issue, kudos must go out to the editorial team for having the vision to make this cover happen — a respectful sentiment in support of cultural diversity, representation and identity.
The New Yorker (US), 28 August 2017
TIME (US), 28 August 2017
The Economist (US), 19–25 August 2017
Trump officially blows, after more than a week of public outcry related to his delay and inaction towards the Charlottesville attacks. After a lengthy bout of silence, his dismal pushback placed equal blame on counter-protestors for the concerning events that were clearly caused by a white supremacist rally, suggesting the president’s support for the far right in the US. In the wake of these events, further emphasising his perceived sympathy for the American far right, Trump tweeted the importance of the statues that honor Confederate leaders, which are the root cause of these attacks. This follows a previous week of warmongering against North Korea.
Trump has an uncanny inability to hold back, unscripted. His lackluster response towards the Charlottesville rally is succinctly portrayed in three covers that went viral over the past 10 days, each depicting the president in some way related to white supremacy, on the precipice of quasi-imperialism. The cover for the New Yorker, titled “Blowhard”, illustrated by David Plunkert, is particularly noteworthy in this regard. Representing Trump as an inept lone sailor blowing into the punctured and tattered white sails, resembling a Ku Klux Klan mask, of a flimsy black raft navigating his morally barren, ethically devoid social, political and economic seas.
With all the physical and psychological divisions in America now chillingly apparent, these covers capture a pivotal moment in history.
Eye Magazine (UK) #94, volume 24, 2017
Speaking in terms of diversity and expression, variety being the proverbial spice of life, Eye is a graphic design journal tailored for critically informed visual culture junkies, taking the notion of multiplicity and pluralism to the next level in its 94th issue. Paul McNeil and Hamish Muir of MuirMcNeil studio were commissioned to create 8 000 distinctive covers. To this end, the studio created 10 ‘seed’ files, each containing iterations of letterforms drawn from the word ‘eye’, with fixed increments in three layers, each set in a variation of MuirMcNeil’s TwoPoint or TwoPlus typeface systems. Recalling Dietmar Winkler’s classic 1969 poster design for an MIT computer programming course, each layer is displaced laterally and spaced proportionately using letter spacing and typesetting traditions. Printed digitally on an Indigo 10000 press, these covers depend on HP Mosaic software, which allows for variable data printing that resizes, rotates and alters the colour of the artwork, based on the 10 ‘seed’ files, and finally cropped it to make a diverse amount of final cover designs.
As a Futurist bi-monthly architecture magazine, Mark is noted for thwarting convention and eroding conservatism, specifically in the context of the built environment. The latest issue reminds one of Mess-Mend (1923), a classic cover design by Russian artist and designer, Alexandre Rodchenko, who was one of the original founders of the Russian Constructivist movement. True to the revolutionary nature of Constructivist design traditions, the use of layout, photography and typography supports a well-contextualised aesthetic and ethical template. The magazine is particularly successful at creating synergy between its print and online iterations with a masthead that speaks in an architectural tone of voice, beautifully designed, standing strong on both the top-third of the printed cover, and above the fold on the landing page of the website — consistently implementing clear design and art direction across multiple platforms.
Staffrider (South Africa), Volume 1, Issue 1, 1978
Taking its name from township slang describing the manner in which black youths travel on overcrowded trains, either situated on roofs or hanging from the sides of carriages, Staffrider is an iconic South African cultural magazine. With its daredevil approach, Staffrider focused predominantly on black writing and art in SA. From its base in Johannesburg, publishing between 1978 and 1993, the magazine took an anti-apartheid stance, expressing black culture and history through poetry, short stories, art, graphics and photography; all situated outside the institutionalised norms of the apartheid regime. Challenging establishment and censorship, Staffrider advocated non-racialism, written in English as opposed to Afrikaans; it was a soapbox for black creatives who could easily have been overlooked by racially biased publishers, constructing a relevant voice in protest against racial and cultural segregation and oppression.
Sniffin’ Glue #1 (UK, 1976)
Deriving its name from a song by the Ramones called “Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue”, Sniffin’ Glue and Other Rock ‘N’ Roll Habits was a subversive monthly punk zine first published in 1976. Commonly referred to as Sniffin’ Glue, this fanzine stands as an important historical reference for the original punk movement in the UK during the late ’70s, canonised by the famous cover for the “God Save the Queen” 7” by the Sex Pistols. At the time, punk was too underground and anti-establishment to attract much attention from the mainstream press. Fanzines, following a resourceful DIY anti-aesthetic, were often the only sources of information about the movement, specifically, the bands that contributed to the movement who often burnt out as quickly as they started. Printed using the crude Xerox machines of the time and quickly staple bound, Sniffen’ Glue is often referred to as the Bible of British Punk. Short-lived, embodying the spirit of punk, this zine was only published for about a year but, nonetheless, became a pivotal record for one of the most-prolific anti-establishment movements in history.
With headlines written in thick felt-tip pen — a quirk that was later appropriated by the contemporary Metal Band System of a Down on the cover to its 2002 album “Steal This Album” — Sniffin’ Glue stayed true to its rebellious roots and anarchic personality. The publication barely had any semblance of writing skill or journalistic talent, with grammatical errors, poor spelling, random, almost non-existent layout, and littered with slang and swearwords on every spread. All this gave Sniffin’ Glue its immediacy and urgency, effectively displaying the zeitgeist of poor, low-income, blue-collar youths in Britain at the time. The original approach and language of this publication disproves the misconception that links punk to white supremacy. Doing so would be a shallow and superficial reading to say the least. If anything, extreme right-wing movements are far too conservative to digest the levels of critical thinking and free thought that Sniffin’ Glue advocated. Punk challenged social norms with efforts, once seen as taboo, which could rather be seen a possible remedy to the established, destructive and corrupt power structures that are dominant today.
Shane de Lange (@shanenilfunct) is a designer, writer, and educator currently based in Cape Town, South Africa, working in the fields of communication design and digital media. He works from Gilgamesh, a small design studio, and is a senior lecturer in graphic design at Vega School in Cape Town. Connect on Pinterest and Instagram.
Cover Stories, formerly MagLove, is a regular slot deconstructing media cover design, both past and present.