Cover Stories: Thoughtfulness in design (17 Nov 2017)
by Shane de Lange (@shanenilfunct) Let’s delve into great media design from South Africa and around the world:
- Local/print: Bat Butt continues its underground offbeat mission in support of local talent with an impactful, prolific combo.
- Iconic: Communication Arts is a much-needed publication that is incredibly relevant today
- Online: Design Matters advocates wholeness and thoughtfulness in design, promoting deign inclusivity.
- International/print: Double Dagger proves that traditional print is still relevant, and that a respect for craft in design is of paramount importance.
- International/print: The Economist illustrates America’s future as a world economic power.
- Local/print: The Mission merges the two seemingly opposing worlds of fishing and art.
The Mission (South Africa), September/October 2017
One would not ordinarily connect a niche sport such as fly fishing with contemporary South African art and illustration. But that is exactly what The Mission, a South African magazine about the “cult of fly fishing”, does in its fifth issue. Following the trend set by its second issue, the September/October 2017 cover for this somewhat-eccentric publication showcases the work of established South African artist, Conrad Botes. Known for his expressive, gestural, and painterly style of illustration, Botes was first introduced into the popular cultural consciousness in the early ’90s, thanks to his contributions to the prolific and subversive publication, Bitterkommix, alongside his regular collaborator and partner in crime, Anton Kannemeyer. It’s refreshing to see a publication of this kind make covers like this, which could so easily fall into the monotone space that many trade magazines tend to fall into, prevented from speaking, a conservative tone of voice. We need more efforts like this, where various facets of society, from sport and science to art begin to creatively meld into interesting hybrids, constructing discourses on multiple fronts. Culture creation in the making.
The Economist (US), 11-17 November 2017
A rather odd-looking bald eagle decorates the cover for the latest issue of The Economist. Once heavily endangered and on the verge of extinction — a bird of prey, and an apex predator — it’s not difficult to see why this creature is seen as an icon of Americana, and how it could be used as an analogy for America itself. The cover takes advantage of this, taking a satirical approach and depicting this majestic avian critter with a charming hairstyle — an ambiguous metaphor about president Donald Trump and his America — accompanied by the headline: “Endangered — America’s future as a global power.” One may extrapolate the rest of the story from there and, if the covers to the last two issues of Time magazine — one implying China as America’s economic successor, the other suggesting France as a key player in Europe — are anything to go by, America is likely see itself on display in the museum of past world superpowers.
Bat Butt (South Africa), issues 6 & 7 (released simultaneously), November 2017
Keeping true to its offbeat and lowbrow roots, Bat Butt returns with a double-issue combo pack. Released together in an extremely limited print run, issues #6 and #7 showcase cover artwork by Shaun Hill, the editor of the zine and an established South African illustrator. With its low-budget, DIY, and punk-zine inspired aesthetic, contributors to this double-pack include some of South Africa’s most prominent illustrators, including: Simon Berndt (One Horse Town), Nina Torr, Hanno van Zyl, Maaike Bakker, Ello Xray Eyes, and Daniel Ting Chong, alongside some strong emerging talents such as Amber Smith and Olivié Keck. These zines tend sell out quickly; don’t be the only one who isn’t in the know.
Double Dagger (UK), Issue 2, Autumn 2017
In an age when creativity is increasingly becoming dependent on technology and digital tools to do all the thinking, where artistry and craft are undertaken though staring at a screen, it is heartwarming to see that real, analogue processes are still encouraged and used in a few small corners of the world. Too many designers today depend on their virtual tools to find design solutions, allowing the software and machinery to dominate the message. The result? Cloned and derivative work. Nothing can compare to the human effort of putting pen to paper and making things by hand first, using one’s own brain power and creative acumen without resorting to a scroll of the mouse for design inspiration. Machines simply cannot produce the passion, skill and love that needs to go into this kind of design and the methods of production that make meaningful work.
Double Dagger is one such corner nurturing true creativity. It is an annual journal, printed using traditional letterpress printing processes, accompanied by wood and lead type; all processes that are near impossible to emulate through digital processes. Much like vinyl records, letterpress has seen a revival in recent times, purely because it stimulates all the senses with qualities that become more of an experience than a simple form of communication or entertainment. Commercial printing simply can’t compare.
The current issue, #2, is truly international, featuring handcrafted work from eight presses, including Popolo Press (Montreal) and Virgin Wood Type (New York), and artists such as Stanley Donwood (known for his album covers for Radiohead and Thom Yorke). Published in the UK, Double Dagger advocates tried-and-tested tools that hail all the way back to Gutenberg in order to generate greater depth in design today, reminding us how printing changed the world, and can continue to do so.
Design Matters (US), November 2017
Although not technically a magazine, Design Matters is not exactly an ordinary podcast either; it’s one of the world’s first online publications to focus on the subject of design via a web-based media channel across a variety of creative fields. Started in 2005 by Debbie Millman (also a co-founder and chair of the world’s first Masters in Branding Program at the School of Visual Arts in New York, where the show is produced), Design Matters is a favorite amongst many designers and other creatives. The site is incredibly well-designed, with textbook graphic design, UI and UX elements and including great features such as the ability to filter by discipline, from poets and typographers to directors.
The site grants access to an archive of nearly 300 podcasts, including talks with cultural icons such as Massimo Vignelli, Alain de Botton, Milton Glaser, Steven Heller, Louise Fili, and Tobias Frere-Jones; the list of simply goes on and on. Design Matters is published by Design Observer, which is edited by its own list of legendary figures, including Rick Poynor (founder and first editor of Eye magazine), Michael Bierut (partner at Pentagram), Jessica Helfand and William Drenttel (of Winterhouse Studios). Any self-respecting creative person out there who has not listened to this show should remedy the situation immediately.
Communication Arts (US), various, 1959–present
Visual communication is an often-misunderstood term, and it is thanks to historically significant publications such as Communication Arts (CA) that this important creative field is given the prominence that it deserves. CA has been an authoritative source of information about graphic design and art direction, advertising and branding, illustration, typography and photography since 1959 (recently including new disciplines such as interactive design). All these disciplines form part of the rubric of visual communication.
Founded by Richard Coyne and Robert Blanchard, who both still currently advise on the publication, CA is published six times per year, using the format of juried annuals which cover the various disciplines that comprise the entire gamut of visual communication. The magazine also hosts six creative competitions per year based upon the focus of each annual. Complimented by its website, CA magazine is a world leader in the field of visual communication, not to mention the biggest publication of its kind globally. Each discipline acts as the theme for each annual, with content that includes detailed profiles and insightful columns about and from prominent figures from various professions within the visual communication field. A much-needed publication that is incredibly relevant today, especially given that many within the creative industries are still shockingly unaware of what visual communication is.
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.