Shane de Lange (@shanenilfunct)’s weekly analysis of media design — both past and present, print and online — from South Africa and around the world:
- Miscellaneous: A Profound Waste of Time makes game culture uber-cool, presented mostly through the tasteful and curated application of world-class illustration
- Local/print: Cosmopolitan South Africa highlights the question of activism, sparking a heated debate on social media
- Online: Curate brings ethical design, anti-bureaucratic values, and neo-romanticism into the world dominated by a blind and stale faith in capitalism and consumerism
- Iconic: Gandalf’s Garden was an eccentric and esoteric publication that made a crucial contribution to British counterculture during the ’60s
- International/print: Time, Bloomberg Businessweek, New Yorker once again draw attention to Donald Trump, asking: how sustainable is America’s isolationist policy in relation to its snowballing trade war with other global powers?
¯\_(ツ)_/¯ Cosmopolitan (South Africa), Activism Issue, August 2018
There has been a fair amount of furor surrounding the cover to this August issue of Cosmopolitan South Africa, which carries the tagline: “The Rise of the Female Has a Really Loud Bang”. In celebration of Women’s Month, film and television actress, Nomzamo Mbatha, defiantly announces her own brand of femininity, sporting a bold and contrasting bodysuit with the words “female activist”, “feminist”, “power”, “amandla” and “fearless” printed on it. There’s been an ongoing debate, specifically on Twitter, which began when Nelisa Ngqulana questioned Cosmopolitan’s idea of activism, implying that Mbatha isn’t an activist and this cover’s simply an exercise in branding, PR, and self-promotion. This critique was spurred on by a reaction from musician, poet, and artist, Ntsiki Mazwai, on Twitter. Mazwai implied that the cover is a baseless and fraudulent gesture, opportunism and artifice to the nth degree, insinuating that Mbatha is an armchair activist and asserting that she’s rarely “represented anything beyond her looks”, and that she’s falsely been ‘positioned’ as an activist.
Counter-arguments to these criticisms are that Mbatha is a motivational speaker, and am UNHCR ambassador who regularly assumes humanitarian work. She has also been publicly vocal against sexism, particularly in relation to #metoo, and has been involved with social awareness surrounding issues of mental health. That said, Mbatha is also the ‘face’ of Neutrogena, and is a brand ambassador for L’orèal, Puma, and Audi, which may place her perceived activism in question as just another PR stunt.
To counter this perception, the issue also includes other ‘change agents’, showcasing eight courageous women who negate the pretenses of armchair activism, actively advocating for change. More contents inside include important notions such as: “we should all be feminists”, and “the ultimate guide to decoding feminism”. Despite all the ambiguity and hostilities surrounding the definition of activism here, this issue has certainly created a debate — people are talking and are aware — which can only lead to positive outcomes for the future.
¯\_(ツ)_/¯ TIME (US), 30 July 2018, Bloomberg Businessweek (US), 23 July 2018 and The New Yorker (US) 30 July 2018
US president Donald Trump’s trade war has many questions attached to it, particularly about how sustainable it is and how much damage it’s causing to international relations, which could take years to mend. Many covers have commented on this situation, with arguably TIME, Bloomberg Businessweek and The New Yorker being at the forefront of the debate.
TIME’s contribution relates to the recent Russia–US summit between Trump and Russian president Vladimir Putin, which began on 16 July 2018 in Helsinki, Finland. The portrait on the cover is a superimposition of both their faces, suggesting ongoing suspicions that Putin might be Trump’s proverbial puppet master. This follows a weak rebuttal from Trump after his failure to confront Putin in Helsinki about Russia’s involvement in the last American election. When the question was posed, “Who do you believe?”, Trump remained on the fence, showing faith in both the media and Putin.
Bloomberg Businessweek presents a simple equation to all the perceived cloak-and-dagger gesticulations of the American president. It’s simple: America will end up being isolated while the rest of the world will go about business as usual.
The artistic prowess and satirical wit of renowned illustrator, Barry Blitt, returns to make yet another cover for The New Yorker. Blitt relates Trump’s performance at the summit in Helsinki to an event that happened three years ago, when Trump announced his candidacy for the presidency as he was descending the escalator in Trump Tower. A rich and compelling way to announce such an important thing, to say the least. Salt of the Earth stuff.
A Profound Waste of Time (UK), July 2018
Inspired by videogames, the editorial style of A Profound Waste of Time is indeed fresh and defies any remaining stereotypes that surround the gaming industry and its audiences. If the cover to the inaugural issue is anything to go by, there’s no doubt that gaming has successfully transitioned from the doldrums of geekdom into the open world of cool. Issue 1 is available thanks to an effective Kickstarter campaign, with a small batch, numbered, special edition also printed (already sold out) sporting a unique glow-in-the-dark cover. A reprint of the standard edition is being considered, based on the overwhelming popularity the magazine has received so far. As a self-funded magazine, A Profound Waste of Time is a testament to the influence of, and interest in, independent publishing.
An advocate of the gaming industry and discourse surrounding gaming culture, A Profound Waste of Time elevates games to the level of art and design, particularly in the context of storytelling and immersive experiences. Every issue will showcase a range of influencers and trailblazers (underground or mainstream) within the gaming industry, with an insistence on the title “videogame industry”. Each cover will also be illustrated by established illustrators and artists. #1 sports one by celebrated London-based illustrator, Dan Mumford, who’s done work for Disney, Sony, CBS and many more. The magazine’s one-page scrollable website is also worth mentioning for its simplicity in design and style, substantiating the tasteful sensibility of the print publication.
Curate Lab and Curate Magazine (UK), July 2018
A subject that has consistently arisen in this column is the dynamic between culture production vs that of culture consumption. Associated with this is that people are increasingly living to work, rather than working to live. Many shareholders could be blamed for the state of humanity as it is today, including multinational corporations and their respective brands, and the agencies that represent them. Perhaps the answer would be to consider stakeholders instead of shareholders, but the fact remains that nobody is thinking about humanity or the environment in this context; they’re only thinking about profit. One remains dumbfounded to find an answer to the question: is this sustainable?
Given these assertions, it’s refreshing to find an agency that focuses on designing for sustainability and improving people’s lives. Replacing the alibi of design thinking with the promise of purposeful design, Curate Lab has a philosophy focused on collaboration with brands that defy the profit-driven status quo and place core values and great ideas at the forefront of their businesses. With a sense of reverence towards thoughtfulness in design and always keeping design in mind, as opposed to design thinking, Curate Lab shows how the ethical implementation of creativity can change the world, and help to produce culture.
Curate Magazine accompanies Curate Lab, with a drive towards the embrace of remote working, independent productivity, and culture production, and always being critical of the bureaucracy and mediocracy that remain dominant in many office and studio environments. Averse to the materialism that accompanies consumerism, Curate moves beyond the usual borders dictated by industry and promotes authentic human experience, supported by Culture Lab’s website. Themed as a “Culture Manual”, the site is a manifesto of sorts in defiance of materialism.
The print edition of the magazine, with #6, investigates the nature of the word ‘material’ — interpreted in more ways than one — often associated with fashion or pop culture. Relating to the notion of material in an indirect way, from many angles, Curate magazine challenges established thought and industry practices and entices the curious to obey less and defy more. All these perspectives are consistent and in synergy across the online footprint of both Curate Lab and Curate Magazine.
Gandalf’s Garden (UK), 1968–1969
Named after the well-known wizard from Lord of the Rings, Gandalf’s Garden was a spiritual organisation of sorts, focused primarily on mysticism, which thrived in England during the late ’60s. A proponent of the hippie-underground, particularly in London, Gandalf’s Garden also took the form of a magazine, printed to promote the esoteric perspectives of the beaming counterculture community in London at the time. Among many provocative topics, featured prominently were meditation and drugs. The magazine’s editor, Muz Murray, founded the publication in 1968, with six issues printed in all until its demise in 1969. Associated with the underground press (otherwise known as the “Overground”), the magazine existed parallel to the International Times (“IT”, previously featured in Cover Stories). As opposed to the psychedelic bedlam of OZ (also featured in Cover Stories), Gandalf’s Garden was eccentric, romantic, and ethereal, with arcane subject matter and topics, such as: “Atlantis Rising” from #4, and “The Cosmic Continent” from #6.
Although the magazine ended print in 1969, Gandalf’s Garden was a key influence on alternative forms of creativity in England, and remained coherent as a community until 1972. Murray currently lives in India, known as Ramana Baba, and practices as a tutor of mantra yoga and Advaita Vedanta (a school of Hindu philosophy and practice).
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.
— One subscription form, three newsletters: sign up now for the MarkLives newsletter, including Ramify headlines; The Interlocker, our new monthly comms-focused mailer; and Brands & Branding, launching soon!