Category Archives: Art

The September issue

bazaar-sept-2016It’s that time of year again, as made made famous by Vogue’s movie ‘The September Issue’. Sadly their cover this year is rubbish, with the rest of the market not much better.

But the clear winner is this brilliant Harpers’ cover. Aside from the access and technical perfection, it borrows heavily from sixties’ title Nova, which is no bad thing in my book. And the photographer? None other than Karl Lagerfeld. Bet he had a really good assistant.

And for real devotees, here’s a great story on the weight, spine thickness and pagination of all the September glossies. Ka-boom!


Small, but perfectly formed

Facebook_Reactions3x2Here are the crisp new emoticons facebook is planning on us all using anytime soon. Will they give a better user experience? Maybe.

Will facebook aggressively sell the ‘nuanced responses’ to brand content that these emoticons might generate? Certainly.

facebook-emoticonsHere’s Mr Zuckerberg himself explaining how they work, using what the new pressure sensitive iPhone UI. This is a game changer in itself. Once the device in our hands starts responding to a nuanced range of physical gestures, it’s ability to express our feelings is significantly improved.

This is hardly AI, but it sure shows which way the river is running.

The single reason why Proxima Nova is the world’s best font

proxim-helveticaThere’s a good story by on Medium today about Proxima Nova, the font that by many measures has replaced Helvetica as the world’s most popular typeface. Proxima was first drawn by Mark Simonson in 1981, it took a while to gain traction but after the release of Gotham in 2002 it really took off.

Fred Woodward commissioned Hoeffler to create Gotham when he took over as Creative Director at GQ, and very nice it looked too. But I had just taken over Fred’s job as art director of Rolling Stone, and was looking for a new geometric sans myself, so after consulting with my art department of Kory Kennedy, Devin Pedzwater and Matthew Ball, I chose Proxima, because it was just…better.

proxima-grabSince then I have used it in dozens of different roles. I put it in the million selling weekly What’s On TV, where the vast amount of TV listings require an exceptionally functional and legible font. I chose it for Chat, to bring a little glamour to the real life women’s weekly market, and I’ve used it endlessly on development projects where it’s essential to have a font that looks cool and modern, but that does not have a prescriptive point of view.

By this, I mean a font that doesn’t look too male, too female, too posh, too serious, too anything, but still holds deep emotional promise.

This is the genius of Proxima. The Medium article rightly makes the case for the lower case ‘a’ being the signature character, the single letter that defines the feeling of the whole font. And compared to Gotham, the Proxima ‘a’ wins hands down.

But in the first place, sans fonts are defined by the lowercase ‘i’. This letter can only be drawn in two ways, with either a rounded dot or a square edged dot.

Johnson’s London Underground font is an exception, with a diamond dot, and there are other fonts that have got squares with rounded corners, but you get the general idea here.

Helvetica has a square dot. This makes it strong, practical, manly even.

The alternative to Helvetica used to be Futura, the Bauhaus masterpiece so recently dumped by Ikea in favour of Verdana.

Futura has a round dot on the ‘i’. This makes it friendly, modern and possibly more female. But Futura predates Helvetica. It’s not built for the modern age, it’s got a small x-height and it doesn’t work on screen. What’s more, its ‘i’ dot looks underpowered compared to Proxima‘s

Which is why Proxima is so brilliant. It combines the strength of Helvetica with the feeling of Futura. And it’s the lowercase ‘i’ that proves it.

Mark-simonsenHere’s Mark Simonson at his desk, from a great story by Tamye Riggs on the adobe site about how Mark works, with lots of excellent examples and sketches.

original-proxima-grabAnd here is the original 1981 sketch for Proxima, taken from Cameron Moll’s Medium post.

Postscript: Mark Simonson and I exchanged a few messages on twitter after this post was published. In these he generously noted that Rolling Stone’s 2002 adoption of Proxima gave him the motivation to develop Proxima Nova with all the extra weights. 

Is this what Amazon is going to do to us all?

New-yorker-20th-oct.smallHere’s an excellent satire on how Jeff Bezos has impacted the way we enjoy books. The original New Yorker cover is truly fabulous, but I love the way some internet wag has cleaned the whole lot out, replacing the last book with a Kindle. Which was kind of suggested on the New Yorkers’ own site, when they tell the story of how the original cover came about.

David Carson, and the layout that changed the way I work

We-SurfI believe this brilliant spread is from The End Of Print, one of David Carson’s many books featuring surf magazines he designed pre-Raygun. But I was reminded of it again last week, whilst working with a client around the theme of people and their passions.

David Carson made his name with some very funky typography, but in this instance it’s the sheer power of connection with his audience that impresses me still.

Photos can absolutely change peoples minds, the work of Don McCullin and others have proved that. But with ‘lifestyle’ media, to make the claim that content has changed behaviour, and (I assume) be able to back it up is rare indeed.

On the radio, talking about George Lois and this cover

Esquite.-AliEagle eyed readers will have noticed that I’ve changed this blog somewhat. So much of what I’m working on now is multiplatform, that ‘coverthink‘ felt too limiting a name. Hence me consolidating all my posts and a few examples of my work, here on the same site.

But that doesn’t mean I’m done with talking about covers, as this recent interview on American radio explains. Ostensibly about how magazine covers work in general, the interview is really an opportunity to square off the legendary George Lois of Esquire fame with David Curcurito, Esquire’s current Creative Director.

I’m like, the ref.

How to create Christmas, by using the very heart of your brand

Christmas is massive for all magazines, with The Big Issue no exception. They produce five festively themed issues, which requires ever increasing levels of ingenuity as December rolls on.

So hats off to another amazing cover, this time Santa as a digital mosaic of Big Issue vendor pictures. Here’s editor Paul McNamee on how and why they did it.

‘Distribution staff are always saying they need Santa on the cover at Christmas. I didn’t want a regular Santa – doesn’t say anything unique about us. This year has been all about celebrating the vendor. So I decided to create Santa out of the faces of hundreds of vendors. That’s where we started. Our art director Scott Maclean got one of the best digital mosaic artists in the world – Charis Tsevis, from Athens – and he built the cover. I think it’s the best Christmas cover I’ve been involved with – and I’ve done a few here.’

The Big Issue is a big brand, with a haloed place in our national consciousness. But it’s value is entirely wrapped up in the unique relationship between vendors and readers. that’s why this cover is so ace. For reference, here’s an earlier post on how the Big Issue are using twitter to #celebrateyourvendor

This new issue will be on sale from Monday. So get out and buy one, it’s Christmaaaaaaaaaas! (Holder/Lea)

How the hell do you combine the best of 2013’s worldwide art and design, into one handy book?

This is the printed annual of the It’s Nice That website, which proclaims to ‘Champion creativity across the art and design world’

With a mission statement like that, you could be forgiven for thinking that this was some kind of government project, but it’s clearly working for them, both commercially and creatively.

As someone not intimately familiar with the brand, I didn’t have a clue what to think when I saw the cover, other than pick up on the comic annual reference. But this ambiguity is inevitable, and possibly desirable, with any attempt to document Art. It’s much like trying to document life itself, although Life magazine tried that back in the day, and had the name to prove it.

But the fact remains, this book is just excellent. The editorial tells us that this book contains over 150 examples of the best work from the website during 2013. And such is the usability and navigability of print, it’s a brilliant way to encounter really emotional and moving stories that you’re not actively searching for, or swatting out of your social streams.

It really is joyous to see the best of the years big art exhibitions, graphic design projects, art installations, and media design all within a few pages of each other.

The breadth is challenging, as there will inevitably be stuff that doesn’t interest all readers. But like the New Yorker, if the It’s Nice That brand can build trust, this becomes a non-issue.

It would make a fantastic, unexpected Christmas present, you can buy it online here.

The Big Issue crowdsource their Christmas cover. Here’s why it really works…

This is The Big Issue’s Christmas cover, designed by seven year old Dylan Allman, winner of their recent reader competition to create the cover. It’s the first time The Big Issue have ever done this, but I suspect it won’t be the last, as I think this is just great.

The principle is not dissimilar to that which schools get the kids to design Christmas Cards, in order to make parents want to buy them. it creates a sense of community, a feeling of innocence, and the belief that reindeer really are flying through the air.

This is all good, but the reason why this crowdsource cover is so clever, is that the hand prints deliver real human scale. Like the Hollywood pavement, where stars put their hands in the concrete, the work is intimate, immediate, and generates a real sense of connection.

I’m not sure about the script for ‘This is Christmas’, as it fights with the logo, but that’s not going to affect the sale, which I think should be pretty tasty.

Update: My friend and colleague Mike Pretious has just commented, quite rightly pointing out that crowdsourcing childrens’ art is nothing new. As comments can’t take images, here’s his point: Britain’s Christmas stamps from 57 years ago!

This is just genius

Richard Turley’s Bloomberg covers are generally reckoned to be the best in the world, but this surely takes some beating. The little spinning wheel of death is a masterstroke, allowing the cover to work in print, but more importantly, animate online, which is where many more people can see it.

And this is how they got to the decision. Many thanks to for drawing it to my attention.