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Cover Stories: Thoughtfulness in design (15 September 2017)

by Shane de Lange (@shanenilfunct) Let’s delve into great media design from South Africa and around the world:

  • Baseline — iconic
  • Bloomberg Businessweek, The Economist, The New Yorker — international/print
  • Cereal — online/print
  • Chimurenga — print (special mention)
  • Farmer’s Weekly — local/print
  • The Lake — local/print
  • Real Review — international/print

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Special mention

Chimurenga (South Africa), Issue 3, 2002

Anti-apartheid activist and forerunner for the Black Consciousness Movement in SA, Stephen Bantu Biko died in a Pretoria prison cell on 12 September 1977 — 40 years ago this week — in the custody of apartheid police. This cover of #3 of Chimurenga journal, with an artwork titled “Biko in Parliament” by Neo Muyanga, is an ode to Biko’s struggle and legacy, and the manner in which his memory lives-on today.


Farmer’s Weekly (South Africa), 8 September 2017

The future remains ‘foggy’ in South Africa in more ways than one, as suggested by the cover for the 8 September 2017 issue of Farmer’s Weekly. With a bold headline, stating “Cannabis Farming in South Africa”, this issue is more conducive to a cover for High Times (US) than the fairly pedestrian and austere content that one might expect from a trade publication such as Farmer’s Weekly. Setting aside the pros and cons of weed advocacy and increasing awareness surrounding the health benefits of weed, this particular issue of Farmer’s Weekly follows in the wake of a judgment handed down by the Western Cape High Court, on 31 March 2017, that declared sections of the Drugs and Drug Trafficking Act, 1992, unconstitutional, resulting in an unprecedented ruling that allows South Africans to possess, cultivate and use cannabis within the confines of their own homes. High times ahead, indeed.

Bloomberg Businessweek (US), 5–11 November 2012 and 4 September 2017
The Economist (US), 2 September 2017
The New Yorker (US), 11 September 2017

Many covers have appeared over the past few weeks in response to extreme weather across the globe. Each year, it seems to be getting worse and very little is being done to remedy the situation. While much of South Africa suffers from an extended period of severe drought (the worst in decades for the Western Cape), weather patterns across the globe are alarming, with historic levels of destruction and intensity. From devastating floods in Texas (following Hurricane Harvey) to even harsher rainfall and flooding in other parts of the world such as Sierra Leone (Freetown), South Asia (Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan) and Italy (Tuscany), perhaps it’s time to acknowledge that our actions are affecting this planet and, by proxy, our future.

The awesome power, increased density and frequency of these aggressive weather patterns were concretised in history this past week with Hurricane Irma, the most powerful Atlantic Ocean storm in recorded history. That makes two Category 4 hurricanes in as many weeks to make landfall off the coast of America. To quote the bold, underlined, headline on the cover of Bloomberg Businessweek from 5 Novevember 2012 (during Hurricane Sandy) which shouts: “It’s global warming, stupid”. No exclamation mark required; it’s best that we start listening, become conscious and do something.

The Lake (South Africa), Issue 17, September 2017

The characteristic format of The Lake Magazine takes its inspiration from the classic 12-inch format of vinyl records. Its approach to format is similar to the 2012 LP album cover theme for issue 27 of iJusi magazine, which included faux cover designs by Anton Kannemayer, Givan Lötz, and the editor of The Lake, Stefan Naude, among others. The influence of album-cover design is further revealed by the music-oriented, mostly sub-cultural, narrative that runs through every issue of The Lake, in support of South African design, art, and fashion. Street culture and youth culture are key. Featured creative types and influential personalities also contribute a list of their favorite albums as an epithet to the critical writings and reviews in the magazine.

The latest cover comes with a new format, one smaller and closer to the size of 7-inch single records. The cover showcases SA electronic music artist, and maverick producer, Felix Laband, in studio. The independent stance of the title is communicated with its eclectic choice of personalities that appear on each cover. The Lakes non-conformist vibe is also visible in the magazine’s spot-varnished, invisible masthead, avoiding any visible headlines and immediately setting a clear indie-alternative tone of voice. Importantly, the magazine is not for sale but rather distributed free of charge to those who are interested. It is available at selected outlets.

Real Review (UK), Issue 4, September 2017

Designed by studio OK-RM, Real Review is a quarterly magazine that veers away from orthodox production methods in editorial design. With a captivating tagline, “What It Means to Live Today,” the magazine critically reviews 21st century architecture and other culturally relevant discourse. The current issue focuses on what it means to love today, inspired by the underground tradition of hand-crafted Soviet (Russian) Samizdat publications. These were designed to be read, shoved into the reader’s back pocket, thumbed and passed around, as opposed to the detached and mediated forms of interaction we have today. Samizdat publications were aberrant, resourceful, urgent and critical, and meant to disseminate information under the radar within communities.

Inspired by the resourcefulness of editorial design used in Samizdat publications, the editor of Real Review, architect and critic Jack Self, chose an experimental format. He observed the magazine as an object, realising that such publications are often folded or rolled-up. Presented pre-folded, Real Review’s format is thin and vertical, which emphasises the malleability and ‘realness’ of the publication; it unfolds much like a brochure, with quadruple-page spreads instead of double-page spreads.

Recalling Soviet Rosta posters from the 1920s, with the illustrated work of agitprop pioneer and Russian futurist, Vladimir Mayakovsky, the cover of each issue thus far has been illustrated by UK-based Nishant Choksi, known for various cover designs for Bloomberg Businessweek, The Economist, Esquire, Monocle, New York Magazine, The New Yorker, TIME Magazine, Vanity Fair, and WIRED to name a few. With this touch of Constructivist experimentalism, the architectural ‘R’ in the bottom third of the cover is an ode to British designer and typographer, Edward Wright, and his Alphabet for a Study in Legibility (1963).


Cereal (UK), online and print, Volume 3, Issue 13, September 2017

If Donald Judd were to design a website, it would be Cereal, a UK-based biannual publication. Minimalist to a T, the site displays a clean layout, uncluttered design, and unadulterated use of typography. Everything is curated and accompanied by considered art direction, with a choice selection of writings on travel, design, art, and style. Its smooth responsive interface recalls the aesthetic of American modernist architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, and his embrace of emptiness within spatial arrangements, reducing elements to their essential qualities.

Finding common ground with the modernist movement of minimalism, and the mantra of truth to materials, Cereal strips all design components down to arrive at the virtue of simplicity, liberated from decoration. Conscious of the important difference between modernism and ‘modern life’, minimalism and ‘minimal living’, all sections of the site are examined to a point where nothing more could be reduced in order to refine the design. The structural qualities and aesthetic considerations of both Cereal’s online and print iterations reach spiritual qualities similar to traditional Japanese culture and Zen Buddhism, creating a dialogue between the website and the physical magazine that takes an ethical stance when it comes to the importance of mindful design in society.


Baseline (UK), Issue 24, November 1997, and Issue 63, September 2017

UK-based Baseline was first published in 1979, initially used to promote the latest typeface designs and other distributable material related to graphic design and typography, pre-digital era. Despite its sporadic release — about 10 issues in its first decade (due to the availability of content and material) — the magazine had a global audience. Typefaces were not as readily available as they are today, giving the title its niche as one of the primary sources for new developments in visual communication.

1995 saw a radical departure for the magazine, with Baseline #19 and the arrival of Mike Daines and Hans Dieter Reichert, who co-edited the publication and introduced revised art direction from HDR Visual Communication, producing a larger format and double cover with sleeve. The magazine extended its scope to incorporate historical and contemporary content relevant to an international audience; it crafted an eclectic choice of articles and reference materials, notably having one of the earliest historical accounts of iJusi magazine in an international publication, in issue 24.

In 2007, with #52, the magazine saw yet another design refresh after the departure of Daines as co-editor. The logo and masthead, typography and layout, substrates and paper stocks all changed, including new contributors comprising established international design professionals, such as Ken Garland (UK), Steven Heller (US), Ian McLaren (UK), Helmut Schmid (Japan), and Arnold Schwartzman (US). Still in print almost four decades later, the cover for the current issue, #63, is a pastiche of surfaces and textures, showcasing the typographic output of Georg Salden in response to co-editor Schmid’s book Typography Today, linked to the notion of ‘typo-architecture’ mentioned in this issue’s article titled ‘Extroverted Type’.

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.

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Cover Stories: Thoughtfulness in design (15 September 2017)


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