One of the most exciting series of magazine covers at the moment has come courtesy of Time Out New York. TONY has always had energetic covers, but its latest batch, created by new-ish art director Chris Deacon, are exceptional and rank among my favorite of 2014.
Deacon, who did excellent work in the UK at ShortList, NME, and Metropolitan, took over the art director role at TONY in June. The past few years the magazine's covers tended to be cluttered, noisy, and clichéd, although they certainly had some graphic impact. But the new look directed by Deacon has been bold and fresh, with simple, bright, poster-like visuals. The covers are a constant treat to look at, surprising, vibrant and very modern¬-a perfect reflection of New York City.
Case in point: the latest September 13, 2014 cover, which features a giant melting blue popsicle, with the words "SUMMER'S LAST HURRAH" printed on the stick like the little messages you see when you finish off your melting icy sweet in the park. It's a brilliant visual, and the photography by Stephen Meierding captures the moment perfectly. It jumps off the newsstand (they got my $4.99), and it stands in sharp contrast to just about everything around it. Whether TONY is showing film director John Waters on a hot pink background, or a #SAVENYC hashtag over stark white, these covers are powerful and imaginative. TONY is obviously working with a limited budget, but it doesn't show. Everything is smartly conceived and crisply executed.
The magazine's secondary coverlines have been greatly diminished compared with previous issues. A lot of people buy it because they're visiting the city and want to find out what's going on. For the rest, I imagine that the main image and headline are the selling points. It seems like the present team is doubling down on that idea, which has freed up more space for Deacon's bold graphic concepts. Part of the power of this current cover is that there's white space around the image, and the tagline to the main headline, "61 things to do before the season melts away" is nicely tucked into the corner with a subtle size that doesn't conflict with the image and cover concept.
One of the great mysteries to me is the TONY logo, which has remained untouched since the magazine launched in the early 1990s. The logo is drawn from TONY's London parent magazine, where the words Time Out originally spread full width across the top of the cover. At some point in the unfortunate magazine design world of the 1980s, the logo was condensed to half its width. The bad typographic results have lived on into the 21st Century. I quite like the black, white, and red color scheme and the way the logo reads out of any kind of visual background. And while my colleague says that the crude logo has "endearing charm," I think it's begging for an update, or at least a redrawing.
When it comes down to it, I'm very fannish about both the current Time Out New York cover and previous covers by Deacon. In a way, it reminds me of the work that Richard Turley did at Bloomberg Businessweek over the past few years. Not so much in style, although there is a similar brashness and immediacy to the work, but more so that these covers reflect a true love and passion for graphic design and magazine making. Deacon and his editors are engaging in a very rare (these days) and exciting visual conversation with their readers that is smart and highly contemporary. It's very inspiring to see this kind of energy, and they deserve a lot of support and congratulations for their effort!