One of our favorite traditions here at Folio: is looking back at the past 12 months and recognizing some of the most brilliant magazines covers from across the industry.
Magazine covers tell a visual story of the most important people, trends, and events in a given year. Whether it’s a trade, enthusiast, general interest, lifestyle, fashion, or news title, magazine covers are created to engage readers quickly and make them want to explore an issue further.
This year there literally thousands of terrific covers. Admittedly though, many were obscured by Donald Trump, who was the subject of some of the most talked about covers of the year. With that in mind, we feel it’s important to speak to the fact that no Trump covers made our short list of the year’s best. We assure you, it was not by design. The only rules we give our expert designers when they make their picks is that the covers must be from a U.S. magazine and they must be from a regular-frequency title—no special or one-off issues.
The fact that no Trump covers were selected speaks to the beauty of subjectivity. No doubt, several of those covers were smart, edgy, sometimes brutal in their social critique and, of course, extremely well done. And we are positive many will win awards. However, the six covers that are shown below made the list because they connected with the individuals who chose them.
Click any of the covers below to view them full-size.
Issue: October 17
Editors: Claudia Eller and Andrew Wallenstein
Art Directors: Cheyne Gateley and Chuck Kerr
Variety takes on the powered elite with their unflinching dismissal of Harvey Weinstein on its “Game Over” cover. The simple execution belies its forcefulness. Without resorting to tricks, the illustrated image of Weinstein, now a maligned and forever gone force, uses the slightly harsh lines of the illustration to illuminate the rot of this man’s harassment and crimes.
By simply showing him, with all his crags and bags, Variety lets the reader know where it stands on this hot-button topic, and it isn’t good for this former power player of all power players. He’s now little more than a middle-aged man who relied on being a gatekeeper to force women to his will. They have very effectively used subtlety to drive home their stance. The monotone illustration, rather than using a full color image, further diminishes Weinstein by removing any hint of health. He now borders on the grotesque.
— Matt Strelecki, Creative Director, Meredith Agrimedia
Magazine: Harper’s Bazaar
Editor: Glenda Bailey
Design Director: Elizabeth Hummer
In a year dominated by Trump covers (and there were so many brilliant ones!), this gem from Harper’s Bazaar is such a visual treat: bright, simple, and unapologetically joyful. The interplay of the logo and the shadow is clever but doesn’t feel forced. And while putting the logo on a curve is not something I would typically endorse, it adds to the overall playfulness here. It’s definitely unexpected for a fashion title. I also love the image of Jennifer Aniston – as if she’s ready to take over the world, a fitting pose to mark the magazine’s 150th anniversary edition. Harper’s Bazaar has been doing some very interesting versions of its subscriber covers (for the November issue with Emilia Clarke, they completely changed their logo) but this is by far my favorite.
— Chin Wang, Creative Director, ESPN The Magazine and ESPN.com
Issue: November 17
Editor: Bob Roe
Creative Director: Michael Goesele
I always love the idea of choosing a favorite thing but the reality is always a lot harder. There have been many covers this year that have impressed me and made me incredibly proud to still be part of the print design world. Esquire Spain’s ‘Walking Dead’ cover was inspired, Wired magazine’s ‘Love In The time of Robots’ was slick and sexy.
But 2017 has obviously been clouded with the continual misadventures of Trump (cover catnip for designers), but also the allegations of sexual misconduct in the entertainments industry which sent shockwaves around the world. The latter for me was the most vital to see take visual form. Time magazine and The New York Times Magazine both did extremely powerful covers on this subject, but Newsweek’s ‘Pop Goes The Weasel’ cover even manages to deliver a little humor to a subject so dark, a hard thing to do. There are perhaps better looking covers, but for me this ‘pops’.
— Chris Deacon, Creative Director, Playboy
Editor: Jim Nelson
Design Director: Fred Woodward
This GQ cover of civil rights activist and professional athlete Colin Kaepernick was easily my magazine cover of the year. It’s a perfect fusion of art and politics, a brilliant and inspiring graphic statement, but done in a very understated—and because it’s GQ—very stylish way. Everything about this cover is just perfect: the quiet, powerful portrait by photographer Martin Schoeller, the brilliant Black Panther-influenced styling (I love the leather jacket and black turtleneck!), and of course, the hair. And design director Fred Woodward’s restrained and refined typography adds both style and gravitas.
The cover’s timing couldn’t have been better, appearing at the height of the controversy, sparked by Donald Trump, over professional athletes and political activism. There were so many great covers this year featuring critical images and commentary about Trump, covers that made me laugh and made me mad. But this GQ cover, celebrating the power and ability of one person to enact change, is the one that inspired me the most.
— Robert Newman, Creative Director, This Old House
Editor: Jay Fielden
Art Director: Raul Aguila
This cover sums up the trend I love most about the cover design business this year. Who’d have thought we’d see a cover with the subject lying on a rain-slicked gray street, eyes closed, also spun 90 degrees? And that it’d be so beautiful?
Sure, it’s self consciously retro, but that’s not a criticism. Rather, it shows a confidence in the brand and the cover subject that’s much needed in these fearful times. No screaming cover lines, an image that’s not the standard eye-contact head and shoulders, but of someone you instantly recognize. It exudes attitude and certainty and promises me a magazine that I want to read, without feeling browbeat.
The only shame is, it’s not newsstand, but still, it’s glorious.
— David Gray, Design Director, Out
Magazine: Lucky Peach
Editor: Chris Ying
Art Director: Rob Engvall
Lucky Peach’s ‘The Chicken Issue” embodies what has made the magazine a must-see and must-read in it’s too-short life. Born in an age when everyone was Instagramming their own food beauty shots—Lucky Peach broke through with a new aesthetic, and pushed other magazines to follow suit. Too precious top-down plates of food beautifully lit and paired with restrained typography were replaced by clay sculptures of food, audacious color, whimsical illustration and an overabundance of hand-lettering.
Spring 2017 exemplifies this sense of design adventure, fun and no fear. An inflatable chicken, which looks to be “shot” on a Xerox machine, is wrestled into frame—at once flat cartoon and 3D sculpture. The color, scale and wide-eyed gaze jump out at the viewer whether on newsstand or scrolling screen—everything a cover wants to do. It’s run has ended but the one-of-a-kind imagery will stay and inspire us left behind to keep reinventing. Thank you, Lucky Peach.
— Dave McKenna, Art Director, 5280
Magazine: San Francisco Magazine
Editor: Jon Steinberg
Design Director: Clark Miller
I had a lot of favorite covers this year, one being the Harper’s Bazaar anniversary issue. But thanks to Cover Junkie’s tremendous work curating “ace covers” from North America and Europe, I was turned onto San Francisco Magazine’s 2017 Best Doctor’s issue. I’m a sucker for Americana and illustration and this cover so brilliantly plays on 18th and 19th century elixirs like snake oil.
Besides the really fun and thoughtful illustration, what I really dig about this is how it took a staple franchise for city magazines—best doctors—and had some truly creative fun with it. There are so many nuanced details on this cover you can spend a lot of time just working our eyes around the page. A cover like this should give magazine makers true inspiration when it comes to rethinking recurring annual features.
— Caysey Welton, Content Director, Folio: