“Do you buy a magazine just for the cover?” Vogue Portugal probes us in a bold white typeface on a black background for its May 2020 Issue. Needless to say, most of us do so, or at least the cover is the first thing that drives us to pull the magazine off the bunch of titles huddled in the newsstands. And perhaps much more today, as often we are allowed to see only the cover when we want to buy a magazine online.

Nevertheless, it is no coincidence that this question has been asked now, in this challenging year marked by the coronavirus pandemic, climate crisis, systemic racism, and political unrest. In 2020, print magazines played a major role in the narration of events, and more than ever their covers had the responsibility to condense messages of hope, controversy and incitement into a few significant elements.

There is a long list of covers that have addressed the most disparate issues with creativity and foresight, each time favouring some of the elements that make up a cover page—from typography to illustrations, from headlines to photography. And if a white cover has symbolized “a space and time to think, as well as to stay silent,” as it was in Vogue Italia April 2020 Issue, we have to say that in most cases graphics and illustrations gave life to powerful statements and got there where photography failed.

The art of cover design is what lies behind the success of most magazines, and after all it has always been so, not just this year. The cover is the place where creativity meets information, giving life to a visual commentary that speaks straight to the people.

In order to delve into the topic, we talked with Jaap Biemans, the creator of Coverjunkie, an online project that collects the most creative and original covers since 2010, “a shout-out to the most creative highlights that reflect our visual culture, all accessible in one place,” as we read in the about section of the website.
If you have any doubts about how to track down a reflection of 2020 in cover designs, have a look at the shortlist of the most creative covers of 2020 that Biemans put together for the annual contest on his website, where the public can vote their favorites as well. The winner will be announced tomorrow December 31, on the Instagram account, and we can’t wait for that.

Meanwhile, enjoy our Q&A with Jaap Biemans.

How the project Coverjunkie was born? Why a project about covers of magazines?
I was annoyed! I hated all the parroting you heard ten years ago, that print was dead. At the same time, I saw beautiful stuff on the newsstand and I wanted to show all that beautiful stuff. Then I came across the name ‘Coverjunkie’ and it took off from there.

At the beginning it was a blog, right? When did you decide to turn it into an Instagram account, and why?
Yes, it started as a website, but I immediately integrated Facebook and Twitter. When Instagram was launched I thought it was a better fit for Coverjunkie cause it got more impact and is about visuals. But the website is still the backbone! The website is independent and I can do whatever I like up there, and it’s a great archive.

Who is behind it? Who is Jaap Biemans? Can you tell us a bit more about you?
I created the concept, designed the logo, the website and launched it. Good fun. My main thing in life is being a graphic designer myself. I’m art directing Volkskrant Magazine, based in Amsterdam. I love drinking espresso and playing basketball. On Coverjunkie I do all the shout-outs myself. No earnings, just costs. You have to know I was single when I started this and now I have three daughters, so it’s a lot harder to give it the same attention. But it’s so rewarding to put the art-directors, creatives and artists into the spotlight, they deserve that.

As an art director yourself, how do you approach when creating a new cover?
Designing covers is an intuitive way of thinking, a way of observing and questioning the subject. Choosing to avoid or emphasize preconceptions. In my own practice, I try to emphasize creativity, the perfect way for a magazine to stand out.

What are your favorite magazines, the ones you always look to for inspiration?
Well, the ‘obvious’ ones are from New York, like NYT Magazine and New York Mag, but I love all mags, Zeit, Suddeutsche. The Guardian carries a great mag lately. The best-designed mag was killed this year, California Sunday Magazine. There’s so much good stuff coming from all around the world. Italy, UK, Poland, India… too much to mention, you simply got to follow Coverjunkie for the best stuff. Do you know what I admire? When a title creates 30 or more ace covers a year. It’s easy to produce one good one, but you’re king when creating thirty plus good ones.

How do you research the covers? How much time do you spend on it?
Magazine covers fit into my system of life. When I started ten years ago I used to visit the newsstand, these days it’s all done via social media. But of course, I still visit my favorite newsstand in Amsterdam, each week. This amazing shop carries the best-designed stuff from all over the world and it’s better to see it in real instead of on a screen, it just makes more impact.

What are the elements that make a cover stand out?
It’s a great one when it punches you in the face or when you wanna lick it, ahah! And the ‘surprise!’, that’s a very important element of a cover. Personally, I think a magazine cover is all about temptation. A cover that rocks, is the one you can’t resist the temptation picking it up, reading it. “I can resist anything but temptation,” wrote Oscar Wilde. An epic cover contains news, vibe and creativity; all in one. The covers everybody remembers are the ones featuring a war or a scandal. But Coverjunkie is not only about those covers; it’s about creativity in general.

In your opinion, are there any trends in cover design right now?
Now, after a year like 2020, you see a lot of social engagement on covers, as we have never seen before. I like that, a lot! As long as it’s believable of course and not a marketing tool. Now mags can take their chance to show what it is about, where it stands for. For example like Vogue, I noticed all covers worldwide are dealing with social engagement on their covers.

How was the issue of COVID-19 addressed, and thus represented, on the covers of printed magazines?
COVID-19 has been over all the covers this year. From hospitals to our social life to quarantine to the next step in our lives. I have a selection of favorites here, where you can vote your favorites as well.
I have seen a lot, there’s a lot of negativism and drama, as it should, cause it’s not going well out there. But when a cover carries some optimism it catches my eye a bit more, like this one from Das Magazin from Switzerland… it carries some innocence, some optimism, some beauty, some craziness… it’s almost poetic. It really makes me think about our careless summers and the uncertain future and fun for our youth, for everybody.

What are the covers that impressed you the most this year 2020?
I have all my favs of 2020 here. Your Vogue Italia White Cover (April 2020) belongs there too, an incredible ace, I remember it exploded on social networks when this one came out. All white as a statement! I also adore the octopus on the head of the boy from Das Magazin (Switzerland) like I stated above. I love what Private Eye did by turning their cover into toilet paper, exactly on the moment when the whole world was trying to buy toilet paper in supermarkets cause it was sold out everywhere. And what about Sports Illustrated with all the empty seats and just the logo on their cover, that’s impact. A great Trump cover was the one from the Economist with a flag on the top of the White House; in that flag, you see the profile of an angry Donald Trump. Before the pandemic, this one from The Gourmand came out. It really feels like a piece of art, I adore that cover, and is from our ‘normal’ world, I like our ‘normal’ world coming back, we all suffered too much, don’t you think?