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The Cover Story: Wired

Friday, May 6, 2016

Wired has been exploring the intersection of technology and design since it launched in 1993. Its May cover continues that mission as it investigates the ambitious project that Magic Leap is taking on to connect the real world with the virtual world.

But Wired doesn’t just talk the talk. Its magazine has always made bold design choices. And it’s paid off. The brand won a National Magazine Award for design this year and has been named a finalist by the Society of Publication Designer’s awards for best design for its magazine, website and overall brand. (Winners will be announced later today.)

Here, min catches up with executive creative director, Billy Sorrentino, to hear the story behind the May cover, and learn more about Wired’s design philosophy.

min: First, tell us about the genesis of this cover.

Billy Sorrentino: This cover was a collaboration between photographer Sebastian Kim and myself. It started when I visited the Magic Leap offices in southern Florida back in January. We immediately saw that, creatively, we were faced with a two-part problem. The first was how to show something that is arguably a 4D experience on a 2D flat surface. Second was, how do we design the cover to be enticing and exciting to readers. How do we make the image of a boy genius, creating a product that doesn’t yet exist, stop you in your tracks?

min: How did you develop it from a technical standpoint?

Sorrentino: Sebastian and I pitched ideas back and forth. Sebastian put forward some anime references we liked, and we sent back a Christoph Niemann illustration which showed lasers coming out of eyes.

Technically, we then needed to figure out how to do it. Seb Kim is a fashion photographer, and he doesn’t do a lot of post-production work. We needed to figure out how to capture this image on film. We ended up tracing Rony's eyeglasses, making a physical stencil out of them, and then using the stencil to shoot a high powered light beam through, to match up directly with Rony’s eyes. Rony Abovitz, the CEO of a company that has received historic levels of funding, sat there patiently as we shot laser beams of light at his eyes.

Capturing that image actually on camera is powerful—and we felt it was important for Wired to do.

min: Did you run into any challenges with the 3D rendered coverlines?

Sorrentino: We definitely went through a lot of different versions of the typography to find the right match. We wanted the cover lines to look like an editorial layer, not a part of the augmented-reality experience of Magic Leap. The shadows and texture let it have one foot in the cover image, and the flatness of vector type outside of the beam edges let it have another foot in pure editorial. Essentially, bridging the two dimensions.

min: What’s your objective when you design any cover?

Sorrentino: Our objective is to distill the soul of whatever story we are trying to tell into an iconic and powerful movie poster for that story. I like to think we are creating movie posters, not magazine covers. If a college kid is going to hang it in their dorm room, then we did a good job.

min: Do you think about the newsstand or your audience when you create a cover?

Sorrentino: Today's newsstand is in my pocket right now. It’s Instagram, Snapchat, and Facebook. Readers come to Wired much more organically, and even more personally, in their private spaces and private time, rather than seeing a magazine cover displayed at a public newsstand. I want to create the right cover, the right experience, for the more intimate way that readers are coming to Wired.

min: What do you especially love about this cover?

I love that Wired is one of the few magazines with permission to do a mysterious, weird, cover and it’s not just for “design” reasons, it’s for the story. The story and the content of Wired often allow us to be more delightful, mysterious, and weird than other places. It challenges us to do things differently, to have a fresh perspective, every time.

min: Would you make any chances if you had the chance to go back in and tweak it?

No way. We are three covers past that. I’m on to the next thing.

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