Stefan Kiefer: In the red frame

Working in any current affairs magazine means pressure. Creating highly creative cover concepts and art for a weekly magazine takes this to a pressure to an entirely different level. Weekends are always on standby, and you never know when the phone is going to ring with a last minute change to a headline or image. Today at TYPO, Stefan Kiefer takes through the past 12 years of highly creative and innovative work as cover art director of the SPIEGEL magazine.

Photo © Gerhard Kassner

The SPIEGEL is 67 years old, and the tradition of strong cover art is embedded in the culture of the magazine. The typography of the magazine has only been slightly modified over this period of time, and the iconic red frame was not something that was always a part of the cover.

Kiefer began his talk by playing a ‘guessing game’ showing crops of some of the most iconic SPIEGEL covers, before revealing them and telling the audience an anecdote about that respective cover. One interesting note was that for the 1993 cover ‘Tödliche Eier (Deathly Eggs)’, the wooden coffin containing the eggs was actually produced (not Photoshopped). The importance of handcrafted, high quality art and direction was a theme that was clearly visible as Kiefer took the audience through a range of cover images, and the story behind them, often in a very humorous manner. From the 12,000 matches that it took to make the ‘Bild’ issue, to the shortest headline ever (Boris Becker’s “Ich”), it was fascinating to hear how these iconic covers were created.

One story in particular stuck with me as being particularly memorable; Just before the Iraq war, the Spiegel ran a cover image of George W. Bush and his main advisors all dressed as ridiculous ‘heroes’ of popular culture. Bush himself was dressed as Rambo, complete with a ‘Pretzel–pendant’ (a clever reference to the infamous ‘pretzel and dog’ incident at the White House). Bush loved the image when he saw it, and he had the White House phone up the SPIEGEL and order poster versions of the walls of his office (not getting the fact that the image was ridiculing him!). A Spiegel editor saw the poster on the wall a few years later while doing an interview in The White House. Bush was quoted later as saying of the image “.. it perfectly represented me”.
Stefan Kiefer

Stefan Kiefer

Illustrator, Graphic Designer, Art Director, Founder (Hamburg)

Stefan Kiefer was born and grew up on the German island of Sylt. He worked as an illustrator and art director for many famous national and international publishers, agencies and companies before joining Spiegel, where he worked for 18 years, including 13 as cover art director. At the end of 2014, he founded Hongkong Studios in Hamburg. Working in a 400-square-metre large former warehouse, the company is a creative laboratory for graphic design, workshops, art, photography and music.

Text: Paul Woods