From the SPD Archives: Folio covers, 1970s-80s

From the SPD Archives: Folio covers, 1970s-80s -01.jpg
The May 1979 issue cover (above), which appeared in the SPD15 annual, is just one of the many outstanding Folio covers produced by Steve Phillips during his tenure as art director. Steve started out in advertising, but left Y&R in 1970 to start his own studio. He says, "Leaving was just typical of many people who leave for bigger and better things... and the opportunity to be your own boss. But mainly I wanted to be a graphic designer, not an advertising art director."

He was working with Chuck Tannen while designing some things for YPO (the Young Presidents Organization), when Joe Hansen (Folio's publisher) asked Chuck to be the editor of Folio. Chuck asked Steve to be the art director, and clearly it was the start of a great creative collaboration. Folio's first issue came out in 1972, and Steve stayed on as art director for almost 11 years, designing a series of highly memorable covers along the way.

"Chuck Tannen was a great editor and he also appreciated real creativity." Steve says, "Both of us really enjoyed the sessions we had coming up with ideas, especially for covers. And maybe we felt that Folio, being a voice of the publishing industry should be different and lead the way creatively. Also, thinking differently was part of that era."

After the jump, we've got a brilliant collection of 1970s-80s Folio covers, plus some comments from Steve Phillips on how they were created.

(Above): Folio, May 1979; Art Director, Designer, Photographer: Steve Phillips

FOLIO_image_02_pencil.jpgFolio, January 1973; Art Director, Designer, Photographer: Steve Phillips

FOLIO_image_03_label.jpgFolio, October 1981; Art Director, Designer: Steve Phillips

"The address label cover! I'm not sure what to say about this. It was just another shot at something unexpected, different, maybe attention-grabbing. All of the ideas we came up with HAD to go beyond attention grabbing. They had to be on the subject. Creativity and relevance together... this made the process especially hard. My years in advertising made this possible. Probably my years at the School of Visual Arts, especially in those "creativity" days helped, too."

FOLIO_image_04_plate.jpgFolio, September/October 1973; Art Director, Designer: Steve Phillips

FOLIO_image_05_illo.jpgFolio, June 1972; Art Director, Designer: Steve Phillips; Illustrator: James McMullan

FOLIO_image_05.jpgFolio, March 1981; Art Director, Designer: Steve Phillips

"The Card cover: The issue was about circulation. We just took the cards you find inside magazines and decided to make the cover a big card, but worked in the content of the issue. And you could start or renew a subscription with the actual cover!"

FOLIO_image_07_apple.jpgFolio, December 1977; Art Director, Designer, Photographer: Steve Phillips

FOLIO_image_08_paper.jpgFolio, July/August 1973; Art Director, Designer, Photographer: Steve Phillips

FOLIO_image_09_bluelines.jpgFolio, February 1983; Art Director, Designer: Steve Phillips

FOLIO_image_10_text.jpgFolio, April 1980; Art Director, Designer: Steve Phillips

FOLIO_image_11_loop.jpgFolio, August 1977; Art Director, Designer, Photographer: Steve Phillips

Folio's office was located in New Canaan, Connecticut, and Steve would typically drive up from NYC for the day to come up with the cover idea. Steve considers the "pencil" cover (January 1973) one of the best. In addition to winning acclaim in an early iteration of the SPD awards, it won many other accolades in the advertising and design communities. 

Steve says, "Generally, people did react strongly to our covers. They always seemed to look forward to the next one. We did whatever it took to get the readers' attention. Big logos, small logos, logos in different positions, really unexpected graphics...going beyond just making something look good, to also making readers think."

The truly remarkable thing about these covers, as you will notice from the credits, is that Steve not only art directed all of them, but was the designer and photographer, too! Also notable is that concurrent with his tenure at Folio, Steve was art directing the award winning, bi-weekly alternative news magazine New Times. (We'll have a collection of Steve's New Times work on the SPD site later this year!)

Steve's website features a wide range of his work. The site is being redone and updated, and doesn't have his current contacts, email:; phone: 917-865-9239.

Over the years, Steve has been an active member of SPD. He art directed the 1977 SPD Call for Entries poster which also ran as the cover for SPD12 Publication Design Annual.

Related story:

From the SPD Archives: Publication Design 12

  • sofaman

    I followed in Steve's footsteps in working with Chuck Tannen when he struck out on his own (successful) publication business. I could never claim to achieve anything like the graphic excellence that Steve and Chuck did, but I had the excitement of at least having a high bar to aim for. Chuck, as mentioned, loved to brainstorm cover ideas, but he also let art directors have the freedom to lead the process.
    Peter F.

  • MFBH

    These were great. Kudos to Steve. - so what happened to the magazine over the past years? Funny how a magazine that judges design puts out one of the ugliest and dated looking magazines

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